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One in a million: Rik Mayall in One By One - The Irish News
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Arts

One in a million: Rik Mayall in One By One

Billed as 'Rik Mayall's last British feature', conspiracy theory drama One By One allows the late comedy star to show his rarely seen serious side. David Roy spoke to Rostrevor-based first time writer and director Diane Jessie Miller about the film

Rik Mayall as Ernest in One By One

HI DIANE, you shot One By One in 2011 – are you excited to finally be screening it at cinemas in England?

Yes, the positive reactions have been surreal. I wasn't expecting to have so many people telling me they loved my film. In fact, I had been preparing myself for the opposite reaction because obviously the film does cover lots of controversial issues. It's weird watching it with people who don't owe me anything: they're not my friends or family, so they don't have to sugar coat.

The drama centres on Dion, an ordinary woman (Heather Wilson) who gradually has her eyes opened to the existence of a sinister 'new world order'. As writer and director, do you share the film's startling world view?

A lot of people have been asking me that and my response is that it's an opinion – it's not necessarily my opinion. The film is a piece of drama and I have put things into it to provoke a reaction. I'd like it if people went away after seeing it to do a bit of research for themselves.

Heather was in the year below me at school and is a theatre actress. We'd done a couple of theatre pieces together and I just thought she would be perfect as Dion. I think she's Oscar worthy – we actually started calling her Heather Wilson: One Take Wonder because she was so good.

One By One is your first ever film, shot for £25k. How did it come about?

I first had the idea back in March 2009 after watching a couple of documentaries and attending a few seminars. I realised that there were lots of factual films dealing with these issues, but not many drama pieces. So I thought it would be a good opportunity to get those ideas out there in a less preachy kind of a way.

In 2010 we filmed a short promo which we used to do crowdfunding, which is how we raised the money to start filming in 2011. We did 10 days back-to-back and then we did five more weekends. As you say, it was my first film – literally. I hadn't even done a short film, so it was straight into features and everyone thought I was a bit nuts. But I had an amazing director of photography (Nicholas Peel) who I spent three weeks planning every single shot with.

I think the fact I had done so much prep gave the crew faith that I knew what I was doing – and, as an actor myself, I was able to communicate exactly what I needed to the cast.

My background is in acting and theatre, but studying at New York Film Academy kind of sowed the seed for creating. I had always wanted to write but, because I'm dyslexic, I never thought I'd be able to actually do it. Luckily, I'm a bit stubborn.

Rik Mayall plays against type in a professorial role as the kind, worldy-wise Ernest. How did Rik get involved in the film?

I've always loved Rik Mayall – I grew up with Bottom – and I just thought he would be perfect. I very much saw Ernest as the soul of the film and I wanted somebody that people wouldn't expect to play that part. Rik's always been either a comic genius or a bad guy on screen, so I thought him playing Ernest would turn everyone on their heads a little bit in a way that would be just right.

I also thought that as an actor he would enjoy the challenge of playing something different from the stereotypical 'Rik Mayall role'. So I sent the script to his agent on a Friday and on Monday I got a voicemail saying he loved it. Needless to say, I cried uncontrollably – I phoned my mum to tell her the news and my business partner Ash Parker had to explain because she couldn't make out a word I was saying.

What was it like working with Rik?

He was absolutely lovely and extremely excited to be part of the film. He told me that when he first read the script he couldn't put it down and that he couldn't believe it was my first screenplay – which was obviously a massive thing for me. He loved the line "If a picture paints a thousand words then our eyes can see a thousand lies ­– see it to believe it". He said that was the line that hooked him.

While we were making the film, Rik told me that he wanted to be the next Antony Hopkins and, without blowing my own trumpet, he does do that in this film. You literally cannot take your eyes off him when he's on screen. He's amazing.

I remember exactly where I was when I got the call to say he had died. I just couldn't believe it. I'm glad that he at least got to see the film, although sadly we never had a chance to sit down to watch it together. And he would have loved all of this, the buzz and excitement of it finally getting released. It still doesn't feel quite real that he's not with us any more.

You're originally from Bracknell in England. How have you ended up based in Rostrevor and what's your next project?

It was a twist of fate. I'd met an English musician called Nathan Ball who ended up writing some music for One By One. Later on, he was recording in Northern Ireland with the producer Tom Newman (Tubular Bells) and he invited me over for a bit of a break as I was very stressed with working full time and trying to finish the film.

I swear, the moment my feet touched Irish soil, I felt like I was home. What I love about it here is that people are always really enthusiastic when you tell them about an idea. I think that Ireland has a far stronger creative streak than England – it seems like everyone I meet here has some kind of creative outlet.

So I do feel like I've found my place and where I want to be. I've given up concrete for sea and mountains – it's just amazing. I've just started pre-production on my next feature which is an apocalyptic film called Omega. It's going to be unlike anything else in that genre so I'm really excited to get started.

:: Visit Fb.com/onebyonethemovie for news on an Irish release for One By One.

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