A Talk with Hannah Gross und Deragh Campbell (I Used to Be Darker)

©Joyce Kim

Berlinale 2013. In Ancient Rome animals were pursued through the venerable Colosseum and had to fight to the death in the packed arena. The Strange Little Cat (Ramon Zürcher, D 2013) in Berlins Colosseum Cinema was jam-packed even without martial clashes. Among the public were – to our surprise and joy – two young muses, sitting in our front row, who we spotted two days before on a Berlinale silver screen. They were the reason we left the Little Cat earlier than proposed, this absurd game of questions and answers. When we outran Hannah Gross and Deragh Campbell (the performers of Matt Porterfiels I Used to Be Darker) in the cinema foyer, we asked them – nervously – for an interview. We fixed a date for the day after tomorrow on Schönhauser Allee. Two days later we froze fruitlessly at the meeting place and divided, one back to cinema, the other one to the nearest internet café. Waiting in our inboxes were two messages from the girls, who were busy but would like to fetch the interview later; to improve our communication, we traded cell phone numbers. So it finally happened: In Dunkin’ Donuts on Alexanderplatz we met them for a little talk about their festival experiences, their film, film reviews and the merits of being young actresses. After some minutes of insightful conversation on the pleasantly quiet first floor of the donut temple (with a semi-noble view of the huge jobsite, trying some sweet green Turkish pastry), a hooting mob occupied the neighboring tables, which heavily bothered our dictaphone, an unfortunate discovery we made only too late. But besides that we enjoyed an easy-going and lovely talk, we laughed a lot, not only cause we constantly failed understanding.

And…Action:

Hey you two, congratulations for your film! Tell us a little about your festival experience.

Hannah: We premiered at Sundance, that was our first festival experience. The Berlinale is completely different. Here it feels less of a commodity. The people really appreciate film here in a way the audience at Sundance didn’t.

Deragh: Of course they are both really important Festivals, but certainly coming to Berlin felt for the first time like a kind of artistic acceptance. In the fact that you get a badge and you go to see other movies. It feels more like being part of an ongoing film dialogue and film history.

Hannah: Also this is not a remote Ski-town[1]. So people from outside the industry go to the movies, which is really important for the spirit.

So Sundance is just an Industry event?

Deragh: It’s about selling your film in America. For us as young actresses there were a lot of bizarre things such as ‘portrait sessions’. You just go to every media lab and they take pictures – it feels like being put in a headlock. There are less films screened and even though it’s recognized as mainly home industry films, you have only a US and an international competition as opposed to all the sections here.

Deragh: Another big thing is how incredibly beautiful these cinemas are. To have your films screened in them is really incredible. We opened at Delphi and then we were in the Cinestar complex…

Have you been in the one with the leather seats?

Deragh: You like to talk about the seats…

It’s a big issue, when you compare it to the Friedrichstadtpalast..

Deragh: I was at the Berlinale Fest..?

..Haus der Berliner Festspiele.

Deragh: Yes! And it was so uncomfortable, sitting there with Hannah’s brother…

Compared to that, how are the cinemas at Sundance?

Hannah: The make shift cinemas. There is one actual movie theatre and another cinema in Salt Lake City, but all the other ‘cinemas’ are just screens put up in a library.

Did you get into contact with the people here?

Hannah: I guess that’s the other thing personally… We‘ve gotten more sort of potential opportunities at Sundance and we were able to talk to people more than here.

Deragh: There is a party for every production company/agency/entertainment news program, so it’s really walking around and shaking hands. The FORUM here has been really hospitable; the people from the FORUM office were really nice…

How many films have you seen at Sundance?

Deragh: We saw more at Sundance, because there wasn’t anything else to do.

So what did you see here or what were your favorite ones?

Hannah: The favorite was, for me, Portait of Jason (Shirley Clark, 1967), digitally restored from the 60s. Did you guys see it?

No, that’s the pity here– we ‘ve seen 30 films, but you ‘ve seen 30 others.

Deragh: There are so many!

Did you see bad movies?

Hannah: Yeah sure… Slept through one…

Deragh: We should talk more about the things that we like!

Hannah: Computer Chess.

Deragh: It has a couple of those loops and fascinating faces – it has an interesting texture I think. I also like Le maison de la radio.

The Berlinale is often criticized for not showing premieres. Movies like yours have already been screened at Sundance, out of Europe. Here they all come together but you don’t have many premieres. It seems strange that people complain about that.

Deragh: Whatever…

Hannah: That was our international premiere!

How did you feel about the reactions from the people who have seen your film here? Did you hear anything bad?

