BAZ BAMIGBOYE: Why Josh O'Connor is the Prince of Tales

BAZ BAMIGBOYE: After his triumph as Charles in The Crown…why Josh is the Prince of Tales

Josh O’Connor, who has won widespread acclaim for his portrayal of the Prince of Wales in The Crown, said there was a ‘special beauty’ about the love scenes in his new film, Mothering Sunday, because they were shot during the pandemic, at a time when simply touching another person felt illicit.

The actor, who has just been nominated for an Emmy award for his Charles, appears alongside Odessa Young (a blazing new screen artist) in Mothering Sunday.

In the picture, set six years after the Great War, he plays Paul Sheringham, a young man racked with survivor’s guilt and the trauma of losing siblings and friends on the battlefield.

Young, a 23-year-old Australian based in Brooklyn, plays Jane, a housemaid — who goes on to become a literary giant — with whom Paul embarks on a passionate affair, while engaged to another woman.

Josh O’Connor, who has won widespread acclaim for his portrayal of the Prince of Wales in The Crown, said there was a ‘special beauty’ about the love scenes in his new film, Mothering Sunday, because they were shot during the pandemic, at a time when simply touching another person felt illicit

The actor, who has just been nominated for an Emmy award for his Charles, appears alongside Odessa Young (a blazing new screen artist) in Mothering Sunday

‘He can be totally naked physically, but also emotionally, with Jane; vulnerable in a way he can’t be with anyone else,’ the 31-year-old told me at a penthouse apartment in Cannes, a stone’s throw from where the picture premiered the night before.

The safety protocols on the film, directed by Eva Husson and produced by Elizabeth Karlsen and Stephen Woolley, were stringent. 

‘You’re tested and they go: ‘You’ve got three hours . . . let’s go! Let’s do a sex scene’.’

O’Connor said one of the worst aspects of Covid was the fact that touching — a hug, a kiss — became verboten. 

‘So the beauty of being able to touch and be intimate was so special for the film — and for us, the actors. I really love those scenes.’

Unusually for nowadays, there was no ‘intimacy advisor’. O’Connor, Young and director Husson mapped out the scenes themselves. 

O’Connor said one of the worst aspects of Covid was the fact that touching — a hug, a kiss — became verboten

The safety protocols on the film, directed by Eva Husson and produced by Elizabeth Karlsen and Stephen Woolley, were stringent. Above: Sope Dirisu as Donald (left) and Young as Jane

Ms Young’s character is seen with Colin Firth as Mr Niven, as O’Connor sits behind

Olivia Colman also stars in the film, as  Mrs. Niven (pictured above with Young’s Jane Fairchild

‘There’s not that much sex,’ he said. ‘It’s either post coital, or there’s a lot of nudity . . . with them just existing, naked, in the same space, which is really sad and vulnerable.’

There’s not much dialogue in those scenes; and yet they are tremendously eloquent.

Lest you think, by the way, that O’Connor only plays posh young men, he appears as a former drug addict, opposite Letitia Wright, in another film, Aisha, being sold to distributors in Cannes.

The actor will soon begin working on the first of three pictures he’ll shoot in North America over the next 12 months — two of them in New York. 

Another project involves Francis Lee, who directed O’Connor’s breakthrough film God’s Own Country. 

O’Connor’s portrayal of a young Prince Charles in The Crown has received plaudits

Another project involves Francis Lee, who directed O’Connor’s breakthrough film God’s Own Country

Lee has written the screenplay for the untitled film, about which O’Connor would say little, apart from the fact that it’s seasonal, and ‘requires a lot of snow’.

He’s now left Cannes, bound for a break in Mexico before filming in the U.S. and a possible premiere at the Telluride Film Festival for Mothering Sunday.

While in Mexico, he told me he plans to start writing his first film, which he’s developing with the British Film Institute.

It’s inspired by, but not about, his grandmother, to whom he was close. Having not seen her during lockdown, apart from on Zoom, he was allowed to see her a few weeks ago, through a window at her care home. She died two days later.

‘She was really magic; a special person,’ he said.

