Miranda Sawyer, Guardian'ın eki Observer için Mike Leigh ile konuşmuş.
When Ecstasy was first written and performed, Margaret Thatcher was just coming into power. Did you want to revive it because the Tories are back in again?
No. In 1979, we couldn't have anticipated quite what a monster she would turn out to be. And although within the play there are any number of references to surviving, how tough it is, wages, work, being ripped off by landlords… in the end, it's about loneliness, togetherness, family and, in that sense, I think it is timeless. For me, it's my strongest, most profound play. If Labour had got in I still would have wanted to do it.
You did Abigail's Party at Hampstead Theatre [in 1977] and thenEcstasy. It's a very different play, isn't it?
Abigail's Party was a massive, runaway success. And I knew that everyone would assume they were going to get another Abigail's Party, so what do I do? I go down the road to a bedsit in Kilburn. Why call itEcstasy? There are few moments of ecstasy in it… titles can be extremely tricky. I hate titles that are expositionist; I like a title that leads you into the jungle and then leaves you to explore. As a joke, I did say that we could call it One Mile Behind You because the Kilburn High Road is one mile behind where you would sit at Hampstead. Ecstasy… well, it's about what you experience and what you don't, and what you wish you experienced and what you may not realise that you have. Of course, the well-known drug of that name was not around then and if it had been, I wouldn't have called it that. You can't account for history.
Despite her friendships, especially with Dawn, Jean, the central character of Ecstasy, is very lonely, isn't she?
My work is about life as you and I experience it. You're either lucky or you're not lucky, either your relationship works or it doesn't. One of the many ways in which Jean is a waste of so many good qualities is she doesn't want to lay her troubles on her friends. Jean has had pregnancies and she was getting rid of hers when Dawn was having her children, but she didn't want to say... actually, one of the running themes throughout my stuff is the endless permutations of having children, not having children, wanting to have children, not being able to have children, dealing with parents, unwanted pregnancies, abortion...
Is there such a thing as a bad actor?
There are plenty of bad actors and there are plenty of bad directors. There are actors who will always be bad and there are good actors who you cry for because they're being badly directed or the material isn't good enough. I've walked out of films. But for every film I've ever walked out of, I've probably walked out of 500 plays. I walked out of something the other day. It was very high profile and I just thought it was completely puerile.
Does an actor have to be of a particular type for you to work with them?
Well, you can't just learn the lines and not fall over the furniture. My work requires acting at its most committed – it demands actors of enormous resilience, but also intelligence and wit. It doesn't work for narcissistic or selfish actors. Also, a lot of actors – to keep themselves amused or to keep themselves on their toes – they'll play against the text or with a different attitude and that doesn't really work with my plays. Because the characters are three dimensional and because the drama is completely thorough, they are non-negotiable.
Do you have any sympathy for a government that has to make cuts in arts funding?
No I don't. I think they're stupid from A to Z. People don't have to do anything. There is no doubt that there are cuts to be made, but politicians arrive at their decisions from their world view. And this government's world view is warped and a massive distance from one that would make them understand the need for creative activity. Creativity is a life-blood for people. We're not talking about life-blood for artists – although of course, it is that – we're talking about communities, people. Also, I am chairman of the board of governors of the London Film School and as far as I'm concerned, all further education should be free.
How involved are you in the online world?
I am emphatically not on Facebook and I don't Twitter. I've had a Mac for about three years and my son, Toby, who is an illustrator and a computer whizz, is my guru. I email and I do the basic things. You can now edit films on a computer. My other son, Leo, does that, but I'm only just computer literate. If I write, it's A4 with a pencil and then A4 with a Pentel 67. A fibre-tip. I've been using them since the 60s. I buy them in boxes.
Do you take holidays?
I had a holiday for three weeks in Italy last year, it was great. I can switch off. But it happens less frequently than I would like. My sister says: "I don't know why you don't retire! Everyone retires at your age" – she lives in Gatley – and I think, I'm 68 and I don't feel particularly geriatric. And what would I do? I could paint, I could write: in other words, I might as well carry on making films.
Do you still feel like an outsider?
I do and I don't. Sometimes, I'm referred to as Britain's No 1 film-maker and I've been nominated for an Oscar seven times, five times for screenplays. But then the Guardian has had lists of 50 best directors and 100 best British films in which I didn't figure at all. Not one of my films! Sure, it pissed me off. Neither myself nor Ken Loach appeared. So, yes and no. I think it's healthy. It's good to have an anarchic streak.