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24 September 2018

10×10 Director Suzi Ewing on ‘Unlikable’ Female Leads

Thriller 10×10 is the feature directorial debut of Suzi Ewing. Penned by Noel Clarke (Kidulthood, Fast Girls), the film starts with Lewis (Luke Evans) snatching Cathy (Kelly Reilly) off a busy street and locking her away in a soundproofed room measuring 10 feet by 10 feet. So far, so conventional. But as the plot unravels, Lewis’ motives are revealed and Cathy proves to be more than a match for her kidnapper.

In this blog post exclusively for WFTV, Suzi shares where her interest in making a film with an ‘unlikable’ female character stems from; how she worked with the actors to try to make Cathy a believable character; and in doing so how she hoped to challenge audience expectations.

 

‘I liked the fact that Cathy’s captor Lewis underestimated her so entirely, and that his plan goes so very wrong because of this.’

Recently a friend’s daughter was asked which character she would like to be in Matilda (she is the right age to play the lead). She seemed impatient that her mother did not already know the answer – why Miss Trunchball of course! Because she gets to have all the real fun! I completely understand her preference; growing up, Kathy Bates in Misery was a particular favorite for me. At last I saw a woman who plays a character that is more than someone who looks nice; here was a female actor who got to work with the full range of emotions and I guess I was excited to see a woman have the freedom to play a very different type of role, one that could show anger, fury and be violent.

It doesn’t feel like we’ve come all that far where it comes to on-screen violence, it’s still male territory. So it was creatively exciting and challenging to work against the current trends and bring Cathy in 10×10 to life. Whilst I don’t support Cathy’s actions, I really cared about her as a character and felt tenderness towards her, because she was a victim of circumstances in her early life that ‘formed’ or ‘deformed’ her in so many ways.

I liked the fact that Cathy’s captor Lewis underestimated her so entirely, and that his plan goes so very wrong because of this. When Noel wrote 10×10 it was really important for him to show that ‘archetypal’ kidnapped woman is equal to her male captor. Often in cinema, violent female characters are painted as pantomime cliché villains or dismissed as mad or evil. I was captivated by the desire to create a deeper sense of character, and challenge stereotypes by making a believable portrait of a woman, ‘acting out’ from a place of violence that was both gentle and also terrifyingly fierce.

‘I tried to draw on what was happening to me to better understand Cathy and Lewis.’

(Spoiler alert: key elements of the plot are about to be revealed)

So what would drive this woman to murder? And what would drive Lewis to kidnap her? Both characters are spinning in the aftermath of grief. The loss of loved ones and their old lives was the driving force behind each character. During the making of the film, two of my family members died in tragic circumstances. I tried to draw on what was happening to me to better understand Cathy and Lewis. Grief propels Lewis to capture Cathy, seeking revenge for his wife’s death, and grief propels Cathy towards the murders she commits as a nurse, after losing her sister.

Working with the heavyweight cast of Luke Evans and Kelly Reilly, we carefully weaved the beats of Lewis’ emotional and vulnerable collapse against Cathy’s layers gradually peeling away to reveal her true self as she emerges fighting to keep the reality of her new life and new identity alive.

Cathy and Lewis switch roles in the film and each become one another. This emotional shifting and switching in power really forms the tension of the film. It is its driving force. Luke and Kelly work with a carefully crafted, immersive intensity that really brings their characters to life. We also aimed to fight ‘in character’. For Cathy we worked hard at using more female strategies to harm; the pinch in the wound, the bite, and most of all by using the harshness of words – for instance when Cathy describes the man Lewis’ wife had been playing around with, she makes sure he knows that he is handsome and tall.

Thinking of the triggers that set Cathy on the path to murder, we examined her past: her father ran away with her sister’s best friend. Her sister took her life and Cathy lost her family. The community and church also rejected her. Kelly identified Cathy’s crooked sense of religion as the key to her psychological destruction. In some sense Cathy was a ‘religious fundamentalist’.

Another aspect of the screenplay also interested me: what happens if you take the law into your own hands in the way Luke’s character Lewis does? And where might it take a person? Both Cathy and Lewis have crossed moral lines as they attempt to get ‘payback’ on the family they have lost. I understood that these two characters were in so many ways alike and their coming together culminates in a near primitive fight for their survival – like two animals in the jungle. We made the house into a jungle-like environment to reinforce this sense of the primitive and the instinctive.

There is an intentional ambiguity around who the audience should root for: Cathy or Lewis? And usually a clear victor emerges from a battle but here there are no winners, because what both Lewis and Cathy have done is wrong. I was drawn to the tension this confusion creates, and the game we are playing with the audience.

I wanted Cathy to live on at the end of the film, this was important to me. Either way though, the discomfort of watching anger and violence portrayed by a female character still prevails after the viewing. It seems possible that if this story was about two men fighting, very little would seem unusual – somehow our discomfort at women performing violence continues. Whilst I think it is difficult to watch aggression between people, it seems especially at odds when seen in a woman. I believe we are still trapped by these conventions and it was interesting to play about and subvert them in bringing Cathy to life on screen.

Guest blog post written by Suzi Ewing

10×10 is available on DVD and Digital download now.