Yes I Cannes, says Little Miss Sunshine 

The capacity audience inside the Grand Theatre Lumiere in Cannes stirred in anticipation as they watched Matt Damon’s progress on the red carpet outside on a giant screen.

Accompanied by Camille Cottin (the breakout star of French comedy-drama Call My Agent!) and other cast members of his new movie Stillwater, Damon headed slowly up the steps and into the auditorium.

The buzz, though, was all along the lines of: Who is that blonde goddess in the emerald green gown?

People (like me) did a double take when they realised it was Abigail Breslin, Oscar nominated — at the age of nine — for her role as Olive, the girl who wanted to be a junior beauty pageant queen, in Little Miss Sunshine. (I remembered seeing her when it opened at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival).

In Stillwater Breslin plays Allison, a French-language student from Oklahoma, who was studying in Marseille but is now in jail for murdering her girlfriend — though she insists she’s innocent.

At the Grand Theatre Lumiere in Cannes, as cast members of new movie Stillwater headed up the steps into the auditorium, the buzz was all along the lines of: Who is that blonde goddess in the emerald green gown? People (like me) did a double take when they realised it was Abigail Breslin

Damon plays Bill, her bull-in-a-china-shop father; a man way out of his depth as he takes on the local judicial authorities, in an attempt to free his daughter. 

Damon is superb. So is Cottin —and Lilou Siauvaud, who plays her daughter.

But my eye kept being drawn to Breslin. In one particular scene she’s on a day release from jail.

She and her dad are walking along Marseille’s rocky shoreline. And then Allison begins to speak of how humiliated and hurt she felt during the intense relationship she had with the dead young woman.

I keep replaying that moment in my head, because Breslin is breathtaking. 

When I told her this, she laughed and said the reason she’s emotional in the shot isn’t just because of director Tom McCarthy’s visceral screenplay.

Breslin was Oscar nominated — at the age of nine — for her role as Olive, the girl who wanted to be a junior beauty pageant queen, in Little Miss Sunshine

In Stillwater Breslin plays Allison, a French-language student from Oklahoma, who was studying in Marseille but is now in jail for murdering her girlfriend — though she insists she’s innocent

The truth is: she was desperate to get to the bathroom. ‘I really had to pee! And that helped me cry,’ she admitted when we met a few days later in a suite at the swanky JW Marriott hotel with its sweeping, two-storey marble staircase and Riviera views.

‘Also, I was talking about how humiliated Allison had been feeling — and everybody can relate to that feeling of being so hurt.’

Breslin spent two and a half months filming in the French port city, and (like her character) often felt isolated, though her boyfriend did manage to fly in for visits. 

Her French in the film is impeccable. Breslin smiled and said that when offered the part, she was asked if she could drive, swim — and speak French like a native. ‘I can swim!’ she replied.

But intensive language lessons began immediately at her home in Los Angeles, and continued overseas on location. 

Matt Damon plays Bill, her bull-in-a-china-shop father; a man way out of his depth as he takes on the local judicial authorities, in an attempt to free his daughter. Damon is superb. So is Cottin —and Lilou Siauvaud, who plays her daughter. Above: Breslin with Siauvaud, Damon, Camille Cottin and director Tom McCarthy

‘I worked with a tutor in France every night, saying the lines over . . . and over.’

At the premiere, she feared she’d be rumbled. 

‘This whole French audience is going to be like: ‘Stupid American!’ ‘ But not a bit of it. ‘She’s the real deal,’ Damon said, admiringly, of his co-star, when we chatted briefly. 

The film’s a thriller of sorts, but also an astute study of the dysfunctional American family, forced against its will into action. 

Breslin noted that Americans can sometimes cling to the familiar ‘because it’s scary to take a risk and step out of our comfort zone’.

Breslin starred as the youngest member of the Hess family in 2002 film Signs

‘Over here (in Europe), they’re more willing to experience new things. Whereas in America, we like to stay a little bit more in our bubble.’

Not Breslin, though. She has just shot a film called Slayers, which she described as a ‘self-aware horror comedy’ about social media influencers . . . and vampires.

She’s also written and directed a television comedy called Hitbaby. And, under her rock music alias Sophomore, she has released a new single called Steve McQueen. 

