With Boys On Film 8: Cruel Britannia hitting disc last Monday, we’ve been having a bit of a Spring week, which is one of the short films on the disc – and one that’s played festivals such as Sundance and Berlinale. We’ve already chatted to Spring director Hong Khaou and one of the film’s stars, Chris O’Donnell. Now we’ve asked the same questions to the other actor in the piece, Jonathan Keane, who fans of queer cinema will know from Unhappy Birthday and Seafood.
So what did he have to say about getting nude and delving into the world of S&M?
How did you get involved with Spring?
I’d know Hong was thinking of this film for many years and I was always interested in playing a role in it. When I found out he was doing it I auditioned and got the part.
What most struck you about the script when you read it?
What wasn’t said – it’s great when a script hints that so much of what you’ll be playing is going to be discovered while you’re working out the relationship between the characters – what is felt, about movement, looking and touch – that really excited me about Spring.
Is it difficult to portray the sort of intimate power-play in the short, especially with a film crew around?
Yes and no – in some ways it is so performative, it was good to have an audience to play against and to; but in other ways, it such, as you say, an intimate relationship, you have to work hard at blocking out everyone so that you can keep it true.
Did it help that the characters aren’t supposed to know one another, so the journey you’re on as actors is somewhat similar to what’s happening to the characters?
Yes very much, you don’t have preconceptions of who someone is when you don’t know them, apart from what the actor gives you – but you don’t get to know each other as actors, more as characters and that’s very powerful.
Did you look into the world of S&M before you shot the film?
Yes, I chatted to a few men who were into it, to understand what they got out of it, what were their motivations for ‘doing’ S&M – it was a bit alien to me, so it was like learning another language and translating yourself into it.
Did you mind the nudity?
It was surprisingly good fun to get your clothes off in front of lots of people!
Do you just get used to being in your pants all the time after a while?
No, wearing pants was weirder than being naked – especially the tight ones I had to wear for the shoot – you feel exposed in front of people in a pair of pants.
There’s a lot going on in the film that has to be packed into a very short running time. Is it tough making sure you get across what’s going on with each of the characters when you have so little time to express it?
Yes, but we rehearsed the scenes enough to have a sense of what we would be feeling and how we would react, and Hong allowed us to play the scenes many times during filming so what you see is a true snapshot of a lot of time spent finding how and what we were communicating to each other.
Do you have a particular favourite aspect on Spring?
Yes, really love the bit where I’m pushing Chris’s face with my hand, felt very intense and real. Chris was great to work with – very trusting, generous and a gifted, intuitive actor.
Jonathan, you were also in Unhappy Birthday, which was also a fairly small independent project. Do you think it was easier to get that film out to audiences, as it was feature-length, or is there plenty of room for interesting shorts at festivals?
I actually think it’s easier to get shorts out to festivals when they’re good like Spring – more places will show them and they come as part of a gang of shorts that audiences will take a chance on. Features are far more difficult, although Unhappy was great too so it had a good festival outing.
Did you go to any of the festivals where Spring played? Were you pleased with the audience reaction?
Yes I went to Berlin – I loved seeing it on such a big screen – it looked beautiful – the audience seemed to really like it, but it’s always a film that gets a thoughtful, quiet response.
Do you think audiences are missing out, as most people wouldn’t think to spend time searching out and watching short films?
I think short films are THE genre for queer cinema, so much of queer life is about feelings and happenings that we don’t see on screens and we rarely express in life to others or to ourselves – short films can capture those moments beautifully.
Thank you Jonathan.