07 December, 2014


TOYAH AT THE
BFI DEREK JARMAN
RETROSPECTIVE
12.2.2014



Q&A
AFTER THE SCREENING
OF “THE TEMPEST”

TOYAH: “Jubilee” was very much made the way Derek worked. In the beginning everything was a group of people, it was instantaneous - it was “I like that, let's shoot it. Why don't we try this – let's shoot it”. With “The Tempest” he kind of upped the bar for himself and by the time he was preparing “The Tempest” I was a huge cult figure musically and in acting.

He approached me and we went to dinner on Wardour Street and he said "I'd like you to do Miranda in Shakespeare's “The Tempest”". My immediate thought was “Shakespeare? How the hell do you do that?” I'd never really connected with Shakespeare even though I started as an actress and he said “don't worry, I'll get you through it. I will give you the timings, I will give you the meanings and also I'll edit the dialogue.”




I didn't realise how big a thing that would be at the time and he said to me that the reason he was making “The Tempest” is he believed that Shakespeare was passing on information to the public that was kept in a sacred space away from the public to control the public by making them powerless. And instantly I said “I've got to do this! This is fantastic!”

I thought about it a long time – whether I could do this, whether it would expose as an actress with a lack of technique but I said yes and at the time I was shooting “Quadrophenia”, I'd just shot “The Corn Is Green” with Katherine Hepburn with George Cukor directing. I was having some really special experiences.

Going from a Hollywood set-up, working with Cukor back to working with Jarman – it was very interesting. I was like going from working with someone who had such a honed experience of the golden age of Hollywood to working with an artist who had the painters brush. When you were with Derek everything was about the painters brush and the detail of where you put light. It was so different. Derek also created a community and you were a part of that community. And if you weren't part of that community the bubble would burst and that was another rare experience.



 
INTERVIEWER: Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like to be on set with such a kind of disparate collection of people, such a cast and crew?

TOYAH: Well, firstly Derek said we've got Stoneleigh Abbey and I thought “c'mon, what's so exciting about a burned out place?” (below) And then you arrive there and the burnt curtains were still hanging up, the burned furniture was in some of the rooms, the ashes were still there and the snow was coming in through the lack of roof. It was extraordinary! 

When I arrived on set Derek was lighting with Peter (Middleton, the cinematographer), he was turning it into this magnificent stage set. It was very very cold and most of us lived in the kitchen for most of the time - where there was a cook and we were all sitting around a big table. And Derek created the magic and firstly we were all cast into the building and it was the story of “The Tempest”. The storm was going on outside, we were kind of very very aware of mother nature and the power of mother nature and it was wild!




I mean everything about Derek's life was wild and you had to put it in the pocket of the period. Sexually anything went and it happened in public and in “Jubilee” people were openly having sex in front of us and people were naked in front of us but in “The Tempest” he was trying to keep it under control because he wanted an organised set.

I can remember there was an incident when an orgy broke out in one of the rooms and words had to be said that we were in Stoneleigh Abbey and we were there from the kindness of the owners, could there not be open sex in public?

Also he realised that I was still so radically … how can I put it? I never experienced that physically myself and Derek was always really protective of me. I'd always had a boyfriend, I was also loyal to the boyfriend, I was so straight laced Derek thought she can not see men having sex in public.

He was hugely protective but at the same time wonderfully worldly aware. People were having a good time but also people were working really hard. You had this fantastic designer in, Yolanda Sonnabend, and my God she worked hard! I had my first meeting with her in Barnes where she had a studio.

She brought out these crinolines and she tore the material of the framework and put the framework on me and she said “yep, it's a bit skeletal” and I said “no, we'll put shells on it!” Miranda would've gone out to the store, she would've picked shells, they would've been her jewellery.

She was a tribal child, she was completely untamed, she knew nothing about mankind. So just take her out in to the wild and she would pick up everything and it would have a natural beauty and she would attach it to what she wore. And that's how we build up the image of Miranda. Wow! Wow! The best costumes I've ever worn in the whole of my life.

 


INTERVIEWER: I think all of the costumes are really great and we saw something of that, the designs earlier as well of course in the film. But I thought the choice of casting was terrific in this film. And when we were watching it there were many things I'd forgotten like Cristopher Biggins -

TOYAH: Yeah! Well, he's a good actor! He's always been a good actor. He was in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, he did lots of stage plays and stuff like that. Wild man …

INTERVIEWER: So many great people. In his last film “Blue” Derek famously said "our name will be forgotten in time and no-one will remember our work" and when we were watching a face to face interview Derek did with Jeremy Isaacs he was asked what would you like to happen after your death - Derek already knew then that he had AIDS and he was dying - and he said that he wanted everything to disappear. He wanted his films to disappear and his name and everything to go.

TOYAH: Derek, I disagree with you.

INTERVIEWER: I was just going to ask you what you thought his legacy was?

TOYAH: OK, well, you've got to look at the period that this happened in. Derek was one of the first people to be wiped out in the tidal wave of HIV and AIDS and it was very angry time. When it came (out in the) open that Derek had developed AIDS from HIV there were a lot of angry people, there were a lot of threats, there were a lot of people that wanted to kill him physically.

Keith Collins I think quite rightly swept Derek into this bubble of protection and allowed Derek to be an artistic person right to the end. Derek was angry, he was understandably angry - he was seeing people he loved die very quickly, he was going to die very quickly and it was a bad death. I mean the physical experience of what he went through was a bad death.

