Opening in theaters on July 7th is the British thriller ‘The Lesson,’ which was written by Alex MacKeith (‘Exit Eve’) and directed by first time feature filmmaker Alice Troughton (‘Doctor Who,’ ‘Legends of Tomorrow’).
What is the plot of ‘The Lesson’?
‘The Lesson’ stars Daryl McCormack as Liam, an aspiring and ambitious young writer, eagerly accepts a tutoring position at the family estate of his idol, renowned author J.M. Sinclair (Academy Award nominee Richard E. Grant). But soon, Liam realizes that he is ensnared in a web of family secrets, resentment, and retribution. Sinclair, his wife Hélène (Academy Award nominee Julie Delpy), and their son Bertie (Stephen McMillan) all guard a dark past, one that threatens Liam’s future as well as their own. As the lines between master and protégé blur, class, ambition, and betrayal become a dangerous combination in this taut noir thriller.
Who is in the cast of ‘The Lesson’?
‘The Lesson’ stars Academy Award nominee Richard E. Grant (‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?,’ ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’) as J.M. Sinclair, Academy Award nominee Julie Delpy (‘Before Midnight,’ ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’) as Hélène Sinclair, Daryl McCormack (‘Good Luck to You, Leo Grande’) as Liam Sommers, Stephen McMillan (‘Boiling Point’) as Bertie Sinclair, and Crispin Letts (‘Skyfall’) as Ellis.
Moviefone recently had the pleasure of speaking with Oscar-nominee Richard E. Grant about his work on ‘The Lesson,’ the film’s story, why he related to it, working with Julie Delpy and the rest of the cast, collaborating with director Alice Troughton, and the idea of class warfare.
Richard E. Grant in Bleecker Street’s ‘The Lesson.’ Credit: Anna Patarakina. Courtesy of Bleecker Street.
You can read the full interview below or click on the video player above to watch our interviews with Grant and Julie Delpy.
Moviefone: To begin with, J.M. Sinclair is a much darker character than audiences are used to seeing you play. How did you approach and prepare for this role?
Richard E. Grant: I think that more than anything that it’s a hermetically sealed family world that Daryl McCormack, who is hired as a tutor, to come and teach my screen teenage son. He’s the cooker that comes into the nest and causes havoc. I think because the family are dealing with the grief of the loss of their eldest son, who’s committed suicide, rather than grief being something that unifies people, and having been through that with the loss of my wife (Joan Washington) six months before making this film, in this story, it goes off like a grenade and it catapults them in the opposite direction. So they’re very isolated. I think that saying that isolation that each character goes through was something that informed the way that the whole film was made is correct. I’ll put it like this, it is a chamber piece with four characters in one location, and Hamburg was standing in for Oxfordshire. Normally when you’re on location with a very small cast, there’s enormous socializing that goes on. But apart from a cast and producers/director dinner that we had at the beginning of the shoot, nobody socialized. I think that this instinctively happened that we mirrored in real life what was happening (in the script), and the characters in the story because there were very intense scenes that we had to do on a daily basis. I think that at the end of the day, everybody retreated just instinctively into their own hotel/apartment, and that’s what happened, which was unusual. I’ve never experienced it quite like that on a movie before.
(L to R) Julie Delpy and Daryl McCormack in Bleecker Street’s ‘The Lesson.’ Credit: Gordon Timpen. Courtesy of Bleecker Street.
MF: J.M. and Hélène Sinclair’s relationship is already damaged when the film begins. Did you work with actress Julie Delpy before filming to create that relationship or did you just find it on set?
REG: No, we literally did not socialize whatsoever. It wasn’t as though somebody said, “Would you like to have dinner?” And I said, “No, God, no. I’m working on my character.” It just didn’t happen. Maybe instinctively as actors, we reflect exactly what is happening in the story. So it was method by happenstance rather than by any design. It wasn’t conscious. It was only the end of the movie, when we finished shooting, that I realized this. We didn’t really get to know each other on a personal basis outside of the story.
