Charlotte Regan makes her debut feature film with the release of Scrapper, the 12-year-old protagonist of which, Georgie, cracks on with the business of raising herself following the death of her beloved mum – until her absent dad crashed back into her life.
Native Londoner Regan, 29, has set her film, which she also wrote, largely on an east London council estate, but the upbeat, humorous movie – thanks in large part to newcomer Lola Campbell’s performance as the gobby Georgie – is worlds apart from any misery of the tired working-class struggle trope.
In fact, Regan purposefully injected joy into the film and is keen to move away from that narrow definition anyway.
‘We were always keen for the characters not to be defined by their class,’ she told Metro.co.uk.
‘Whenever you see working-class characters, the story is that they are working class and it becomes about that, whereas we just wanted Georgie to be Georgie and the world to just be the world, and the class thing exists outside of that.
‘She’s allowed to have joy and she’s allowed to be happy – we weren’t trying to make it be desaturated or like a grim, rainy England.’
Regan is refreshingly frank and very funny, happily claiming at one point that she is ‘really not a deep thinker’.
She also admits that she doesn’t ‘really think of the intention or the audience response when writing’ as it stands, but one goal she is clear on is the hope that her work ‘makes people a bit happier’.
‘I love cinema experiences where I go in and I laugh and I smile, sometimes I cry, but ones that take me through the spectrum of emotions instead of just making me distraught for an hour.’
‘I’ve always wanted to make films that you go in and you come out feeling a bit lighter,’ she added.
Regan already has a lot of buzz around her after Scrapper won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize following its premiere at Sundance at the start of the year; she was also named one of Screen’s Stars of Tomorrow in 2020 and received a Bafta film award nomination in 2017 for best short film with Standby.
Michael Fassbender is an executive producer on Scrapper through his production company DMC Film, which also shepherded Calm with Horses as well as projects for the star himself like Macbeth and Assassin’s Creed.
The company’s goal, as per Fassbender’s wishes, was to try and find the next Andrea Arnold or Steve McQueen, esteemed directors the X-Men and 12 Years a Slave actor has worked with, on Fish Tank and then Hunger and Shame respectively.
Regan hadn’t realised that was the memo, saying ‘it’s only scary when I hear those things’ – however she muses on the industry’s habit of comparing female filmmakers with each other. Whereas male filmmakers may be put into rough stylistic categories headed up by the likes of Christopher Nolan or Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino, for women it’s just one category – female director.
She explained: ‘I don’t even necessarily know what that means. It feels like as soon as you’re a female filmmaker, you’re compared to whichever one has come before you, even if the films are totally – tonally – very different.
She was delighted to work closely alongside producer Theo Barrowclough on Scrapper, while Fassbender was ‘very hands off’ with their project although he would ‘occasionally’ get involved.
‘So, it didn’t feel like it was a process where it was like, “How can we mould this weird child into becoming the next [so-and-so]?”’
Regan started her career aged just 15, filming music promos for her friends on the rap and grime scene, before transitioning into directing music videos (eventually) for the likes of Stereophonics, Mumford & Sons, Wretch 32 and Wilkinson.
She didn’t plot her arrival into the world of filmmaking, nor her journey through it so far as she revealed she had no ‘mad desire to hold a camera or anything like that’ growing up.
‘I wasn’t making Super 8 films like the cool American kids that talk about their childhoods and family videos. At first, I just wanted to be in the music industry so holding a camera was the only way, and then it kind of went on from there. It was at a time where people were not very into narrative videos, and I was excited by the idea of doing more than the performance-based ones.’
She stated that she was ‘never mad into cinema as a kid’, explaining that the odd occasion on which her nan sneaked her into the cinema ‘was my extent of movie-watching’.
Although most of her favourite ‘magical’ moments from her blossoming career have occurred on set so far, she digs around in her memory for the phone call that felt the most surreal and potentially career-making.
She plumps for the ‘pretty epic’ call when she first found out she’d made it into Sundance with her short film, Fry-Up, in 2018.
‘I went and played football for like four hours and was just running off the adrenaline of the happiness of that. Because I think when you feel a bit out of place in a world, then it’s such a big thing how welcome you feel and how much you feel you deserve to be in the world,’ she shared.
‘So that one for sure made an impact and made me think maybe this is alright to do as a career – and I’m not f***ing it up too terribly!’
Newcomer Campbell puts in a tremendous turn as Georgie, the real linchpin of Scrapper, opposite Triangle of Sadness actor Harris Dickinson as her slightly nonplussed dad Jason. What makes it even more remarkable is that Campbell had never acted before – but Regan was drawn to the ‘strange dynamic’ of her seeming both ‘so mature and yet so childish’.
‘When you sit down to have a conversation, she will talk to you as if she’s your grandma, she will tell you off and she will have big, extensive answers for things. But as well as that, [she] will believe in magic, and that was the balance we were always looking for with Georgie,’ Regan recalled.
The filmmaker quips that Campbell no longer likes her saying that she thinks her star is ‘one of the best humans I’ve ever met’.
‘She thinks I’m uncool now – she used to think we were all cool when we made the film – but she’s become a teenager and hates any positivity. But I think she’s the best actor I’ve ever worked with and will always be the best actor I’ve ever worked with.’
Talk turns to mega-hit Barbie, which Regan headed to the cinema to see with a group of pals dressed in pink, naturally. It’s the first movie directed by a woman to gross $1billion (£790m) at the international box office, but Regan is entertainingly honest when asked for her thoughts on the importance of that benchmark and why it might have taken so long, admitting she’s ‘never really thought about it’.
‘I’m really not a deep thinker, I’m so sorry. I think deeply about my dog and his happiness in life, but beyond that it’s all pretty light.’
She is full of praise for what director and co-writer Greta Gerwig and producer and star Margot Robbie have achieved though, as well as other new female filmmakers.
‘It’s changed the landscape and what we feel like we can make going forward, because before that it was looking pretty brutal, and it’s incredible it’s a woman at the centre of that – which doesn’t surprise me.
‘Hopefully it will continue to carry on – even the debuts that have been made by female filmmakers recently, like Georgia Oakley’s Blue Jean is insane and Rye Lane is incredible, Polite Society… it feels like such a good time for cinema in general, let alone female filmmakers,’ she pointed out.
Looking to her bright future in the industry, would Regan ever consider taking on the ultra-high-profile job of directing a Bond movie, as she has suggested before?
After joking that, for her, it will quite simply be ‘whatever pay check is the highest, the award-winner reveals her love of Sir Sam Mendes’ Skyfall, with which she got obsessed back in 2012.
‘I saw it eight times in the cinema or something like that, so that was my favourite film.’
However, she’s not as keen on Cary Joji Fukunaga’s No Time to Die, 007’s last cinematic outing in 2021.
‘I think the most recent one was a bit dodgy – maybe saying that is going to make them not give me a Bond film one day, but I don’t think they will anyway! I love big films that entertain and feel like they were made for the cinema, so I hope to make films like that for sure.’
Scrapper is out in cinemas now.
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