From the video of press conference here.
WARNING: TRANSCRIPT CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR COLIN’S CHARACTER
Q. Colin, I wondered… Before you got in front of the cameras, if you all had a chance to hang out? Did you have rehearsal time? Did you do improvisations? Did you find some way to bond? Because you’re so compelling as these…and natural as these devoted school buddies.
Colin: What was great is, we got the chance to do a bit of a rehearsal with James [Kent] before starting…which is invaluable and rare in the film industry at the minute. I think we’re lucky as well that James cast it very well because we naturally got on. And I think doing our own individual research with the letters that these people wrote themselves between each other and understanding exactly what the bond was between them in such a tumultuous time was, I think, was important; coming in with those connections, coming in with those feelings, and coming in very much with a duty and a dedication to these people. I think that was paramount, and I think that reflected really when we got on set together and we felt it, you know? I think that it did feel like a special…special moments.
Narrator: Yeah it shows. Thank you.
Q. (person is from a Japanese newspaper). Hi, I would like to ask Colin and Taron about when you discovered the book [Testament of Youth] and what do you think about it and how much did you use it during shooting?
Colin: I hadn’t actually come across the book before coming across the script, so I read it [the script] first and when I came on board, I began to read the book. And for me, it was an area that I wasn’t…that I hadn’t really grown up being educated on the first World War.
It felt a bit like an alien world to me, so I felt like I did have to become a little bit immersed in it. Again, I find Letters from a Lost Generation [a book Vera Brittain published that contained letters from the four men as well as herself], the letters that they wrote themselves, extremely useful just being able to read their letters, essentially in what is now going to be their “voice” in this film. And so, what struck me was a big element of what the book’s about, of what the film’s about, and what the war was partially about was youth, and how it was lost, and that essentially, this part of their youth that was lost is a part that we now, in this day and age, are very privileged to have. And if you take that section of youth out of your upbringing, it makes life very, very difficult, very…almost impossible in terms of an emotional point of view.
And I think that’s what’s so impressive about Vera Brittain’s journey and which Alicia [Vikander] gets across phenomenally in the film is the power to overcome, the power to try to pick up your life after what you’ve lost, and she lost a massive part of her youth, and that to me was what the film really gets across, particularly to our generation and to the people who have been through it, or who know or very close to people who have been through it.
Narrator: You’re nodding in agreement, Taron. Would you like to add something?
Taron: No, I’m actually just thinking that I have no hope of coming out with anything as profound as that!
Q. (The question was directed at Kit, Taron, and Colin about what it was like to work with Alicia Vikander)
Colin: And again, I can only absolutely agree with that as well. We all had our moments with Vera, special moments throughout the film, and they did feel special when you came to them. I think in your head before you shoot a scene, you’ve always got a feeling about it; you’ve always got an impression about it, but you only ever get that truly and emotionally whenever you’re living it, and it felt like we were living it with Alicia. That was…that’s what felt so special about it because she inhabited Vera in every respect: in a truthful, in an honest, in such a detailed way that I think as an audience, you’re absolutely pulled along on the journey with her and you feel everything she feels because I genuinely believe she really did feel it when she was doing it.
Q. Colin, I was wondering if you had done any practicing being blind?
Colin: Yes. I contacted the Blind Veterans UK charity who, apart from the experience I had with them, are a fantastic, fantastic charity. I didn’t realise there were so many blind people in the UK that weren’t availing of their help, and should, I think.
But I took myself off on the train down to Brighton where their centre is, with a view to interview some of their residents there. I was very keen to interview someone who had possibly been blinded in World War II and possibly someone who was younger, around my age, who had been blinded recently, and I did. I got the two perspectives on that; the perspective of time and the very raw, recent perspective from a younger guy.
But, when I walked in, they decided that they were going to treat me as a recently acquired blind resident. So whenever I came in, they put a blindfold on me and I was given a tour of the building and taken in as a resident there for…I think I must have spent about five or six hours as a blind person. And they brought me to their workshops and I was making things. They brought me to their gym. They brought me to the kitchen to try to make a cup of tea.
