I took my son to London yesterday to meet some of our African relatives. I think he was a little nervous as we arrived because he slowly slid towards the wall and kept his back against it, moving crab-style along the hallway until he was forced back into 3 dimensional space by a pesky door frame. In his defence, he was smiling and gracious the whole time and allowed himself to become half unpeeled for the obligatory hugs and hopelessly wet kisses from his adoring great aunts.
My Sudanese family is beautiful, no other adjective really works. The 70-year-olds look 50 and the 12-year-olds are more courteous and helpful than any concierge at the Plaza.
We were ushered into the living room of their modest but meticulously tidy terraced house and we all sat down around a low coffee table – nine of us. It was like some kind of summit.
It must have been quite intimidating for the boy. All eyes were on him. No one from the Sudan has ever met him before and he was subjected to the most friendly but incessant barrage of questions about his welfare and the welfare of his mother and the welfare of his brother and school and sport and everything. His very first press conference.
If ever he doubted how much like me he looks ( I think he looks a lot like his beautiful mom), those doubts were sorely tested yesterday. His eyes, his face, the way he sits all came under benign scrutiny. “You see! It’s the Sudanese blood in him! El Hamdilila! Praise be to God!”
After an hour of this, I swear, only his head and his flip-flopped feet were left sticking out of the arm-chair he had tried to disappear into.
Needless to say he acquitted himself well, he’s amazingly good at wrangling adults and manages to be unfazed by their peculiar pronouncements and weird repetitive inquisitions. It was years before even I realised that the “How was your day at school?” line of questioning bored him rigid and even if a UFO had landed in the school yard that very day, he’d always respond with a simple “fine” or “okay” before shooting off to his bedroom and getting on with his real life.
We had a huge Sudanese lunch (expertly cooked fried fish in a light flour batter, stuffed eggplant and zucchini and tomatoes, a kind of Arabic lasagna and a few salads) before taking a bunch of photos and jumping back into the car.
This was not the only surreal occasion of the day.
For years I’ve blithely taken my boy wherever I go when he comes to England from the coolest residence to the seediest part of town and he’s always been happily gliding in my wake. But this year he’s 13 and I have completely forgotten how much more observant a 13 year old is.
We went to Soho in London – one of my regular places – it’s full of editing suites and dubbing suites and all things film. I’ve been going there for years and so has Django. But this time, for the first time, he noticed the transvestites and the overtly gay scene. And I noticed that he noticed. For those of you who don’t know, Soho isn’t just a square mile in the middle of London where guys simply like to hang out and be all cuddly and stuff – that happens all over the world and Django wouldn’t be remotely interested or surprised. It’s jam packed full of sex shops and lap dancers hanging in doorways trying to tempt the unwary pedestrian (or perhaps the very wary and extremely willing pedestrian) upstairs for a little casual dancing and polite conversation over a cup of tea!
The one and a quarter hour ride home at about 10.30 started off just like any other: fiddling around for some suitable music, “Vampire Weekend or Elbow?” and then the ‘settle down’ as the monotony of the freeway kicks in and all the passing lights become a blur. I began to think about some dumb script I’ve just read and whether or not I’m grown up enough just to tell my agent that I’m simply not interested – or would I do my usual thing and come up with a million excuses why it would be hard for me to play this particular part at this time… When Django said, “Daddy? Why would anyone need a dildo?”
“Sorry?” I check the rear-view mirror for no good reason whatsoever, and signal to change lanes, then change my mind because there’s no need to change lanes or signal.
“Why would anyone need a dildo? Surely it’s just a sad replacement for the real thing?” He’s a persistent kid.
“Isn’t it just perverted?”
“No … not really …”
Now I’m in real trouble because I don’t really think it is perverted and yet, I have no idea how to go about explaining this. Sure, he’s a young man of the world, he’s heard every swear word under the sun and if my common senses are in working order, he’s probably even had a peek at a naked woman and stuff on the internet at some point but dildos are a tricky philosophical concept for the most cosmopolitan of adults, let alone a kid!
I take a breath, “Sometimes some people who have been living together for years need to spice up their…”, I stop, I realise that’s a dead end (at the very least), I hope I haven’t already gone too far. So I go into the “people are free to do whatever they like, as long as it isn’t hurtful or humiliating” routine. I talk way too much and silently wish I was ultra right wing, because then this discussion would be easy, if there’s even the slightest grey area about people – they burn in hell – simple.
“Daddy? Talking about sex with your parents is kind of creepy. Can we stop now?”
I have never been so happy or relieved since the day this boy was born and came out looking vaguely human. Major parenting hurdle … over. The whole sex education conversation has been dealt with thanks to the mighty dildo. Now I can go back to recommending good books to read and playing Xbox.
We finally settle on the ‘shuffle option’ on my iPod for music during the trip just as God shuffles back to his heaven having done one adult and his son a minor service. Thanks, mate. Didn’t mention it at the time but I owe you one. I may even decide to believe in you one of these days if you can sort out some of the major problems (please?) … that’s a promise.
Just for the record, I called my agent today and told her what a rubbish script it was and if it’s a major hit (which it probably will be) I swear I’ll ‘fess up.
I have a movie opening on Friday. You probably won’t even have read this until after then. Way after then for some of you. So I’ll explain.
Cairo Time either came and went in a blink (remember that one? NetFlix may have it in the ‘uber-arty’ section) or it came and paddled about a bit and you still didn’t see it, but the name rings a bell! Or it came and did some actual business – which I hope it does – and for those of you reading this sometime after Friday 6th August 2010 then you’ll just have to forget the whole space-time logic for a second because now I must talk about it as a forth coming event and not a past event because that would be way too conceited.
It’s been a trip. We finished shooting this movie nearly two years ago. It opened in Canada last year to pretty encouraging reviews and we’ve been to a ton of festivals, all of which I really enjoyed.
In fact I wrote my last email to you guys after the last Toronto Film Festival. So there’s a symmetry playing out here.
I’d much rather fill you in on what I’m up to before this thing releases then after for some reason so I’m jamming it in now with 1 day to go.
I’ve been in quite a few films and they’ve all had some kind of release over the last decade or so but for some reason this one is special, not just because I play a lead, which is rare, but because it’s the kind of film I’m very happy and quite ridiculously proud to have been a part of. For once I won’t be going to the cinema and telling myself what a lovely film I’ve just seen while secretly wishing I could have had the role of the guy who gets to hang out with the girl, because I was that guy and I am that guy and I’ll always be that guy every time anyone hit’s ‘play’. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but there’s something cool about that.
I’m not usually a big fan of romances on screen because you’d need to measure the actual romance with an electron microscope – that’s probably why most on screen romances are liberally coated with comedy to retain any interest and make them visible to the human eye.
Obviously not every one will agree, but Ruba has pulled off a pretty rare feat (not to confused with Django’s flip-flopped feet). It’s not the fact that Patricia and I dance our way through the picture, but the profound achievement of a) raising money for a film which doesn’t give up its secrets easily and b ) impressing one of the most respected independent distributors enough to get a pretty mainstream release in the States, which is nothing short of astonishing.
Daniel Iron is the guy who raised the cash, a Canadian producer who has done a bunch of wonderful documentaries and movies – I think Away From Her was his last feature – and between his patience and Ruba’s tenacity a film that deals with the subtleness of love has been made, and I very much hope that a enough people see it to make this kind of old school movie worth making again in some other form.
The moment we underrate subtlety as a people is the moment we start to lower the bar on intelligence and what we require of each other.
There … I’ve said something.
I have no idea what’s next in store for me but if the law of averages is anything to go by then the next few years will be just that, average. I hope not, obviously.
I’m looking forward to Miral by Julian Schnabel and Rula Gebreal (god I hope I’ve spelled that right – not that god – any god). [Mel's note: close...it's Rula Jebreal] He’s an amazing guy. Wacky. But with a heart as big as a whale’s.
When I was a kid I was always meeting amazing people. Somehow it has become a rarer occurrence since I passed the 20 year mark. Not quite sure why that is but it probably has some link with the fact that I don’t get that scared when I watch horror movies any more, I‘m too busy looking for the strings.
I’ve already told you all about the story behind Miral and my experiences working on it. Sadly I can’t go into any major detail because it’s still waiting nervously in its can for its world premiere in Venice this year (I think). But it’ll make something interesting happen somewhere I suspect – Julian’s work always seems to do that.
Apart from all the acting nonsense, I’ve been playing quite a bit of cricket this year for the village team. They’re a kindly lot who appear to tolerate me with a mixture of fascination and unease, a bit like watching a kid discover a snail for the first time. I know that some of them are just dying to know how much I earn exactly but they just can’t say it out loud. I know that’s arrogant of me to think that but I’ve got to call a spade a spade when you get comments like, “So, I imagine you get quite a bit of money for that then?!”
I just can’t bring myself to say the truth – it would be so massively disappointing.
So I’m going to do something extravagant next season – hire a Rolls Royce one weekend and a chauffeur. I’ll be sure to shout out, “I’ll be bringing the other car next weekend Jeff (I’ll probably call him Jeff), so take the family away!”
That’s not entirely fair. Very few of them actually want to know how much I earn but it only takes a couple of questions from a couple of them and I convict the whole lot.
Good news is I haven’t been hit in the face or broken a toe or anything like last time I played for the team. I decided well in advance that I’d try to be nothing short of a poor-to-mediocre cricketer this season – and it worked!
What do you guys feel about doing a recipe blog in the near future?
That’s a random question, I know. But I’ve been trying to think of something to do with your site and I think that might be a good idea. I don’t think I have the stomach for tweeting, I have to admit that I haven’t read any tweets but it sounds like way too much banal information for anyone, “I’ve just left my house to go to work – here’s a photo” or “This is my dog, he looks so sad”. Okay I understand if you’re one of the scientists working on the Hadron Collider or perhaps even a soldier in Afghanistan or something, but interesting guys like that don’t get to tweet about top secret stuff. ;).
I figure we might be able to eat well or at the very least interestingly to start with and we can all move up to searching for the Higgs Boson at a later date!
Lots of love,