It’s a tricky proposition to talk to director Benjamin Caron about his new movie “Sharper.” Not because it doesn’t elicit conversation — there is so much in the wickedly smart thriller to discuss, from the plot that keeps you guessing to the fantastic cast, to Caron himself, who never expected to be a film director. But the movie, opening in U.S. theaters this weekend before hitting Apple TV+ and U.K. theaters on Feb. 17, is best experienced when one goes in knowing as little as possible.
Suffice to say that the script, by Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka, centers on a group of individuals in New York City who may or may not be conning one another at any given time. The film is divided into sections that give the audience time to get to know all the different characters — from young lovers Sandra and Tom (Brianna Middleton and Justice Smith) to Tom’s stepmother Madeline (Julianne Moore) to Madeline’s troubled son Max (Sebastian Stan).
Fortunately, what can be talked about is how Caron, who grew up in the Midlands of England obsessed with magic, came to be one of the most in-demand directors in television, having helmed episodes of virtually every iconic British series from “Wallander” to “Sherlock” to “The Crown.” And last year he entered the Star Wars universe by directing three episodes of “Andor,” including the lauded season finale.
Watching “Sharper” is such a ride because I never know where it’s going. Was it like that reading the script?
It was. I had read so many scripts and this was the first one that I just inhaled. It was mischievous and funny and smart and sexy and I liked that it was a thriller playing around with sexual politics and trust and betrayal. It had all these juicy turns and felt like a poker game.
You also have this amazing cast, with greats like Julianne Moore to newer faces like Brianna Middleton, who is such a revelation.
Well, Julianne is one of the greatest living actors working today. She’s just brilliant. I was so fortunate to work with an entire group who are so talented and also so game for anything. As for Brianna, I am so excited for her. The intention was to cast someone unknown in that part, it felt like it could really launch someone’s career. It’s a juicy role and she has such star quality.
How did you first fall in love with directing and the world of storytelling?
I always loved theater. I wanted to be an actor. And most of my time was spent performing or my drama teacher taking me on trips to London to see Pinter and Beckett. But there was no one saying, “Have you thought about directing?” Because films were made in a faraway land that I couldn’t even think about. I was told I should either join the army or go and be a lawyer.
Where I grew up, there wasn’t a lot to do. But what I did fall in love with was magic. Primarily through a magician named Tommy Cooper, who I eventually made a film about. He was a comic and magician who was famous for doing tricks that went wrong — kind of an early Penn and Teller. I remember watching him on television and just being completely and utterly raptured by magic and how that made me feel. Of course I went to the magic shop and got tricks to practice in my room. I don’t do it anymore, but I think about the making of films and the mystery and surprise that comes with it and I think magic and filmmaking are sort of common bedfellows.
Well in both cases you’re trying to — I don’t want to say manipulate — but elicit something from actors and audience.
Well, magicians are professional liars. And filmmakers are professional liars, I guess. It’s all about what is real and not real. And at the end of the day, we’re all just trying to find the truth.
How did you eventually break into the industry?
Honestly, it was a woman I met in a pub who suggested I apply at a production company in London. I sort of stumbled into it. I interviewed with a man named Sebastian Scott and when we met he said, “We’ve got this live entertainment shoot tomorrow and we need to find 10 Druids. And you can’t use the internet. Where do you find them?” And my first thought was to call my dad at the pub because there’s always someone who knows someone. So I said, “Well, I’d find all the pubs in Stonehenge because surely a Druid must drink in a pub. And once you get one Druid, you get nine more.” And he said, “Great, you got the job.”
And I did so many different things, things that utilized all these skills like bragging and bluffing and faking my way around. Convincing people to do things. That’s how I was introduced to cameras and started making short films and working on bigger programs.
You went on to collaborate on several specials with illusionist Derren Brown, a mentalist who uses suggestion and psychology in unique ways. Was that a pivotal moment in your career?
Absolutely. We were introduced and he had this idea called “The Heist,” which is basically about convincing a group of people to commit armed robbery without ever actually telling them to. I loved the idea, it reminded me of the Michael Douglas movie “The Game.” So we worked on that special it was BAFTA nominated and got me an agent and really started things for me.
After working on so many acclaimed British shows, how did you come to be part of “Andor”?
It’s funny, I wasn’t really a “Star Wars” fan. But I’d worked with Sanne Wohlenberg on “Wallender” and he was producing it and wanted me to meet Tony Gilroy. “Michael Clayton” is one of my top ten movies, so I wanted to meet him. Then I read it and there were no lightsabers, no Darth Vader, there were characters you cared about — it was just really good drama. I was coming from “The Crown” and felt like I went from sort of Royal period catnip to sci-fi fantasy catnip, getting to work in these epic worlds.
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