Director Rebekah Fortune spoke with Solzy at the Movies about the new film, Just Charlie, and explained why a cisgender actor was cast in the leading role rather than a transgender actor.
Thanks for joining Solzy at the Movies today. Congrats on your newest film, Just Charlie. I’m a transgender woman and one of the few trans film critics—how important was it to make sure that the film depicted an authentic transgender experience?
Rebekah Fortune: Just Charlie has been a long time in the making and we have met a lot of amazing Transgender people on the way. We were passionate about telling their story in an authentic way whilst accepting everyone’s journey is different. We worked with many organisations, charities and individuals from the trans community to try and ensure we did them justice.
“Just Charlie” began its life as a stage play twenty years ago inspired by a daytime television programme. Peter Machen, who wrote the screenplay for Just Charlie and I, were fascinated by the idea that someone could be born and feel completely disassociated from what they saw in the mirror and how those around them identified them. No one was talking about the issue at the time but the more we explored the issue the more we began to feel angry about the treatment of the Trans community and the injustices they were suffering. Skip forward twenty years and although some things have changed and there are more high profile figures in the Trans community, there is still a great deal of work to be done to try and make people understand. Many of the Films, TV shows etc have dealt with trans adults but we felt compelled to explore what the reality is like for a young person in The UK, how with the right help and support they don’t need to suffer all their lives, but also explore the ripple effect this very brave decision has on the world around them.
For me, Just Charlie really highlights something we all go through and are constantly challenged on. Who we are, or rather, who are we? In modern times we have been encouraged to express ourselves, to be who we want to be, to go out in to the world and say,”This is me!” However, if that does not conform with what people believe you should be, well you are just plain weird and there is something “wrong” with you. Its a modern story and its a story that will continue to develop as we progress has human beings. We wanted it to be a story we can all participate in and not just be a story about transgender. Transgender issues in the UK are moving forward but its a real struggle. Especially in the current political climate and the fact that very totalitarian views are given oxygen and have emboldened people to allow their fear and hatred to take centre stage. I hope that Just Charlie can help show that we are all people struggling to define who we are and that by supporting each other unconditionally we can actually have much healthier, happier lives.
One of the most frequently asked questions I get is how to better the representation of the transgender community on screen. The most frequent answer I give is to allow us to tell our own stories. Did trans people serve as consultants at any point on the project from start to finish?
Rebekah Fortune: We worked with numerous trans organisations, talked with Doctors, specialists, families, charities and individuals to get as much feedback as possible on the script. We also worked closely with Kellie Maloney a former boxing promoter and high profile trans activist in the UK. We had members of the crew who were also trans who I regularly consulted to make sure she felt we were being truthful.
Harry Gilby’s performance as Charlie was phenomenal. Because so much of the film takes place pre-transition, was a trans actor ever considered for the role?
Rebekah Fortune: We opened the casting to trans actors and Made organisations aware that we were looking for someone for the role. We were not gender specific, we just wanted to find the right person for Charlie. We auditioned many trans actors in the end, but felt that at 14 many were struggling too much emotionally with their own Journeys to be able to psychologically cope with revisiting very painful memories. Harry was just the right actor, he had the emotional maturity but also the innocence to play Charlie and his performance had been well received by the trans community.
Peter Machen, who wrote the script, also co-stars as soccer coach Mick Doyle. I love that his character is such an ally that he works on ways to continue to let Charlie play soccer. How much did the script change with regards to the complete project.
Rebekah Fortune: We worked in great detail on the initial script so It didn’t change too much. There were originally more scenes showing the more practical elements of taking puberty blockers etc but we felt that they were unnecessary. Some scenes did have a little improvisation in them based around the script, but its pretty true to the original as Peter is such a detailed and authentic writer
One of the things that hit hardest with me with how close to home the film hits was watching the emotional and physical struggle of Charlie coming out and seeing how it all plays out. As a director, how did you decide to tackle the coming out scene the way that you did?
Rebekah Fortune: This scene was very much shot using almost a theatre workshop approach, I didn’t want to rehearse, it needed to feel fresh and truthful, however I was the guardian of a 14 year old boys emotional well being so needed to prepare him. For this scene I talked to Harry (Charlie) and Scott (Paul) independently about their motivations, needs, wants but neither was aware of what the others brief was. After doing some very basic blocking we shot the scene twice. Harry was very emotional and I knew it was that raw emotion we needed on screen, but was not prepared to put him through it time and time again.
DS: What was the most surprising thing you learned while working on the film?
Rebekah Fortune: Although this was my first proper feature, I was quite familiar with dealing with large groups of actors and crew and communicating my vision to them, due to my background as a Theatre Director. Ultimately, despite the belief of many, I don’t think there are any fundamental differences between the crafts of directing film and theatre. The key to both is communication. The Director always has a vision regardless of the medium, it is our job to communicate that vision to everyone from the runner to the producer from the writer to the actors and utilize their expertise to bring that to life. One thing that I did find difficult is the timeline, when you direct a film you can’t get lost. You are responsible for knowing where this moment you are filming fits into the whole jigsaw puzzle so need to be fully prepared for each day, you can’t just see what happens quite like you can in theatre, you need to know everyone’s journeys and exactly where they are at all times. When you rehearse for the stage the whole sequence of the story is clear to everyone all the time, actors, hair, make up, costume but on a film everyone has to really be on their toes and have planned meticulously. I tried to shoot in chronological order where I could to make things easier primarily for Harry, so he knew where he was on his journey but it was not always possible. I was also shocked at how much people eat! There seemed to be food constantly, in theatre people don’t get lunch provided and just about get a 1 hour break in a 12 hour day. I think I put 14lbs on. The challenges that arose were predominately related to the tiny budget
Congrats again on such a very important addition to the transgender media canon. It’s a film that I’m going to recommend throughout the year.