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Kathryn Bigelow, by Jennifer Ehle


Jennifer Ehle, Ralph Fiennes, Kathryn Bigelow

Jennifer Ehle gave this illuminating speech last night, when Kathryn Bigelow received the John Schlesinger Britannia Award for Excellence in Directing, at the Britannia Awards in Los Angeles. It's a beautiful tribute from an actor to her director and she's kindly allowed me to share it here.

I so admire Kathryn. Kathryn is a dear friend of mine. But I know almost nothing about her. I know that she brings her umbrella to share with you in the rain – as she did the first time we met; my taxi pulling into her driveway.

I know that ‘things’, ‘objects’ are not important to her as such – that her work and her heart defines much of her life. She had virtually nothing in her living room except dogs and Oscars. She has a ferocious compassion for both people and animals; whether she’s aiding a dog rescue-shelter in Northern India, or, in her storytelling, embracing each character in turn, impartially.

To work with her is to feel part of a deep collaboration. One day we were waiting to shoot at a Jordanian military training facility in the Arabian Desert, and Kathryn and I were standing watching a UH-60L Black Hawk take off – as you do – and I mentioned in passing that I’d woken up in the night knowing how I should have said a line in a scene we’d shot the previous day. I knew the set had already been struck, I was simply sharing one of those damn it, missed it moments with my director. But without hesitation Kathryn said, “Well, I love what we got, but if there’s something else you’d like to try, let’s find time this afternoon to shoot it again.”

And we did. And she used it. She’d never even asked what it was I wanted to change; she just trusted.

She creates fearlessly, as is self-evident in her work. She switches genres, embraces outsiders, audaciously defies conventional storytelling: but do you know how enthusiastically she creates? After a take she particularly likes (though ‘like’ seems such a banal word for anything Kathryn experiences) she whoops! Like this:

Whoop!

It’s a completely genuine, unself-conscious explosion of joy, when she does it. It’s inspiring. Anyone working with her would go a long way to hear that fabulous sound.

Apparently, when she was a little girl, she saved her money and without telling her parents, bought a horse. They let her keep it. She rode it the way most of us rode bikes. I love that story. I may have made it up – I don’t think so, but if it isn’t true it should be. Kathryn has that kind of determined independence: a deep, responsible trust of herself that shelters the trust of everyone around her. She brings the umbrella.

I know almost nothing about Kathryn, but I love her. And I admire her. She tells me everything I need to know through her extraordinary work. It speaks for itself, which speaks for her. She lives the intimacy of an artist. Everything you want to know is found in how and what she creates.

Let’s have a look at who she is…

...[in a video clip of testimonials from others who have acted for Bigelow, the first woman to win a best director Oscar, including Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Willem Dafoe and Keanu Reeves.]

According to the Hollywood Reporter "Bigelow took the stage and said she was honored to receive an award 'in the name of one of my greatest inspirations', Schlesinger, adding quietly, 'I don't know how to process all of this, I have to admit.'

Jennifer Ehle on Twitter

(This week, I'm reflecting on the characteristics of extraordinary directors. About Ava DuVernay's keynote speech. And about Jane Campion's Wellington masterclass, as I discuss it with others and prepare a post.  Here, Jennifer Ehle reinforces and further enhances my tentative understandings of what makes a director great. Fearlessness. Great love for and trust of actors. Deep collaborations. Ferocious compassion. Joy. The intimacy of an artist.  Many thanks, Jennifer.)

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