Hannah: No…

Deragh: No one has.. I kind of… This is the first film experience that we‘ve been through, a totally new experience at the two festivals. I kind of thought maybe some people would be a bit meaner. One woman asked me how I would feel if my dad saw the movie and had to see me take of my shirt. I said my dad was in acquiesce…

What sort of negative critique did you expect?

Deragh: I’m really proud of the film, I like its rhythm, the editing, the cinematography, Matt, all the sensibilities… I think it’s a really thoughtful movie, but it’s not incredibly loud.

We thought afterwards, it’s quite careful?

Hannah: I think, it’s careful, but it’s also not. I don’t find anything precious about it. You could be very aware, it’s special way of putting music in it, but it’s pretty…

Deragh: It feels very much like living and breathing to me in its way! I guess some of the criticism over here has been: “It isn’t enough action.” But the action already happened before the movie has begun. It’s more about people coming to terms with these changes and accepting their new situations.

 Matt said in Interviews about the movie that it’s not mentioned a lot in magazines or newspapers, only in Variety. They tend to ignore independent films like I Used To Be Darker, because of lacking drama, no big conflicts…

Deragh: I think we didn’t get a lot of good reviews in the trade press, but we did in papers and online.

Are you following this?

Hannah: I’m trying not to… Ok, I read the Variety one and some big ones. But I think it’s a bad habit to get into, reading the reviews of your work.

Deragh: I always read them. But especially when they are really good and they compliment you, you get false self-consciousness…

Apart from your movie, do you often read film critics?

Deragh: Not that much. I prefer editorials or interviews with the filmmakers. Reviews always seem a little bit too political, they are always a little jabbed, sometimes people write some things in reviews which are just really disrespectful, they are just offensive and do a lot of damage to the films reputation! I read an Interview which ends like “looks like another sweeper from Matt Porterfield”. It’s so easy to say this, but it damages a lot.

One of the main questions of the film critic is: How are we allowed to write about film? It’s a maximum of some hours of work while a film takes months or years. So there’s a huge discrepancy. This affects the relationship between critic and filmmaker as well, I guess.

 Deragh: Totally.

Hannah: Some reviews I read where just sort of lazy, just some sentences about the story and then a short opinion. You can really see the reviewers have to watch many films at the festival.

Deragh: But in some critiques, and this is a beautiful thing for the film people, the reviewers bring exciting perspectives about the movie to you, which you haven’t seen before. Really engaged reviews.

We haven’t seen any reviews in German papers, only a radio interview with Matt which was mainly about music. How did you feel about the Q&As?

 Deragh: It was such a mess! So strangely private!

Hannah: I hate it, I’m comfortable at the film set because I’m in my character then, but in the public…

How did you get cast in the movie? Were you cast together?

Hannah: Deragh and I know each other since we are alive. Deragh was visiting me in New York and we were at the screening of Putty Hill (Porterfields second feature movie). Then we went to the after show party. Deragh introduced herself to Matt and then she introduced me, cause I was too shy. (Deragh imitates: “I am too shy to talk to him!”) A few months later we were in the film.

Do you enjoy being actresses?

Hannah: After our graduations at University we went to Sundance and Berlinale, so we have no real idea of what life after graduation is like. It’s a little bit glamourous, in a way that “life” is not going to start tomorrow, in a way that we don’t have to pay for some things anymore.

Deragh: …not Champagne, but at the FORUM office we get nice cookies! And this Turkish stuff here on the table…

Panorama from the interview table

Romantic panorama view from our interview table


[1] The Sundance Film Festival takes place in Park City and Salt Lake City, Utah.

 Deragh Campbell grew up in a theatre family. Her mother, from Belfast, runs the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-lake and her father is a member of the ensemble. Her father’s side of the family has been in theatre for generations – her great-grandparents were members of Shaw’s company and St. Joan was written with her great-grandmother in mind. Deragh and Hannah have known each other since childhood, their parents being close friends. Deragh studied creative writing at Concordia University and lives in Montreal, Quebec. I Used to Be Darker is her first film role.

Hannah Gross was born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Hannah studied at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She has performed in DOC by Sharon Pollock (Soulpepper Theatre Company, 2010), and TALK TO ME LIKE THE RAIN by Tennessee Williams (The Dirty Blondes @ Collapsable Hole, 2012), as well as directed Tennessee Williams’ A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (Stella Adler Studio of Acting, 2010). I Used to Be Darker is her first film.

(Information from http://www.iusedtobedarkermovie.com/cast-crew/)

OT: „I Used to Be Darker”, USA 2013, Regie: Matt Porterfield, 90 Minuten

Interview by Michel Diester and Christoph Farkas

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