Ahead of releasing our new film, The Bear, next week, we caught up with the cast and creative team. In this interview, they tell us about the process of putting an opera on film and share some behind the scenes anecdotes.
What was it like performing an opera for film rather than the stage? Were there any major differences between the two?
Clare Presland (Popova): It’s always different when a performance is recorded and is out there forever, as opposed to a live performance where the moments pass. You can put a different pressure on yourself that’s for sure! And we were rather brave in The Bear as we didn’t pre-record the music.
Richard Burkhard (Smirnov): I haven’t done a lot of filming before, so it was a case of learning on the job. At first I thought we might have to act less, simply because the camera was often inches from our faces. However, because the piece is a comedy, we were really able to act and have fun with it.
John Savournin (Luka): That’s the interesting thing about working on film. The attention to detail needs to be razor sharp – every eyebrow counts!
And what was it like directing and conducting for film rather than on stage?
John Wilkie (director): The biggest difference came once we were on set. In film, as a director you are responsible for deciding where the audience’s focus is. There had to be so much structure in place regarding the relationship between the movements of the camera and the performers.
John Andrews (conductor): The technical challenges for me weren’t so different to being in an opera house – sound balance and keeping things together when the singers are moving around. However, we only had two days to rehearse and two days to record, so it was an adrenaline-fueled week! But it was a really lovely way to work. Having what is effectively a live performance recorded in close up makes for something really special that captures the best of both worlds.
Can you tell us a bit about the filming process for The Bear? How did you go about capturing it, and what did you hope to convey through the film?
Simon Wall (Director of Photography): John Wilkie wanted the comedy to filter through every aspect, including how the camera might move to bring the audience right into the action. You can only do that with a brilliant cast that’s really comfortable with each other. Our cast had incredible comedic timing, so we could play around with having the camera mimic, follow, respond, and interact with each character at key moments. In the end it felt less like shooting a film in the traditional sense, and more like close quarters documentary-style reportage.
Can you share any on set anecdotes?
Clare: We filmed the reaction shots last after the singing was done, which meant we could relax and have fun. However, after days of intense concentration I did begin to feel quite giddy. It took all my might not to giggle during takes.
Richard: The opening sequence with me wearing the bear’s head was filmed outside during rush hour. However, because we were in London, no one even stopped to see what was going on, as if it was the most normal thing in the world.
John S: The very first take was on me sitting on the loo with a newspaper. That shot really set the tone for a laughter filled week!
Can you give us a brief introduction to your character?
Clare: Popova is a widow who insists on remaining faithful to her adulterous late husband. She’s feisty, strong, emotional, funny, hurt and confused. I think it’s important to feel compassion for her as much as amusement, and I hope I’ve managed to pull that off in my performance.
Richard: My character is called Smirnov – like the Vodka! He is rather bullish and emotionally unavailable. He arrives to collect an outstanding debt, but Popova refuses to pay him. Over the course of their heated exchanges, he realises he has fallen in love with her.
John S: Luka is the long suffering butler, who continually tries to improve the mood of his mistress and fails.
What can audiences expect from The Bear?
John S: Dry, witty direction, excellent music making and sublime silliness.
Richard: This isn’t a traditional film of a stage production. The camera allows you the joy of viewing the action from many different angles. And the fact it was filmed live, with the orchestra in the room, is tremendously exciting.
Simon: Aside from how funny Chekhov’s play is and how effectively Walton takes the work into the operatic world, I hope audiences enjoy just how special these performances are. Against all the ridiculous odds, you’ll be rooting for Popova and Smirnov by the end, whilst sparing a thought for the endlessly exasperated Luka.
John W: We have three of our country’s finest performers conveying the intimacies, emotional revelations and humour of this story. I hope you enjoy it.
You can watch The Bear on 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 November at 7.30pm, and on 12 and 13 November at 1pm. The film is pay what you feel, and pre-booking is essential. Get your tickets.