People were so frightened of treating people with AIDS back then that they were left like lepers. Derek was frightened and Derek was angry and his artwork during this final time in his life was utterly remarkable and must never be forgotten. But for me his films mustn't be forgotten because he was brave enough never to compromise in an industry where everything seems to be about compromise, cliché and paranoia and where accountants tell you what you've got think and do and what the audience want.




Derek was not a part of that and that's why need the memory of Derek. He was brave and in this culture where we are "Little Britain", "Little United Kingdom" in the mass of the film world we've got to encourage our film makers to be brave and I think they've got to see Derek, know what Derek went through.

For instance when we were shooting “Jubilee” he had to loose a character in the film because there wasn't enough money in the budget to have so many characters and “Mad”, my character had to go. I was brokenhearted about this and Derek phoned me one day and said I will be paid, “I've put my fee back into the film so you can be in it.” He was like that.

There was a moment when we were shooting "Jubilee" when we couldn't even afford to buy sandwiches to have for lunch. Derek went to the bank, borrowed the money for sandwiches and came back and we ate so I think people need to know the memory of this incredible man that made things happen, who was an artist, he wasn't just a director – he was a painter, he was an artist, he had this wonderful visual eye and why should he be forgotten, I can think of many artists who deserve to be forgotten but he's not one of them.

TOYAH ON “JUBILEE”

TOYAH: “Mad” was raw energy, raw emotion. I wanted her to be a tidal wave because that's Toyah wanted to do. I was a nice punk. The person I was when I met Jarman was – I was someone that was as determined as the devil to have a successful career in acting and in singing. I mean it was acting, singing, acting, singing - I mean I fore shook all relationships, all friendships to pursue acting and singing.

That said I was a girl from Birmingham, slight handicap that time – we're talking about 30 or 35 years ago. I went along to have tea with Derek Jarman. Derek sat me down in his living room, on a beautiful leather sofa and handed me a script and I think the script at that point was “Down With The Queen”, it wasn't called “Jubilee”, it had no name.




And he said "choose a role but you can't play Amyl Nitrite", he said "you can't have that because Jordan (above with Toyah) is playing that role". So I thumbed through the script and I counted all the pages that each character had. Naivety, ambition and I was thick. And I saw that “Mad” was a pyromaniac and I found that very exciting because I've only ever wanted to connect with insanity. Insanity and bad behavior. It kind of inspires me and I said to Derek please could I play “Mad” and he said yes and that was my audition. I was over the moon! This was my first feature film and I'd been in London no more than two months!

I didn't know what was to come ... I had to learn so quickly on the set of Jubilee. I had to learn about sexual politics, I didn't know what gay meant, I didn't know that men could have sex, I didn't know that women could have sex. I didn't know that same sex relationships existed. I had to hide all this to a certain extent because I was so afraid of people discovering how little experience I had in life in case they thought I had little to offer to the film.

It was quite scary and there was also drug use going on and I knew nothing about drugs. It just baffled and confused me why anyone would want to take drugs. I was quite a hard drinker but most people from Birmingham in that time were hard drinkers. But I didn't know about drugs.

So everything - I was introduced to this incredibly exotic and dangerous world all at the same time. I just felt as if I was at the feast. My eyes were so big, they were bigger than my stomach. It was amazing! Derek literally said to me "do what ever you want – if I don't like it I'll tell you". And it was heaven, it was complete anarchy.




My experience of making “Jubilee” was like no other film I ever went onto make. It was – everyone was committed, everyone contributed, it was a community, it was a family but it was still was really frayed at the edges - like John Albery was building the sets as we went along and he didn't have enough money to build a sets so he was always going up to Derek when were about to shoot a scene - "can I please buy this, please can I buy that" and I think only tensions I ever saw in the making of the film was the lack of money.

Trying to make that happen, try to bring quality and visual quality into what Derek's vision was. But to actually make it - you've got to bear in mind this was only the second time I'd ever been on camera, I was terrified, I used to shake from head to toe, it meant so much to me but I had so little experience that I couldn’t' control my nerves, I couldn't control my enthusiasm. I think I'm quite over the top in it, but the character is called “Mad” so I played mad! Simple as that.

And Derek never said to me once "you can't do that". He never once said "I don't like what you're doing". He just went with it. You see a kind of performance that is you know – that's what it is. “Jubilee” now has to sit, for me, in the period it was made in. As the person I was before I had to fight incredibly hard to get the record deal I got, become the rock star I desired to be and then the 30 years to follow that had to fight to be visible. Derek is more important today now than he's ever been in history.




Because firstly in England we're struggling to make film. Secondly we are force fed cliché upon cliché, formulae upon formulae, character pastiche – we've almost seen it before, it's like where do we find something new?  Because we're not been given it in this corporate world. Derek would've not swallowed that.

And I think Derek, his film making is what the punk movement was back in the late 70's to film making today – it's almost we need this revolution of film making, where people say "right, it's got be shot" and let's face it the technology is available to all of us so let's have the will, let's have the vision, let's make it. And let's not be subservient to a homogenized world when it comes to commercial films so c'mon! Let's be little bit more daring and let's plug into the spirit of Derek Jarman and make those films!

* * * 
You can watch both of the above here

Jubilee (1978)

The Tempest (1979)

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