“Joaquin Phoenix is simply stupendous in a revenge thriller from the brilliant Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay that gets under your skin and makes it crawl. You won’t know what hit you.” -Rolling Stone
YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE is based on a novel by Jonathan Ames, which Ramsay received and immediately started writing into a screenplay. Within four weeks, she had a complete draft and from go, she imagined Joaquin Phoenix in the lead role. “He brought a humanity to it,” Ramsay states – she recounts the collaborative way he works, how they’d question everything and try to push it further. “No take was the same,” she says. Shot in only 29 days, this film was all about pushing the envelope in order to get the most out of every moment.
Ramsay reminisces on the writing process, and says that it ultimately becomes an immersive character study, trying to get to the bottom of who Joe (Phoenix) is. It started as an adaptation of the novel, but morphed into something entirely new, as Ramsay let herself get lost in the trip of the exploratory writing journey.
In terms of casting, Ramsay definitely takes risks. One actor in the film was a member of the art department – Ramsay thought he would work well in the film, and asked him to come in for a casting. “He was perfect,” she says. Another boy in the film just happened to be at the audition with a friend – not even there to audition himself – and ended up being asked to play the role. Ramsay says that casting is about instinct, and going “off the beaten path” to find the right person.
The mother-son relationship for Phoenix’s character and his mother – played by Judith Roberts – is an essential element to the story, and Ramsay states that she has enough footage to make a entirely new film with it – a comedy of course.
Ramsay recounts a very expensive sound effect from a mother-son scene here:
The sounds of New York play a huge role in the film – essentially becoming another character. Ramsay describes first visiting New York and being overwhelmed by the sounds, “This is what madness sounds like,” she says, and she wanted to heighten the sound in the film. Ramsay worked closely alongside the sound designer and the editor to create a whole package that would work together, and a score that mirrors Phoenix’s character journey.
View the full Q&A here:
About the film:
Following a resounding debut at the Cannes Film Festival including a Palme d’Or nomination and wins for Best Actor and Best Screenplay, Lynne Ramsay’s YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE sees vengeance and corrupt power unleash into a storm of violence and follows a traumatized veteran (Joaquin Phoenix) who tracks down missing girls for a living. When a job spins out of control, his nightmares overtake him as a conspiracy is uncovered leading to what may be his death trip or his awakening.
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