Trespass Against Us is a drama following the exploits of outlawed British crime family the Cutlers, centring around a fraught relationship between Chad (played by Michael Fassbender) and his domineering father Colby (Brendan Gleeson). The film takes the viewer into the heart of life on the outskirts of society in rural England and the impact on Chad, his wife and kids of being immersed in a life of crime, set to an original score by The Chemical Brothers. We sat down with director Adam Smith (credits include videos for The Chemical Brothers, The Streets, TV series Skins) to talk about what drew him to this script for his first feature film, exploring the real lives of crime families in the UK and Michael Fassbender’s talent for dangerous driving…
Hi Adam, so lovely to meet you. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. So Trespass Against Us, tell me what was it that drew you to this script?
The script was fresh and exciting – it felt very different to anything I’d read before. I related on a personal level with the theme of a man trying to escape from a dominating parent who has instilled a set of values and beliefs in him and he’s trying to break away from that and give his kids some of the opportunities he didn’t have. But it’s not quite as simple as that because he’s also very involved in the life that he’s been brought up to lead and he enjoys a lot of it as well. What drew me to it was the fact it had a moving, emotional story – a real beating heart – but it also had a lot of humour, it was funny in a lot of places. It was an exciting kind of world that not that many people have experienced before. Plus there’s some really good car chases.
We don’t see such communities depicted on the big screen very often. Was that of particular interest to you?
It was the family story that connected to me to the script but, also, the family that it’s based on are a real family who Alastair Siddons, the writer, made a documentary about and spent a lot of time with. We researched a lot with them and they were living this life that was very different to the life I was living. It was very interesting and it was very exciting. I’m not condoning a lot of the things they do but there all these other things such as their sense of community, their sense of family, their sense of loyalty – and love, there’s a lot of love. That was something very interesting. It’s a film about a family who are outlaws on the outskirts of the travelling community. I’m very conscious this isn’t saying what the travelling community are like because it’s not.
We often are drawn to feel empathy with the characters, despite some of the things they do. Was that something that was very important to you?
That was really important, and that informed all the creative choices. It was really important for it to be truthful, authentic and real, to show these people were people and human beings like the rest of us – perhaps not doing things everyone does – but there are a lot of universal truths in there. What I like going to cinema for is being taken into a world I haven’t experienced but totally empathising with the characters there. It was really important that people could see something of their own lives or experiences in those characters, despite the fact that it was such a contrasting world to what a lot of people live.
And tell me about the filming of it. We see some amazing car chases: at one point a car is driven through the front of a stately home. What was it like to film?
It was quite a challenging shoot. We had all the things you’re supposed to be wary of: we had children, we had animals. We had some complicated car chases. We had to have some long conversations about how we were going to get Chad, the character that Michael Fassbender plays, to hide under a cow and guarantee that the cow wasn’t going to squash him. All these sorts of discussions. We had to have a puppy up a tree, how was that going to work, shots of hares…we had quite a comical discussion about one bloke that claimed he could train a hare. We were like, “Really? You can train a hare?” We didn’t go with him in the end. But yes, there were a lot of challenges.
How did you go about the casting? The film feels like it hooks around Michael Fassbender and his ability to convey the nuanced emotions of Chad, particularly in his interactions with Brendan as his father.
The casting process started with who was going to play Chad and Michael seemed to embody a lot of the characteristics that Chad had: he’s charming and funny but also intense. He’s a brilliant driver and you’d believe that he’d have a fight. It just seemed that we should definitely see if he was interested. And actually I know his agent: his agent has always supported me from when I used to do work with the band The Streets. I used to do a lot of music videos for Mike Skinner and Connor, his agent, has always liked those videos. So we got the script to Michael quite quickly. And when Michael heard where it was set and the subject matter he wanted to read it and he read it within two days. Then we met and he just understood Chad. We were on the same page about who Chad was and I think he liked my vision for the film, which was very much to tell the story from the inside out rather than objectifying or caricaturing the characters: they needed to be human beings, fully rounded human beings. He liked that. And then we needed to find someone who you believed had authority over this man. When the idea of Brendan came along and I saw a picture of the two of them together socially and Brendan had his arm around Michael in quite a patriarchal way and I was like: hang on, those two would be amazing as father and son. I put up all these pictures up on the wall of the two of them together and it just really worked. And I think part of the reason we managed to get Brendan was because he wanted to work with Michael so much. There was this mutual respect: Michael saw Brendan on stage when he was 16 or something.
Sadly we’ve run out of time but finally, what was the highlight for you in the filming?
It was quite intense the shoot – all sort of things went wrong! Michael was doing his own driving, not all of it but a lot of it. We had an amazing precision stunt driver as well, but yeah Michael is an incredible driver!
Thanks so much for your time, Adam.
By Sarah Bradbury. First published on The Upcoming on 3rd March 2017.
Trespass Against Us is released nationwide on 3rd March 2017.
Read our review of Trespass Against Us here.
Watch the trailer for Trespass Against Us here: