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Chatting The Souvenir Part II With Joanna Hogg And Honor Swinton Byrne

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at October 29, 2021

The Souvenir, the semi-autobiographical story of Joanna Hogg’s troubling film school experiences with a charismatic older man, received wide critical acclaim for its exceptional direction, moving story, and a wonderful performance by Honor Swinton Byrne. This weekend, A24 has released the follow-up to that film, The Souvenir Part II. It’s a spectacular film that, in effect, follows Julie as she retells her experiences through the making of the first film. I spoke with director Joanna Hogg and star Honor Swinton Byrne about the film, its complexity, and more.

JE: In The Souvenir Part II, Julie has certainly gone through a lot in the events of the first film. Where is Julie at the start of Part Two, and how did you prepare to step into her shoes there?

HSB: She had no idea how to handle [what has happened]… what’s the next step? I’ve been very lucky never to have been [where she’s at] but I’ve been there visiting… where I’ve either just got dumped, or I’ve just suffered a shock or something, and you’re just lying in bed and you’re like ‘someone’s gonna tell me what to do… I can’t fix this by myself.’ So it’s time to come home with her parents, which I feel like most of us do whenever they change.

Often when grief or loss happens in life, and they go home and are sort of in this limbo. But your parents are trying not to step on your toes, and you’re also trying to have space from them. You’re in this very tricky dance of being incredibly in your own thoughts… How I prepared for that is I had these discussions with Diana and we really sort of went over where things ended. We did a massive amount of preparation. I thought this section was by a conversation we just really did just get into it [and] we just naturally sort of found it. There it was. It was a really amazing place to start.

JE: It was a real powerful performance in both films, I really loved it. Now, Joanna… both parts are semi-autobiographical, and this one is the somehow even more so with the fictionalized version of yourself fictionalizing the story that was captured in Part I… did that extra layer of complexity and messiness change your approach to the film?

JH: That’s quite difficult to answer because of course there are all those meta levels, but I guess I wasn’t thinking about the story in that way… because for me it’s the story of a young woman who has this very difficult experience in Part I and then wants to make a film, so we’re exploring what she does in a sense. She’s still a student, of course, so we do see a version of her film eventually unfolding and that was something that I hadn’t thought of incorporating when we made Part I… you know, I was going to shoot Part I and Part II together, but it may not have had that aspect to it. That was something new that came in later… the process was quite complex in a way, there are so many layers to it so it’s hard to kind of unpack what happened, where what idea came about when… but there was definitely a benefit in the end of having that year’s gap I think for all of us. We all went away, experienced different things in our lives, and what we experienced then went into Part II.

But I would say that the experience of shooting Part I very much impacted Part II and how that was made, and how Julie was, because in a sense Part II is the sort of the making of Part I. I was very much watching myself and my reactions to this reconstruction of my life and what that meant… to suddenly see an apartment that you lived in be constructed again, from memory, in this aircraft hangar, it was really quite moving, sometimes quite difficult… the experience of seeing this thing spring to life and then the reaction to that. I wanted Julie to to be living through what I lived through when we made Part I.

JE: Having that gap year seemed really impactful on your approach to the film, and I was wondering if you could elaborate on that?

HSB: In that time I went away for a year to Africa and I was a teacher, so I like to think I grew up a lot in that year. I think I gained a lot of perspective and, you know, learned what it was like to be a proper grown up, but then I came back… It’s almost like in that year I was broken and then mended again, in a good way. And so I think maybe that’s why I felt like I slipped into this headspace or into this next chapter easily, because they felt so changed. She hasn’t mended yet, or maybe she has but she doesn’t realize it yet, and we both went through a big transition in those few days and then that year, and then we’re on the next sort of trajectory.

JH: Another aspect on his journey is that when we made Part I, Honor didn’t see the script document that I’d written so she didn’t know where the story was going to go, literally didn’t know what was going to happen to Anthony, didn’t know Anthony was a heroin addict. She was really being led by Anthony because Tom Burke, playing Anthony, did know where the story was going, so it seemed absolutely right there was this imbalance… and one forgets what bravery that involved for Honor to just throw herself into something of which she didn’t really know what it was exactly… it’s such an incredible leap of faith that amazes me to this day that you took that on, and the power your instincts were so alive through this process.

Things happen to Julie in a way that in Part II, she has much more control of her life. When we came to make Part II, one of the first thoughts I had was Honor should know where she’s going, where Julie’s going. And so she was much more involved in that journey. And then I’d also observed through the process of Part I… [to Honor] I don’t want to put words into your mouth on her at all, but I think you felt very constricted by Julie’s shape because Julie sometimes seems quite passive in her response to things and that’s what was quite frustrating…

[To me] I just saw a longing in Honor for Julie to sort of burst out of this kind of inhabited, rather introverted character, I got great delight in seeing and making sure that Julie did burst out of that shape in a way, which is really exciting to see.

JE: In some prior interviews you alluded to the difficulties of telling a story you didn’t completely have answers to… tell me how you overcame that barrier.

Well I made the decision in the end to use that lack of knowledge in the story because I didn’t feel I had a complete handle on who [Anthony] was or what he did. He’s still a mystery to me in a way, and that always seemed to handicap to me in conceiving of this story and… how can you possibly tell a story where you have two characters and you don’t know one character… it [ultimately] seemed to be a thing that could work, and making the mystery so much part of the story was was really the key to it to me.

I find often with ideas and when I’m conceiving something that it’s turning the thing upside down in some way, or saying ‘Okay, I’m going to use that lack of confidence I’ve gotten in that area, or that thing that I feel really bad about.’ I think I’m sort of gravitating towards difficulty on some level, but using that difficulty as an advantage.

The Souvenir Part II drops in theaters today, October 29th.

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