Jo, as this was your first English film, what were some of the major challenges with shooting it, besides mastering the language?
Jo Yang: I don’t think there were many challenges for me, because I had a pretty straightforward role. It was basically to light up Nathan’s world. Zhang Mei’s purpose in the film is to open him up and lead him to experience some of the things he hasn’t experienced before. I had fun. There wasn’t any challenges. Everything’s very new for me. Working on a British film, working in Britain and Taiwan, I just embraced everything. I just enjoyed everything. I think there’s more joy and having fun than challenges.
How was shooting in Taiwan?
Jo Yang: I loved it!
Asa Butterfield: That was amazing!
Jo Yang: We had so much fun. I tried to get him to try a lot of the food, but he just… [laughs]
Asa Butterfield: They do have some pretty interesting meals there. We had duck’s heart…
Jo Yang: We had the stinky tofu that was in the film. [Asa’s] reaction! Every time we had to walk past that section with the stinky tofu, and he is like, Ew! That’s real.
Asa Butterfield: It really did stink! Imagine a really bad fart, and then imagine, like, ten of them. It’s horrible.
Jo Yang: Like stinky feet, too. But it’s delicious, you know, if you try it! If you go to Taiwan or China, you’ve got to try it. It’s like a specialty of Asian food.
Asa Butterfield: I still don’t believe it’s delicious. I think that’s impossible.
Morgan Matthews: I think we all fell in love with Taipei a little bit. We were going to, at one point, shoot Taipei as China and set that part of the film in China. Then I visited Taipei, myself and the producer, and we just fell in love with it. It’s a very beautiful city and it has a very distinct identity – an identity that I didn’t want to pretend was somewhere else. I didn’t want to be restricted in terms of where we could shoot because I wanted to show the city. So we re-wrote it and we set it in Taipei!
We were also shooting often in a more documentary style when we were shooting out on the street. There are a lot of scenes in night markets and in parks. Those are all places where people are just going about their business and we are just walking through the middle of a night market with a reasonably small camera crew. You don’t get that many people paying much attention. It’s a perfect place to shoot in that way. So, there’s people who are around us – they are not extras, they’re just people on the street.
Jo Yang: I think those scenes were, for me, the most fun to shoot. Everything was completely real and there was a lot of improvisation. I see these things from my childhood and I just introduce it as Zhang Mei to Nathan.
Morgan Matthews: It’s a very natural reaction to what’s happening around them that is not scripted. I think that gives the film a sense of authenticity. Sometimes it’s a bit ad-hoc, thinking on our feet, and it can be chaotic. But, it’s quite rewarding, as well, with what it brings to the film.
Morgan, you spoke at the film’s Q&A on Friday night that the structure of the film changed as you were shooting and editing it. How so?
Morgan Matthews: The main structural difference between the final film and the final script is that in the original script, we didn’t have flashbacks. It was scripted chronologically. There’s a section of the film where young Nathan, at nine years old, we get to learn what happened to him in his childhood and the relationship he had with his father, and when his mathematical ability started emerging.
In the final film, we interspersed some of those scenes throughout the film. It’s a way of keeping his father alive through the film. He has a constant presence and reminds how important a figure he was. We learn more about the relationship that he had [with Nathan] and the warmth that existed between them, as the film progresses.
How was working with Morgan?
Morgan Matthews: [Laughs] Should I leave the room? [To Asa and Jo] Remember what I said.
Asa Butterfield: Because he came from documentary, his directing style and his approach… Morgan totally understands the direction he wants the story to go, the tone of the script and the feelings associated with certain scenes. It allowed us as actors to use that as our platform. In rehearsal, Morgan allowed us to play with that and use some improvisation and bring our own lines of dialogue, as well as different things to the film. As we shot a lot of it very handheld and very naturally, as an actor, it allows you to completely immerse yourself in the scene and the experience, which is really helpful.
Jo Yang: Every director is different. One thing that I think is great is that he put a lot of trust in the actors, which some directors don’t. He works with you a lot before filming to make sure we’re on the same page. Once we start filming, he puts a lot of trust in you. When I work with directors sometimes, they don’t do that. I think that’s great. It’s a really trusting process.
That concludes our interview, but we’d like to thank Jo, Morgan and Asa very much for their time!