And my responses to that as someone who had vision and then taken away was surreal. Everyone had a colour. I was convinced that the person taking me around was wearing a pink cardigan…she wasn’t; she was wearing a green jumper. Or, you know, I went into a room, we sat there having a cup of tea…I was convinced we were sitting facing a mirror and there wasn’t a mirror in the room because after I had had the experience, they had taken me on the same tour around the building again, but with my sight.
And to me that was a valuable…it was…it was tough. It did a lot of things to me mentally, and also [to] the people I spoke to, particularly the guy who had lost his sight recently. It was still very raw and very recent. And so it gave me a real clue as to what that would feel like for someone of that time, and you know, I think I tried to utilise that within the film, but also as a life experience. I think it was something that was really unique.
Q. Just hearing Colin speak there, and I thought the film did it brilliantly, almost with very few words…
It showed how Vera brought home her experiences of the war and then when she returned home, everything around seems rather twee and pat. I wondered if the actors had a similar experience working on this film in that you immersed yourself into it so deeply that when you go on to the next job, you almost…it feels not quite as big?
Colin: (nodding) There is always that feeling of a come down in any job that you do. I think you invest yourself in it so much, you try to dedicate yourself to it 110 percent, I think, and that…if you’ve done it right, you should have that feeling afterwards. There’s something wrong if you haven’t, maybe, you know…you have to have the come down. You have to have a feeling of missing it, I think, or you know… and yeah, certainly having, you know, when we shot the last day or, for example, when we shot one of the scenes which were, you know, a key scene for your character, like the blind scene, which we had done in the audition as well… It feels like a moment gone. You only get it once for filming and then it exists forever onscreen, and so… But your personal experience of it is kind of gone and then when the movie wraps, all the people and everyone attached to it are gone, too. But then, as an actor, you have to pick it all up and go on to the next one and put that one away in a little suitcase somewhere.
Making its World Premiere tonight (October 14th) at the BFI London Film Festival, ‘Testament of Youth’ is a powerful story of love, war and remembrance. The film is based on the First World War memoir by Vera Brittain, a story that has become the classic testimony of that war from a woman’s point of view. A searing journey from youthful hopes and dreams to the edge of despair and back again, it’s a film about young love, the futility of war and how to make sense of the darkest times. ‘Testament of Youth’ is led by Alicia Vinkander as Vera Brittain, and the stellar cast also includes the likes of Kit Harington, Taron Egerton, Colin Morgan, Dominic West, Emily Watson, Joanna Scanlan, Hayley Atwell, Jonathan Bailey, Alexandra Roach, and Anna Chancellor.
Set for January 16th, 2015, ‘Testament Of Youth’ is directed by James Kent (The Thirteenth Tale, The White Queen) and produced by David Heyman (Gravity, the Harry Potter movies) and Rosie Alison (Paddington, The Thirteenth Tale) for Heyday Films. Award-winning writer Juliette Towhidi adapted the screenplay. Tickets are still available for public screenings on the 14th and 16th of October at the London Film Festival.
How did you become involved in this film in the first place, and what was it about the script that moved you?
Colin Morgan: I first became aware of ‘Testament Of Youth’ when I received the script. Some scripts immediately speak to you, and this one certainly did. The script was what sparked my interest in the film. I immediately wanted to come in and have my shot at Victor. I was lucky enough to do that, and that’s how the process started.
The entire story of ‘Testament Of Youth’ is emotionally wealthy. Vera’s story is about a girl on the cusp of being a woman who saw the most unimaginable things during the war. The theme of lost youth really struck me. An entire generation of people lost their lives. Even those who survived the war came out the other end lost as well. They never got to experience being young men. They never got a chance to go to university. The younger generation still had life to come, and the older generation had a life to go back to. The generation that went to war didn’t know where to go after it was over. Vera is the cornerstone of the story – as people fall away around her, she carries on straight ahead. It’s an absolute testament to her. To be such a courageous woman, especially in that time period, is an inspiration.
Can you tell us a little bit about your character Victor? He certainly goes on a journey….
Colin Morgan: Yeah. Victor Richardson is Roland and Edward’s schoolmate and best friend. They are a band of brothers, affectionately called ‘The Three Musketeers’. Victor is from a less privileged background than Edward and Roland and sometimes feels unable to articulate himself. He is quite reserved in showing his feelings, even to those closest to him and doesn’t have the common egotistical nature of that era. He’s good- natured, trustworthy, caring, and sensitive to others feelings. In the moments of Vera’s tragedy, Victor is there for her completely, despite all that he’s been through during the war and is very drawn to her. He and Vera are both good-natured and honest, but while Victor is self-effacing and timid, Vera is strong, passionate, opinionated, and direct. She possesses qualities that are almost polar opposite to him, which he is attracted to. He finds her very exciting.
At the beginning of the film, we find Victor excited about the future. Being a young man at that time, there was a huge pressure to go to war. Having gone to Uppingham School, Victor had been conditioned and bred to be a part of the war heroics. Victor was heavily conflicted because he never fully felt that duty in his heart. He is not initially fit for service due to poor eyesight, and he struggles with the shame of not going to war. At that time, there was a big question of masculinity and what it meant to be a man if you didn’t go to war. He was surrounded by men in uniform and he wasn’t a part of them. Because of England’s desperation for soldiers, Victor eventually gets drafted into the war and unfortunately comes out with a disability. It is a testament to Victor’s character the way he deals with a disability in such a cheerful manner. Victor’s ultimate battle is understanding how he could put so much trust in his country and have it betray him so badly.
Where did you start with your research for this film?
Colin Morgan: I began my research for ‘Testament Of Youth’ by going to the book itself. We’re very lucky to have the inspiration for the film as a resource to use. The book has allowed me to really understand Vera’s voice, which is also strong in the film. The letters are also very useful in determining the characters’ voices. Knowing that I was reading Victor’s own words in his letters was incredible and extremely helpful. I was able to access exactly how he spoke, how he thought, what expressions he used, and how he felt about all the tragedies he underwent.
How did you find it representing a real person?
Colin Morgan: Representing someone else’s life brings a sense of honour and pride, but also a sense of duty. I don’t think Victor could’ve imagined that there would be a book or film featuring him, so I want to portray him accurately. I became very attached to these characters as I began to understand them, even a hundred years apart. Because I connected in such a special way with Victor, I have to fight to achieve a portrayal of him that’s as truthful, honest and honourable as possible.
Can you tell me a bit about Roland, Edward and Victor’s relationship, and what was it like working with Kit and Taron
Colin Morgan: Roland, Edward and Victor are best friends with Roland as the lead musketeer. He’s the head of the class and the head of all the teams and represents the ideal boy at that age. Victor and Edward are very driven by him. Edward is quite private and sometimes hard to get to know, but also the driving force behind the fun of the three boys. Victor doesn’t come from as affluent a background as the others, so there is a slight sense of inadequacy surrounding him. The harrowing part of this film is seeing how strong and happy these three boys are together and how the war splinters that. You see them learn how to deal with things on their own.
Working with Kit Harington and Taron Egerton has been great. We bring very different qualities and preparations to the project. It was very clever casting. When we got together, the emotion generally happened quite organically. The pre-war scenes needed to have a sense of excitement about them because Roland, Victor and Edward were young and had their futures and dreams right ahead of them. We wanted to create that feeling onset, and James Kent was brilliant in injecting a true sense of fun, energy and excitement before those takes. We relished the pre-war scenes, knowing what was to come.
