Queer writer-director Andrew Haigh invites viewers to eavesdrop on the budding relationship between Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New). The guys meet at a club one evening and spend the night together. And the next day, and the next night, and the next day.
Glen is an artist and has a queer political bent. Russell is more subdued, an everyman who just wants to be happy. Their conversations range from sensitive — Chris explains how he was outed in school — to heated, as when Russell argues a position about gay marriage. Haigh films the men in a documentary-like fashion in Russell’s apartment or chatting idly on public transit.
Yet the filmmaker’s intimate, fly-on-the-wall approach, along with the actors’ strong performances, provide the key to the film’s emotional power. “Weekend” allows viewers to bask in the pleasure of the two men sharing a bicycle ride, or sense the emotion behind their frequent physical contact. As Glen and Russell go through the familiar rituals of dating — particularly not wanting to say goodbye to an attractive potential new boyfriend — audiences will become invested in the relationship, perhaps to the same degree that the two men fall for each other. And the film’s poignant finale is sure to jerk tears from more than a few viewers.
Both actors are fantastic in their roles. Handsome without being too pretty, they seem perfectly comfortable and natural together. Cullen nicely underplays his part; a scene at his goddaughter’s birthday party belies his desires to be with Glen. New is particularly charismatic and irresistible. Watching these men connect is simply magical.
PGN phoned the openly gay New in England to chat about “Weekend.”
PGN: Chris, you are very charming as Glen. How did you develop the character?
CN: My charm? I brought that to the film. Andrew had no charm. [Laughs.] I’m joking. Andrew let me bring my own kind of sense of humor to him. I enjoy the absurd, the strange little things in life.
PGN: How did you identify with him?
CN: I think I may have been like him at one point in my life — not wanting to get involved in a relationship. There are phases where we do that, and isolate ourselves. I recognized that protective element of him, Glen wanting to remove himself from the [dating] game. This makes him cerebral, and that’s what Russell breaks down. We tried to make Glen as rounded as possible — not one-note, or aggressive.
PGN: How much of the film was improvised?
CN: It’s hard to say what was in the script and what we improvised. It would be interesting to look at the original script now. We were very in-the-moment, and did lots of versions. Because we were shooting in sequence, we could do that and not worry about saying something that we’d already shot. That was really great, very [freeing] and allowed us to relax.
PGN: You have a very natural rapport with your co-star Tom. How did you create that?
CN: We didn’t do any specific techniques. The main thing we did is try to relax around each other. The relationship on the set wasn’t one-to-one/one-on-one, but a three-way between Andrew, Tom and I.
PGN: So you discussed everything right down to, well, who’s on top in the sex scene?
CN: You do have to discuss [who’s on top] when you’re doing a film with intimacy. The characterization of sexuality as it’s discussed in the film — each character has a way they like to take part in sex — speaks to where they are in the world, and what’s in their heads as well. Because we were relaxed, there were no tensions when [the camera] rolled. We were open to try anything. So if Tom changed a line, or a move, or his intonation, we’d just go with it. That’s what made some of the more-interesting moments in the film, when we create a nice chemistry.
PGN: What can you disclose about the sex scenes? The film is so real they didn’t seem simulated.
CN: [Laughs.] They weren’t real. They seemed real because we didn’t show that much. So people believe it [was real] because of the intimacy we created.
PGN: Is Tom your type?
CN: No. He’s completely the opposite, sadly. Which made it kind of easier, actually. [Laughs.] But he’s got quite a fan club now that the film’s been released. Apparently he’s lots of people’s type.
PGN: Why do you think Glen and Russell are attracted to each other?
CN: I think, as with a lot of relationships, it’s the accidental challenges that make it work. They say the right thing, in the right frame of mind to each other. Their personalities ... the timing is right. You are ready to have that experience. That happens with a lot of relationships, short or long, that “right period” where you respond to each other.
PGN: Glen is a bit political, talking about gay marriage, addressing issues of living in a straight world. How political are you?
CN: I am quite politically minded, but I’m not sure if I agree with Glen’s politics. It’s interesting: The generation I come from in England feels slightly at a distance from the gay movement. We look at it and respect it and admire what people have done for us, but it’s hard for me to see what the relevance is. I’ve only just been learning about that in the past few years. It’s because I’m getting older. I see these things do have an effect. I just got married last weekend. It was a shotgun wedding — I got him pregnant. [Laughs.] Taking that step, I had to think about the marriage question. My partner and I don’t at all copy or attempt to simulate a straight marriage. The stereotypical way of looking at that is that we have an open relationship, and that’s a cheap idea. A gay couple can get married and do it in a slightly different way. We had no bridesmaids, no bouquets, no wedding lists, etc. Here in the UK, it’s called “partnership.” But I’m going to call it “marriage” and call him “my husband” and not let anyone stop me. Being gay, we can shape that anew for ourselves.
PGN: There are scenes where Glen and Russell bond over coming-out stories. Can you discuss your coming out?
CN: My coming out was exactly timed when I came out of the womb. I was, If anyone has a problem — it’s their problem! I was lucky. I am stubborn. I came out of the womb knowing I was going to be an actor and a homosexual. I don’t know why I knew it, but I did.
PGN: Glen’s coming-out story involves him getting caught wanking off to Rupert Graves’ nude scene in “A Room with a View.” You have a quick full-frontal shot in “Weekend.” Do you imagine guys wanking off to your nude scene?
CN: [Laughs so hard he has to catch his breath.] Breathe! Hardly! I’d be very surprised. If they want to have a go at a frozen screen, fine. Good luck!
PGN: Glen records his sexual experiences for art, and reads Russell’s diary-like encounters. Have you ever done anything like this?
CN: I’ve never kept a record of those things. I don’t know why, really, I never keep a record of anything. I have the worst memory on earth. It’s strange to think why he would. It’s not just for the art. It’s a way of exploring the emotions and reality to explore it from a distance.
PGN: Why do you think it’s important to be an openly gay actor?
CN: There’s no reason not to be. If I miss out on a job, then I won’t know about it. My first agent told me not to tell the press I was gay, but I was in “Bent” so I fired him.
PGN: What’s your favorite way to spend a weekend?
CN: [Laughs.] Not sure ... usually in bed. If you’ve got a good bed, life’s good. I’m a very hermit-like person. I just stay in. I’m the homebody. Not a very sexy answer, is it?
PGN: Well, I’m going to say you are naked in your bed!
PGN: I like to read in bed. What do you like to read?
CN: Jean Genet. I find his writings incredible. You read his novels, and you think everyone else is so lazy. He put more ideas in one page that others do in an entire book. It’s so sexy. His mind is fascinating, dangerous. He takes you places you don’t want to go. I read BUTT magazine all the time too, but it’s frustrating they haven’t published in ages.