Bill Nighy. Tailoring. Scrabble. Why ‘Sometimes Always Never’ is the perfect movie about fathers and sons

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No one ever said being a dad was easy. Which is why director Carl Hunter’s new film, Sometimes Always Never is so prescient. Starring Bill Nighy as Alan, a Liverpool tailor – the title is a reference to the front buttons on a suit, and which ones to fasten – who’s been searching for his oldest son Peter (played by Sam Riley) ever since he stormed out over a game of Scrabble. 

Scrabble plays a significant part in the film, with Alan at one time hustling a fellow B&B guest (Tim Mcinnerny) to make a few quid, and to reassure himself he’s still ‘got it’. 

Here we talk to first-time director Carl about approaching Nighy, trying to make a British film that looks European and how to win at Scrabble. 

 

Hi Carl. What’s Sometimes Always Never about? 
It’s a drama about words and loss. It tells the story of a family with an exceptional Scrabble vocabulary who can’t communicate with each other, and their journey to reconnect after a son goes missing. It’s funny, stylish and has the heart of a Bill Forsyth story wrapped in the look of an Aki Kaurismäki movie. To quote Jenny Agutter, who stars in the film: “It’s not bleak at all; it’s wonderfully hopeful.”

Where did the idea come from?
Frank Cottrell-Boyce wrote a short story called Triple Word Score about nine years ago. I loved it. He suggested it might make an interesting film, so we started to develop the idea for cinema. After years in a Transit van together, The Farm’s drummer Roy Boulter (who runs Hurricane Films) suggested his company might get the film made. He was right. 

It’s very much a film about fathers and sons (and hurt, and jealousy) – why tackle these themes?
I suppose the film is about never giving up. It’s about hope. It’s optimistic, not pessimistic. As Leonard Cohen wrote, “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” 

As the director, did you have a firm idea of what it would look like before you started?
I knew what type of film I wanted to make. I take a lot of photographs and collect images. I also keep a scrapbook and use this as a style bible when prepping and shooting a film. I’m inspired by Wes Anderson, Roy Andersson and probably Gerry Anderson, too! I love European cinema and wanted to make a film that’s very British but which feels like it’s from another place. Films like Man Without A Past by Aki Kaurismäki or Local Hero have been a huge inspiration.

Edwyn Collins has written a score for the film. How did that come about? 
Music is essential in film, and I wanted to work with a songwriter here. I like what Alex Turner did with Submarine, so asked Edwyn Collins if he’d be interested in writing songs for the film and the score. I’m a huge Edwyn fan and was thrilled when he said yes. Edwyn then recruited Sean Read from the Mocking Birds and Chay Heney from Station Agent to work on the soundtrack. They all disappeared to Edwyn’s studio in Helmsdale, then like three musical alchemists, delivered one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in years. There’s a seven-inch double-A side from the film out soon, plus a 12-inch soundtrack album.

Why focus on tailoring?
Once we knew Bill Nighy would be in the film, it made perfect sense to cast him as a tailor. Bill and I spoke a lot about clothes while filming. I’m better dressed as a result of working with him! Although I think I did out dress him once by wearing a Pellicano Italian silk tie, he bounced back with navy-blue John Smedley the next day. He wears some beautiful Fred Perrys in the film, too. His character’s surname Mellor, which is a reference to John Mellor AKA Joe Strummer.

How did you get Bill to appear in the film?
I was asked on a wish list who I’d like to play Alan. I said, Bill. I couldn’t believe my luck when he said yes. At our first meeting, I produced a series of polaroids I’d taken of Crosby’s coastline. He loved the photos and could see the type of film I wanted to make, so said yes. It was a great meeting: we all got on so well. Bill’s a kind and generous man with a great eye for cinema.

Nighy’s character is also a Scrabble hustler. Are you any good?  
The Scrabble scene where Bill hustles Tim McInnerny’s character is loosely based on The Hustler weirdly. Scrabble is an excellent metaphor for Bill’s character: you take a load of mixed-up letters and try and make sense from them. It’s his life. I’m a dreadful Scrabble player but did learn a lot about it while making the film. 

Got any tips?
Learn all the two-letter words: MU. ZO. PI. ZA. XI. QI. 

Sometimes Always Never is in cinemas from this Friday








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