This Acting Trick Allowed Sally Potter to Film ‘The Party’ in Just 14 Days

Photo Source: Roadside Attractions

“The Party,” The latest film from “Orlando” and “The Tango Lesson” helmer Sally Potter, holds up a funhouse mirror to the times we’re living in today. “I definitely wanted to give people the opportunity to laugh,” says the acclaimed writer-director. “It’s a comedy wrapped around a tragedy, and [it] produces a kind of cathartic laughter.”

Focusing on a dinner party that goes terribly wrong, the decidedly British pitch-black comedy of manners taps into a rich political undercurrent. The intimate setting of the titular fête becomes a microcosm of colliding national politics in both the U.K. and the U.S. (health care among them), and addresses questions of what’s true, what’s fake, and what secrets people harbor.

“I wanted to do something that did take a temperature of the state of the nation without tying it down to specific details,” Potter continues. “These are progressive individuals trying their hardest to be good people, but they’re tripping up.”

The attendees of “The Party” are a stellar ensemble—Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall, Cillian Murphy, Emily Mortimer, Cherry Jones, Bruno Ganz, and a scene-stealing Patricia Clarkson, who lobs verbal barbs with panache—all of whom, Potter says, were brought on in a quickly snowballing process.

READ: 9 Questions With...Patricia Clarkson

“I love casting,” she says. “In a way, it’s the most important decision: who you ask to embody these abstract figures on the page. It’s a kind of alchemy, thinking of who would believe the dynamic and still be surprised by it.”

Before getting the cast and crew together for the quick two-week shoot, Potter met with each actor individually. “We had several sessions each. I build a level of trust, and we go over everything in the script—every pause, every silence,” she says. “By the time people come together, they’re very strongly rooted in their own characters. A lot of deep work has already gone on.”

Though the film, shot in attractive monochrome, takes place in one location, Potter’s script supervisor, Cheryl Leigh, told her it would be impossible to finish in just 14 days. But she did. “It’s about time management, prioritizing, and knowing when you can go slow and when you have the shot,” she says. Her working style has always been to move fast and efficiently. The filmmaker’s last feature, 2012’s coming-of-ager “Ginger & Rosa,” was a five-week shoot, and Potter recalls moving at a similar pace through numerous locations.

READ: How to Become an Actor in the U.K.

For “The Party,” which arguably marks her most mainstream and commercially accessible film to date, Potter knew she wanted to trade in economical filmmaking. “Keep it sweet, keep it necessary, and keep it moving,” she says. “Features mostly outstay their welcome.” That’s why this one has a short but sweet 71-minute runtime.

Such efficiency wouldn’t be possible without the right actors ready to play. Throughout production, they had to be game for what Potter calls 360-degree acting in an effort to keep the scenes moving with long takes. Even when the camera isn’t on a given actor, they must still be fully embodying their character. “It demands a lot, but it means it’s all fair,” Potter says. Another of Potter’s goals on set is to create an atmosphere for actors to take risks, even if they end up being wrong. It’s an approach, she admits, she wishes had been incorporated earlier on in her career. “Keep the face, even when things don’t go smoothly,” she says. “Things going wrong is part of the creative process. Don’t be afraid of the difficulties; welcome them. Embrace them and turn them into advantages.”

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