Daryl McCormack in Bleecker Street’s ‘The Lesson.’ Credit: Anna Patarakina. Courtesy of Bleecker Street.
MF: Can you talk about collaborating with director Alice Troughton on set to create the character of J.M. Sinclair?
REG: Well, what is very exciting about when you are at the veteran end of your career, which I am at 66, everybody on every job is now half my age or even younger. So the kick and the excitement is to work with Alice, who had never directed a feature before. She’d done television. So she was very passionate and had been attached to this project for five years. Likewise, the producers, which is not unusual with an indie film, as you know. Daryl had, I think, done a couple of movies, but his ‘Leo Grande,’ it was his big screen break. Stephen McMillan had been in ‘Boiling Point.’ I’d seen him in that movie. So when you’ve got people that are passionate and that are hungry about making a story, you avoid all the journeymen tire directors. They’ve seen it, done it, and got the t-shirt 100 times before. It means that everything is done with a kind of virgin passion, and that is very exciting. I felt a bit sometimes like being an old vampire, getting blood from the younger people around me, and that’s a real transfusion. It ups your game because I think young actors, the way that they act and the level of talent is so extraordinary. That every time I went to work, I thought, I’m going to learn something from these guys. I hope I can keep up with them. This has liberated me.
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(L to R) Richard E. Grant, Daryl McCormack, Julie Delpy, and Stephen McMillan in Bleecker Street’s ‘The Lesson.’ Credit: Anna Patarakina. Courtesy of Bleecker Street.
MF: Filmmaker Alice Troughton has described the dinner scenes as “scenes of warfare.” Can you talk about that and did you see those scenes that way too?
REG: Yeah, they are. I mean, people didn’t use their knives or forks, but they used their tongues to absolutely send poison darts in every direction, or looks without even speaking. Their contempt or their accusation or blame was absolutely inherent in the scenes. Inevitably, when somebody dies within a family, somebody is going to feel that they’ve either been ignored, left out, usurped or whatever. So challenging all of that was, I’ve never done a (Harold) Pinter play, but it reminded me of that, of what mundane things are being said, “Pass the salt. Could I have some more of this?” (Those lines) are loaded with what they really are feeling underneath it. Whereas if you took that dialogue in isolation, you’d think, well, you just asked to pass the salt. What is there on that? It’s not charged. But when you are in the scene and circumstances as they are, they’re like verbal and visual bombs that are being thrown in all directions.
Richard E. Grant stars in Bleecker Street’s ‘The Lesson.’
MF: Finally, with their knowledge of culture, it seems like J.M. and Hélène are really testing Liam in a form of class warfare. Is that correct?
REG: The ammunition of pulling cultural references or trying to humiliate somebody intellectually is, I don’t know whether that’s a particularly an English thing, but it’s something like what people say and what they mean are two different things. I always think it’s the equivalent of when I’ve been in New York and I’ve been in a restaurant and the food hasn’t been up to standard. Because it costs so much, a New Yorker will just tell it straight out like it is, “I’m not paying for that. I want a refund. Get the chef out here. I’ll get it sorted out.” In England, people will vetch and moan about how awful it is and the waiter would come over and say, “How was your meal?” We’d go, “Oh, it’s actually marvelous. Thank you so much.” Of course they will never go back again. I always think it’s the equivalent of in Australia or in America, when somebody says, “Oh, you must come and stay, or you must come and have lunch.” They mean it. In England, if somebody says that to you, it means, “You will never cross this threshold or draw breath ever again. You are never seeing me.” Now, you recognize that. I don’t know whether that’s because we’re on a very small island with a very large number of people compared to countries that could happily fit into Kansas. I don’t know. But it is the doublespeak of English life that is absolutely nailed in this screenplay, I think.
Bleecker Street’s ‘The Lesson’ opens in theaters on July 7th.
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‘The Lesson’ is produced by Film Constellation, Poison Chef, and Egoli Tossell Pictures. It is set to release in theaters on July 7th, 2023.