How was working with director James Kent, and how did you and James approach the tragedies that occur in the film
Colin Morgan: James is a very passionate and sensitive director, as well as a genuinely nice man. You could immediately tell that he had a real love and drive for this story. He wants the audience to feel how real these people were who inhabited Vera’s world. James has an incredible ability of making each moment as full and energized as possible.
James approached each scene with a specific theme in mind in order to correctly convey what the characters were feeling. It could be something as simple as being on the cusp of life, being in the glamour of war, or being in the horror of reality. Those are all very definite blocks within our story. As an actor, that is extremely valuable to know. With those themes in mind, I brought my own mark and preparation to the role.
In the film, it is extremely heartbreaking to see young, happy boys marching off to war in the film and then watch them come back incomplete. It did not occur to anyone that it would happen to them. Vera and her colleagues at the hospital didn’t fully know how to help them. They did what they thought was right under the circumstances. People were reading about the deaths in the papers and seeing the injuries in the streets. Everyone was engulfed by the tragedy. On set, we only got a glimpse of the war by being present in that atmosphere. It really moves you and terrifies you knowing that the characters actually experienced it in real life.
I thought Alicia Vikander was incredible as Vera. What was it like working with her, seeing her go on this journey with the character….?
Colin Morgan: Vera is a very challenging character to portray, and both Alicia and Vera are driven, determined, compassionate and positive. Many women would not have approached the war and gender inequality as Vera did. Alicia has been on an emotional rollercoaster and had a gruelling schedule throughout this film process but has remained positive throughout. She took this project on in the way Vera probably would.
It is incredible to see both Vera and Alicia transition into different stages of the story. There is a definite shift within everyone in the story, but particularly Vera because the audience is experiencing her story head on. At the beginning, she is excited for her future and her acceptance into Oxford. She has found the love of her life and is buzzing with excitement. When Roland heads to war, you see the heartbreak she endures. She is aware of what is happening in Europe and the impending circumstances. She has a sense of duty to sacrifice her ambitions and be a part of the war effort. Despite all the tragedy, she carries on. She comes out of the war completely changed, but no less driven. Vera’s message is one of resilience.
Has working on this project changed your perspective on war?
Colin Morgan: I didn’t know as much detail about the First World War as I do now. ‘Testament Of Youth’ is important because it approaches the war from a very human level. It is much more than just a blanket cover of boys going to war. We get intimate details of their lives through the first hand accounts available. Approaching the film from such a real perspective has been inspiring. I found the glamour of wanting to go to war relatable to the glamour of wanting to be an actor. It was a very exciting prospect for those boys. The idea that they would ever come back injured was an alien thought. It was fascinating that through all the letters, no one ever thought about being injured during war. The cold realities never occurred to them. Understanding the betrayal and shock that those men felt was eye opening for me. Going to war wasn’t just something that people told them they should do; it was something that they felt they should do. If they didn’t go to war, they felt guilty and shameful. Going to war was better than the shame of staying home.
This film is relevant to all generations, genders and ages. It has taught me so much about the war and the time period. It is important that we not forget what happened. The men and women in ‘Testament Of Youth’ can inspire us all. In today’s world, we don’t realize how easy we have it. These films help to put our lives into perspective.
What do you hope audiences take away from this film?
Colin Morgan: This story has universal appeal because it is more than a film about the First World War. It is a film about a young woman having to overcome unimaginable circumstances. We often think about the death and loss that occurred during the war, but rarely think about the entire lost generation and the personal traumas that they endured. Watching Vera battle the most extreme grieving processes brings hope and positivity. The audience will take such inspiration from Vera’s determination. She decided that the lost generation didn’t have to remain lost, and she never gave in. She came out fighting in the end.
Maskell will play Pete Drummond of the Special Technologies Task Force, and Morgan is set as Leo, a hunted young man. Filming is slated to begin this fall for a 2015 premiere. Tudor, repped by Wishlab and Curtis Brown, Berrington and Front play synths.[Spoiler (click to open)]