Trudie Styler: 'Shakespeare gave guys the best roles'

The producer and activist, whose film 'Filth' is up for five British Independent Film awards, is tapping into the industry's neglected female talent. Adam Sherwin meets Trudie Styler

Most movie producers would be happy with five nominations for their latest hit at tonight's British Independent Film Awards – but Trudie Styler is still not satisfied.

"Why isn't Filth nominated for best film too?" the film-maker and environmental activist asks of the controversial Irvine Welsh adaptation, which stars best-actor nominee James McAvoy as a bullying, sexually abusive detective. "It's been a huge box-office success, but in the end I think they wouldn't like to see it win Best Film because of its gritty, boundary-pushing nature."

Pushing boundaries is something Styler doesn't shrink from, whether urging governments to recognise the rights of the Amazon's indigenous peoples, in her campaigns alongside rock-star husband Sting, or challenging the yawning deficit in women who wield studio power in Hollywood.

Women make up 25 per cent of producers and only 9 per cent of the directors on the top 250 US films of 2012. In the field of cinematography, the figure is barely 4 per cent. Which is why Styler, 59, and Celine Rattray, an Oxford maths graduate who ran the Mandalay Vision production house in Hollywood, teamed up to form Maven Pictures, an independent company seeking films which primarily showcase female talent.

"There is a paucity of women in film, and Celine and I seek to redress that," said Styler from Maven's London offices, based in an elegant £5m townhouse overlooking St James's Park. "We need to encourage more women to write roles for other women. The great substantive roles aren't being written for women, and aren't being produced and directed by women."

Shakespeare is partly to blame. "It's a historical problem. He wrote the best roles for the guys. I went to see [Jude Law's] Henry V last night and there is barely one and a half scenes with women in amid these fantastic male roles."

Ageism and sexism are mutually reinforced. Ms Styler said: "There's still this idea that women are over by the time they are 40 so that they can't play the love interest opposite a 50-year-old man. George Clooney is 52 but he's always on the arm of a thirtysomething actress. He gets Vera Farmiga. You don't get a 50-year-old woman on the arm of a 30-year-old guy."

Styler reels off a slate of Maven productions in the works with an array of leading ladies. "Amy Adams [Bafta-winning actress] brought me Object of Beauty, a Steve Martin novel. We're developing it with Amy, and Steve will be in it."

"Sarah Jessica Parker came to us and said I want you to think about something for me," she says and the result is A Fair Marriage, which will star the Sex and the City actress as a wife who finds a new online identity when she discovers her husband's adultery. Cate Blanchett is lined up to star in Cancer Vixen, the true story of a Manhattan cartoonist for The New Yorker who was diagnosed with breast cancer just as she was about to get married. Julie Delpy will write the screenplay.

Independent films struggle to get the green light (Rattray, a former McKinsey & Co consultant, handles the minefield of financing) and may never produce huge returns. But Maven lures talent with the promise of something more elusive – Oscar gold. "[Distribution company] Fox Searchlight is always looking for smaller films with awards potential," Styler said. "Your big movie stars who've been in blockbusters generating a lot of dollars are looking for the meatier, substantive roles that they think will make the awards season."

Filth, for which Styler is up for the Production award on Sunday night, is, she admits, a rare shot of testosterone in the Maven schedule. "Filth is not female-driven, but I've always liked bad-boy movies. We had a hilarious time getting Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels together with Guy Ritchie."

Styler, born in Worcestershire, studied drama at the Bristol Old Vic before acting in repertory theatres then winning roles in television series including Poldark. She carved a career in production after meeting Sting, with whom she has four children, including a daughter, Mickey, who is an actress. She helped launch the careers of Ritchie and the Bafta-winning Duncan Jones (Moon) at her first company, Xingu Films, and remains a hands-on producer.

"I'm very good at keeping my eye out for actors. With Filth I helped in the post-production, I did the film colour correction and sound design in Germany. As a producer I'm quite nurturing, I like working with inexperienced, unseasoned directors."

She mentors the interns who work at Maven's New York office, telling them "go out and make your own films. The internet has made it so much easier to produce and make films for tiny budgets."

Her campaigning and celluloid worlds combined in Crude, a 2009 documentary chronicling a group of indigenous people in Ecuador that have had their homeland devastated by oil drilling. Styler regularly travels from the couple's New York base to Ecuador to help in a Rainforest Fund project to build safe access to drinking water for families in the oil-affected areas.

She is an ambassador for Unicef, and admits it can be "a very useful thing to have fame and celebrity" for awareness-raising. "We can all sneer at Katy Perry [appointed a Unicef Goodwill Ambassador last week] and say, 'What does she know?' That may be something that's been applied to me in the past, but 30 years on I'm still doing what I can to help the indigenous peoples with their campaigns versus their respective governments."

There remains unfinished business on the stage, however, for Styler, who appeared in a New York production of Chekhov's The Seagull in the summer. She is hoping to play Guinevere in Savage Love, a feminist reinterpretation of the Camelot story by Pam Gems, a friend of Styler's who died in 2011. Guinevere is at war with husband King Arthur and on trial for her life over her affair with Lancelot in the play, which Styler plans to stage in the UK next year.

Sting and Styler first met in 1982, their ensuing relationship ending his marriage to actress Frances Tomelty. Since then, the couple have become one of the longest-standing partnerships in showbusiness. Do they critique each other's work? "I'm not a musician but I offer him an audience, a pair of ears," she said. "He's written a musical [The Last Ship] so I've got a bit more to offer on that."

Sting became a regular at The Seagull. "He came to see it about 10 times. He had been playing at the New York Public Theatre nearby. He would sit in all areas of the theatre. So if he was right at the back next to the speaker he would say, 'On this line you might want to pitch it up.' We do listen to each other and are delighted to support each other."

Might Maven Pictures snap up the movie rights to The Last Ship, Sting's Tyneside-set musical now headed for the Broadway stage? "That might be a step too far," she laughs.

Curriculum vitae

1954 Born on 6 January in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire. Studies drama at Bristol Old Vic & becomes leading actress with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

1977 Wins role in BBC Poldark series.

1982 Begins relationship with Sting. They marry in 1992.

1988 Launches the Rainforest Foundation (now Rainforest Fund), devoted to protecting rainforests and their indigenous peoples.

1998 Produces Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch (2000).

2000 Wins Human Rights Champion Award from Amnesty International.

2005 Appointed Unicef Ambassador.

2011 Forms New York-based Maven Pictures with Celine Rattray.

2013 Filth nominated in five categories at the British Independent Film Awards.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones