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Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Ramsay keeps it real

Director Lynne Ramsay first attracted attention with her multiple-award-winning debut work "The Ratcatcher" (1999). Her second film, "Morvern Callar," also made headlines on the international film fest circuit, while her next project is a Hollywood release, an adaptation of the best seller "The Lovely Bones."

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Lynne Ramsay

Lynne Ramsay might be only 33, but she's already working at the pace of one film a year, and if she can maintain her current high standard she has a good chance of becoming one of the most important filmmakers of her generation.

Ramsay has never chosen easy story material, and the Hollywood venture will be her first time working with a large crew and big budget.

She's also famous for combining well-known actors with skilled amateurs. "It's important to keep things real and down-to-earth," says Ramsay. "I'm just not interested in glamorizing a story. It's just not in me. I'm too working-class Scottish."

Indeed, working class is the starting point and defining factor of both Ramsay's works and her life. The daughter of a bartender, she grew up in a household that was later re-enacted in "The Ratcatcher." She describes it like this: "Let's just say there wasn't a whole lot of tenderness at home." Neither of her parents stood for any nonsense and she learned very early on that it was useless to whine about emotional problems. "But I didn't question that at the time. Scotland is such a working-class culture anyway. People are very tough and expect you to be tough, too. No one listens to you when you start whining."

Which was one of the reasons she was drawn to the book "Morvern Callar." No whiner herself, Ramsay was fascinated by the way Morvern dealt with tragedy and trauma. She also felt that there were a lot of Morverns out there, and young audiences would find it easy to identify with the character. "I loved the way Morvern just clamped on the headphones and cut herself off from everything. She never explains, she never questions. She just goes out and does things. And in the process, she became a very attractive, compelling person. I genuinely liked Morvern. I wanted to know more about her. I wanted to see her breathe and move. I guess that's why I made the movie."

At first, she had thought of an all-amateur cast. But then she spied Samantha Morton in a magazine photograph, her face averted from the camera, staring into space, and it hit her: "Sam is Morvern. There's just no other way to describe it." It also seemed to her quite natural that Morvern and Morton have a similar background in that they're both survivors of foster homes and Morton has been on her own since the age of 13.

Alongside Morton, Ramsay placed Kathleen McDermott, who had never acted in her life. "I liked [McDermott's character] Lanna in a different way from Morvern. She's a clear, simple girl. However wild she may seem now, you just know Lanna's going to settle down soon and have babies. A lot of girls are like that, but few professional actresses can convey that. Kathleen had the power to make Lanna very real and convincing."

Also, Ramsay adds, because of McDermott's personality, the audience can warm to Lanna despite her mean streak and her silliness. "That was very important. No one in this film is a monster. And no one is a victim."

Ramsay says she got a real kick when McDermott told her she had never heard of Samantha Morton ("This was before 'Minority Report' "), and Morton was happy not to enlighten her. "The two of them treated each other like ordinary girlfriends." The rapport they share in the film is an exact replica of the kind they shared off the set. "And it really helped that all three of us were roughly of the same generation and cultural background. I didn't have to do a whole lot of explaining to tell them what I wanted. They knew already."

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