‘Newcomer’ (2015) is a modern take on a classic genre, having opened at London’s Raindance Film festival, ‘Newcomer’ is getting a lot of coverage and great responses from critics. I met up with the films leading lady, Noémie Merlant, and the director Kai Barry…
Girl About Film: Congratulations on opening at Raindance Film Festival!
Kai Barry: (smiles) Thank You
GAF: did you think ‘Newcomer’ would be such a success?
Kai Barry: I hoped (laughs) definitely. I think that whatever happens, happens, but I always want the audience to be entertained. You know it’s not just making it (a film) to exist I think it’s important to consider the audience in what you’re doing. It doesn’t just have to be a popcorn film but it’s important to give something to the audience whether that’s a small idea or a hugely entertaining big summer movie, if we don’t consider the audience then what’s the point!? I mean you’re asking for these peoples time, you may as well consider them.
GAF: What inspired you to write and direct this film?
Kai Barry: I thought it would be fun (laughs) no, at some point I read a statistic that said 70% of the U.S. intelligence budget is spent on independent contractors and I didn’t realize that. So there’s that ‘James Bond’ world where we all know who we are working for and then there’s what I think is more like the real world which is just very nebulous. I wanted to sort of put a character in to that world and see how they would respond and tell it through that perspective rather than the average worldwide perspective.
GAF: (Noémie)What drew you to star in ‘Newcomer’?
Noémie Merlant: (I thought) it was a different kind of spy movie, it was more in sync with the character. It makes you question what it is to be a human and I really liked that, I liked the idea of playing the role of a Serbian woman and getting into another culture and learning a new language.
GAF: (Noémie) how did you prepare to do the Serbian accent?
Noémie Merlant: I went to Serbia a month before we started shooting and I wanted to learn the accent and (understand) the culture. I had to learn the accent in English (Noémie is French) and learn some of the language which was hard and sometimes confusing. I wanted to feel what it is like to be a Serbian and a Serbian woman and I wanted to feel the atmosphere.
GAF: The cast is really dynamic, did you (Kai) have much input during the casting?
Kai Barry: Yeah, totally! I think I had an image in my mind for some roles, I mean I definitely had an idea of what I wanted but then sometimes someone would come in and I would just say ‘ ok, that’s the person’. The Adi (Vanja Ejdus) character, the character who plays the sort of killer woman, she had this crazy audition and she’s like the nicest woman you would ever meet. She came in and did this crazy audition where she was basically fighting herself and it was almost comical and yet so intense. You could see that she had that in her and it kind of shifted the whole character that way. I think that’s fun when someone walks in and there like ‘this is my choice’ and if it works for the film you just run with it.
GAF: How was it working with Anthony LaPaglia (Empire Records, 1995)
Kai Barry: It was great ! He’s fantastic, I really enjoyed working with him
Noémie Merlant: It was really good! He’s really nice, we had a lot of dinners and drinks. He is a cyclist so he would do a lot of cycling.
Kai Barry: On his days off he would go and like cycle across the border into Bosnia when we were up in the mountains and we were always worried about him (laughs)
GAF: What was one of the most memorable moments filming ‘Newcomer’?
Noémie Merlant: So many! erm… I liked doing the scene.. maybe I shouldn’t say it because it’s at the end (laughs). It was really fun getting to feel what it’s like to be a Serbian girl. I worked in a bar in Serbia because my character works in a bar, (one day) I was there and watching the view and it was beautiful and I felt like I was a real Serbian for a moment and it was a really nice feeling just to feel kind of free.
Kai Barry: I mean there were a couple things for me. Working in Serbia felt like a big risk when we were doing it. I hadn’t been before, just for scouting, but then we ended up finding this wonderful production company! and you know when you make a film that’s sort of like this family and everyone’s trying to like make it all happen, and you can expect that if you went to film school with all these people or they were friends. It sort of turned in to that kind of a production, in a foreign country that I’ve never spent so much time in (laughs) so yeah that was kinda great.
Noémie Merlant: Oh yeah I had to drive and I don’t have my license! I was driving in the street in Serbia and everyone was so scared (they both laugh) I was in the car with the main character (James Floyd)and Kai.
GAF: You did a great job, it looked believable
Kai Barry: (laughs) it looked believable! It was great, I almost forgot about that.
GAF: The film was action packed, did anyone get injured?
Kai Barry: Everything was pretty much done in front of the camera. I don’t think anybody got hurt, there was a scene where James (Floyd) had to run down a hill full speed and after doing that three times his feet where hurting, but there was like no exciting injury that happened (laughs)
GAF: There is a gruesome torture scene in the film (it involves a scalpel and vital ligaments) how did you come up with that?
Kai Barry: We didn’t really do that (laughs) it was a sick thought I guess (laughs) I mean I studied engineering as an undergrad and there was something about it that just made sense. It has ‘one by one’ kind of thing and there’s a permanent (damage) thing to it and I was like wow that would be a horrible thing to happen to somebody.
GAF: There is a lack of unique ideas in film today, how did you come up with such a unique idea for an obvious genre?
Kai Barry: Good question (laughs) no idea! I mean I have always loved spy films and it is a really respected genre. I think it was having watched films like ‘The Confrontation’ (1969) and some of these older films that use more of the elements of sound to tell a story, and for a very small film sound is cheap, and so to pull in that sound element allowed us to put in to the audiences imagination and confuse them like ‘what’s happening’? but its quiet simple to do.
GAF: How did you become a director?
Kai Barry: (laughs) I went to film school for a while, I always wanted to go the director route.
GAF: How did you become an actress?
Noémie Merlant: Since I was young I liked the arts and dancing and I was doing performances with my friends. I lived in a small city and so I never thought about being an actress or that it was possible. My dad said, when I was 17, that I should go to Paris and go to an acting school and so I went and I realized that this is what I want to do, I was 18.
GAF: What advice would you give an aspiring young director
Kai Barry: I think just make stuff! I think there’s so much that can be distracting in the business side of it and nothing can happen unless you make something really good. Respect the time it takes to learn how to do it, definitely, I mean I feel like I’m still doing that.
GAF: What would you say to aspiring young actresses:
Noémie Merlant: When you really want to do something you should put all your energy in it, good and positive energy ,(and if you do that) then there is no reason that it doesn’t happen. Even if you don’t know anybody (in the industry), I didn’t know anything or anyone but I think that it is important to put the work in and be positive.
GAF: Favourite film
Kai Barry: There’s so many, I would say Billy Wilders ‘The Apartment’ (1960)
Noémie Merlant: That’s a hard question but I would say ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (1975)
GAF: Favourite director
Kai Barry: Ernst Lubitsch
Noémie Merlant: its soo hard.. I like Kai Barry (both laugh)
GAF: Favourite actor or actress?
Kai Barry: I don’t think I have a favourite, I respect a lot of them, I think it just depends on what role they are playing…
GAF: What about someone you would like to work with in a spy film?
Kai Barry: I’d say Joaquin Phoenix
Noémie Merlant: I love all the Kate’s, Kate Blanchette, Kate Winslet ..all the Kate’s and I love Leonardo Di Caprio and Joaquin Phoenix
If you love a good spy, I recommend ‘Newcomer’, its seat-gripping-good
(my film star rating out of 5 – 5/5)