Director Udayan Prasad was born in India, but moved to Britain at the age of nine. After directing several dramas for BBC TV, he helmed his first motion picture, Brothers in Trouble.
His new movie, The Yellow Handkerchief, which was shot in 2007, takes place in Louisiana following hurricane Katrina. William Hurt stars as Brett, an ex-convict who has just been released from prison after serving six years for manslaughter. He crosses paths with a lonely and trouble teenager Martine (Kristen Stewart) and her new ‘ride’ Gordy (British actor, Eddie Redmayne). As they travel through the State, Brett must decide whether he wants to return to his past, with May (Maria Bello), the woman he left behind.
After three years, it must be nice that this movie is finally coming out?
It’s wonderful it’s finally coming out. You make a film and you want it to be seen as soon as possible, obviously. I’m proud of what we achieved. It’s always disappointing. But Arthur Cohn is a wonderful producer. He never gives up. I never had any doubt that sooner or later this film was going to be shown in the theatre. And it’s just great that it’s finally there.
Did you ever see the Japanese movie this was based on?
It is based on the Yoji Yamada movie (Shiawasa no Kiiroi hankachi), but I made a point of not watching it. I didn’t want to be influenced by the way it was made. I wanted to approach the material completely fresh. It wasn’t quite the same script. It was a different script. It had to be a different film. It couldn’t be a reproduction. The short story was the original source material for the movie.
Can you talk about casting Kristen Stewart? This was way before Twilight.
Kristen wasn’t the household name she’s subsequently become. We saw a lot of actors for her role. People walk into a room and you remember them either by the use of notes you’ve made, which is usually a bad, and then there are people who you remember because there was something striking about them, or they were clearly very talented. Occasionally, somebody walks into a room and you get this sense that someone special has walked in, and Kristen did that.
She was so nervous the first time she came. She wasn’t even 17 when I met her. There was something very focused about he; something centered. She knew herself in a way that was quite intimidating. This young girl is so sure of life in a way that I still don’t think I’m sure of life. We worked on the script and it was clear she was going to be a frontrunner without any question. She came back and we did some more work and there was no doubt (about her casting) really.
Did you know Eddie Redmayne’s work from England?
Interestingly enough, I didn’t know Eddie’s work at all. He had shot to prominence on the London stage. He was cast in an Edward Albee play called, The Goat. He played alongside Eileen Atkins, one of our great actors in Britain, and Eddie got all the notices. Eddie won an award for most promising newcomer.
What happened in the casting process was that our casting director started bringing in all these English actors because The History Boys had been released; it had been playing in New York on Broadway. I said, ‘This is hopeless. Why are you showing me all these Brits? This is a hard enough job for an American actor. He’s supposed to have been brought up on an (Indian) reservation. What possessed you to think that a Brit could play this part?’ And, of course, I should have had more faith. She said, ‘Just one more, one more.’ And I met Eddie in New York and he was amazing.
The proof in the pudding is when you’re doing post-production, when you’re editing the movie, the people involved in that don’t meet the actors. The sound people just hear the sound. They said, ‘Who is this guy?’ And I said, ‘He’s from Britain.’ And they said, ‘He’s British?’ He was terrific.
Kristen and Eddie are very special talents. Eddie is an extremely serious actor. He’s coming to Broadway next month for a play called, Red, where he gives an absolutely mesmeric performance, as he does in all his work. Actually, it would be a great idea to put Kristen and Eddie into a Shakespeare (play) or something like that.
Can you talk about working with such a small, intimate cast?
What was wonderful was the ensemble. The story is about three people, two youngsters and William (Hurt), who are together for a considerable part of the story, and then there’s William and Maria (Bello), who are in the story (flashbacks). So they are very intense pieces. I like to give actors their room.
Eddie went to a reservation in Oklahoma. They were kind to him and showed him around and he got a real feel for that. William spent some time in Angola (the prison). He met ex-convicts, all kinds of people. I said, now it’s yours. You’re going to be Gordy. You’re going to be Brett. You’re going to be Martine. Just take it and run with it.
The writing is so stunning. It’s spare. People aren’t telling you what they’re doing. So it works on different levels. The intensity of working this way might be similar to the theatre, but we were very clear we were making a piece of cinema.