Breaking out the hard way...

Brian Cox and director Rupert Wyatt reveal how they made smart Brit prison-drama The Escapist.

So have either of you ever spent any time in a prison cell?
Brian Cox: When I was very, very little, I did spend a whole day in a policeman’s house, because I got lost. I remember the bars quite well, although I was on the other side. It was actually the kitchen area of the local police station. I always remember seeing the bars. I was about two and a half.
Rupert Wyatt: Well, I went to boarding school, I suppose that’s the closest thing!

It’s tough to get a first film made. Brian, why did you fight to help Rupert make his directing debut with The Escapist?
Cox: We’d made this short film together under appalling circumstances. We filmed in the rain, we had a first-assistant director whose girlfriend’s mother had died the morning we started shooting and he had to leave. I had the flu. It was textbook! But I had a great time working with Rupert – I was just impressed with the way Rupert handled a very difficult situation.

Was shooting The Escapist an easier experience?
Wyatt: I think when you’re cramming essentially a 32- or 33-day shoot into 25 days – which is what our schedule was – that brings with it a whole set of problems. I wanted to be ambitious and subvert the prison genre, but I knew that even having Brian as my lead actor for my first film, I wasn’t going to be given a lot of money.

What’s the secret to making a good film under those pressures?
Wyatt: The only way to get around that is first to cast very strong actors who can work very quickly and achieve a great deal in a short space of time. And work with a crew who are capable of working under serious pressure and just utilising the pre-production schedule. Just going for it.
Cox: He knew how tight it was. He would have liked 30 days. He knew he’d got 25. But there was never any question that he was going to do it. It’s great to see.

Have you ever worked with any directors who’ve folded under the pressure?
Cox: I once worked with a director where we had a problem with a movie and he nearly collapsed half way through the shoot. And finally, this director couldn’t do it – which I thought was a great tragedy. And he said to me, ‘But Brian, I always said it’s a $2 million dollar movie.’ And I said, ‘Yes, but you agreed to shoot it for $1.5 million.’ And when you make that commitment, you’ve got to go through with it. That’s part of the process. And that’s what Rupert did.

Can you tell us who you’re talking about?
No... I like to, but I can’t!