In Steven Knight’s second feature film, Locke, the audience finds themselves in a long car ride with Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy). During an 85-minute drive, he is bombarded with phone calls that include a crisis at work, a family who is anxiously awaiting for him to get home, and woman who is “just a friend” who happens to be in labor. The collection of phone calls makes for Ivan’s downward spiral of chaos—and it all takes place in the confines of his car. In turn, the audience sits there and goes through a gauntlet of emotions with him.
At first, the idea of a movie about a man taking phone calls in a car doesn’t seem exciting. Then again, there have been similar movies—but Locke stands out. Knight has managed to make a fascinating one-man show for the big screen. We had the chance to talk with Knight about his intentions with this ambitious film, casting Tom Hardy, and how many men have gotten emotional after watching his film.
Paste: For the of the film, you are shooting Tom Hardy in a car. It’s so isolated, but gripping. What made you want to do that?
Steven Knight: First of all, I thought if you strip it back to the basics of what making a film is, you’re going get some people, invite them into a room, turn off the lights and get them to engage with the screen for 90 minutes. I thought, “Is there another way of doing that?”
Paste: Since it takes place in one space during the whole time, how did you keep things aesthetically dynamic?
Knight: We did a lot of tests on the cameras for sensitivity, for certain scenes we were doing in cars. We shot from the cars in urban environment. I found the test footage absolutely hypnotic. It’s beautiful. I wondered, “Could that be at the theater?” Then put an actor in it and shoot it as if it was the stage play. Instead of breaking something into scenes, we shoot the whole thing. We shot the whole film beginning to end twice a night, with three cameras rolling in the car at all the times.
Paste: There’s something really even-handed about Tom Hardy’s performance and how he starts off calm in all the scenarios he was presented with. His stress grows at a glacial pace. In a way, it felt very claustrophobic. This guy is forced to be in this car and is being bombarded by three really situational problems.
Knight: I wanted [the moving lights] to be the background where you have a man who is committed to everything being solid, rational and concrete. That’s the sort of person he is—but all around him is chaos. Everything is moving. You can’t control that. You cannot control the environment. He is trying to do so on his own. It’s like any human being with your life. Your life is chaos, but you’re trying to control it, you’re trying to make sense of it. The name Locke is a reference to John Locke the philosopher, who was such a rationalist and tried to rationalize all of this.
Paste: He’s basically facing all these demons.
Knight: Exactly! He’s an ordinary person who is having an ordinary tragedy. He’s not a kidnapper or a drug dealer. He’s not going to make the local paper or the local news.He’s dealing with things that could happen to any of us.
Paste: When you were writing this, did you have Tom Hardy in mind?
Knight: Yes. I was meeting him about some other project, and I talked to him about this idea that I had of effectively using a moving image as a theater and watching a man’s life unravel. I’m very interested in the way that hands-free phones and cell phones mean that we’re all accessible to all aspects of our lives at all the times now, where we weren’t before. We have to keep changing who we are, which I think, dramatically, is really interesting. When a phone rings, you look at who’s calling you and you become the person you are with that person. You change. That is a master class performance that all of us do every day. We’re all good at it. We all act like that. To do it in a situation where there is extreme emotion is interesting. That was the idea that I suggested. Tom was really keen. I wrote it with him in mind.
Paste: Was there a specific movie you saw him in that made you think he’d be perfect for the role?
Knight: Inception. There was a sort of authority about that in a really difficult environment in terms of who was up against him in terms of the other actors. It was a fantastic cast.
Paste: You’ve screened the film at a lot at festivals. It’s an interesting film that, to me, was unexpectedly complex and heavy. How has the response been from audiences?
Knight: A lot of the response has been very emotional from the men you least expect to be emotional. It’s about men and the decisions men make and responsibilities and they really feel something personal about it. But it’s, usually, the men who have been dragged to the cinema—the ones who didn’t want to go. (laughs)
Locke is currently playing in theaters and will open in more theaters May 2.