‘I can’t ever stick with doing one thing at a time,’ she said. I reckon she may have to fit in a busy awards season, too.

Stillwater is in cinemas on August 6.

Night Honor discovered that mum Tilda is an alien  

There was something enormously touching in the sight of Honor Swinton Byrne queuing up, in Cannes, to watch a Classics screening of Peter Wollen’s 1987 sci-fi marvel Friendship’s Death, starring Fleabag’s Bill Paterson . . . and her mother, Tilda Swinton. 

Paterson plays a war reporter in conversation with an extra-terrestrial(that would be mum, left) in the film, which has been painstakingly restored by the British Film Institute.

Earlier, I had seen mother and daughter — playing mother and daughter — in Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir: Part II.

There was something enormously touching in the sight of Honor Swinton Byrne queuing up, in Cannes, to watch a Classics screening of Peter Wollen’s 1987 sci-fi marvel Friendship’s Death, starring Fleabag’s Bill Paterson . . . and her mother, Tilda Swinton (above) 

For me, that picture (a follow-up to 2019’s cult hit The Souvenir) is one of the year’s best so far; and the energy the pair project is heaven for film fans. 

‘I made Friendship’s Death long before I had Honor,’ Tilda told me. ‘But I was around the same age Honor is now, maybe a couple of years older.’

Swinton is 60, while her daughter is 23; and she and I calculated that we’d known each other since her earliest days, making films with Derek Jarman. ‘It all brings together the history of our lives and of cinema,’ she declared, of the fact that both titles were being shown at the festival. 

All of which was going through my head as I watched The Souvenir: Part II, which pays homage to artists such as Jarman, Orson Welles, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. 

Tilda was in Cannes with four other films, including Mark Cousins’s great documentary The Storms Of Jeremy Thomas (about the legendary British producer); Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria.

Earlier, I had seen mother and daughter — playing mother and daughter — in Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir: Part II

Now Noemie’s a lady on fire with a camera  

French actress Noemie Merlant, who won acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019 for the arthouse hit Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, strode up a flight of wooden steps — in her Christian Louboutin heels and designer shorts — to a rooftop terrace with a stunning view of the clear blue sky and verdant mountains.

She had two friends in tow: Gimi Covaci, a young Romanian-born but Paris-based actor, and Sanda Codreanu, who studied drama with Merlant in Paris a decade ago. 

They were wearing seriously impressive designer trainers. The kind you have to take out a mortgage for.

The trio sipped espressos and smoked Marlboros as we chatted about Merlant’s film Mi Iubita, Mon Amour. The first part of the title means ‘My Love’ in Romanian.

French actress Noemie Merlant, who won acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019 for the arthouse hit Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, strode up a flight of wooden steps — in her Christian Louboutin heels and designer shorts — to a rooftop terrace with a stunning view of the clear blue sky and verdant mountains

The movie, Merlant’s first as a feature director, grew out of her friendship with Covaci, whom she met when both were working on a short film she directed called Shakira in Paris a couple of years ago. 

He invited her and three of her girlfriends to his family’s home in Romania for a summer of fun; and Merlant decided to turn the trip into a film shoot.

She developed a story about four women from Paris who are rescued by a young man who allows them to stay at his Roma family’s home when their car breaks down. 

The girls share one room and for a few days become part of the family. Which is pretty much what happened in real life.

Merlant explained that in the story, ‘there are no gender and cultural barriers… it’s just about sharing emotion’. ‘We are all the same — men and women,’ she declared.

We agreed to continue that conversation one day, over lunch in Paris. 

Bumped into my old friend (we didn’t start out that way) Sean Penn at a midnight soiree over at the Martinez Terrace, following the premiere of his latest film Flag Day. 

It stars his daughter Dylan . . . playing his daughter (there’s definitely a familial theme here this year). 

By this time he’d discarded his black tie and was dressed down, in denim. I asked him what he was doing next, meaning projects.

‘I’m getting myself drunk, which is what I’m doing next,’ he responded merrily. Didn’t see Dylan at the bash. But I’d certainly like to see her in more movies. 

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