Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Colin and reminisce about how we came to do the film together. As you will hear, there was more than a little luck, coincidence, and serendipity involved. I feel very fortunate, as I didn't actually have a plan.
After you’re done reading, please watch our short film The Laughing King. Proceeds to go support the charity The Campaign Against Living Miserably and their efforts to prevent male suicide in the UK.
LINDY HEYMANN: You’re an incredible actor who is hugely in demand – it was a big ask from me. What persuaded you to do a short film for free?
COLIN MORGAN: Well, firstly, thanks so much. It's really kind of you to say that, and I can’t tell you how much it means to have people believe in you and support you. For me, there was very little persuasion involved when a script like yours is so strong. It's a sure thing for me when I connect with something on a creative emotional level. I just want to be involved in storytelling, whatever the circumstances.
I know you say it was a big ask, but I never thought it was. I felt honoured that you considered me. But it's interesting, because I suppose I hadn't really broached that subject matter before. And the fact that you saw something in me that gave you confidence to hand me the reins also says that you understand me as an artist too. So it was very much about working with you too - especially after the work we got to do together on Humans on that great scene between Ruth [Bradley, who plays DI Karen Voss/Beatrice] and me.
It's an amazing story of chance and coincidence how it all came about, isn't it. Do you want to talk about how it all transpired?
LINDY: It was obviously meant to be? Right from the beginning I had you in mind to play Jake. We had just finished the script, and I hadn't worked out how I was going to approach you.
Then around that time, I was asked to shadow the director, China Moo Young, on a new show called Humans. I remember I turned up to the shoot only to realise that YOU were starring in it. How crazy was that!
I may not have got the opportunity to talk to you, but they were running behind on the schedule, and China asked me if I would direct a few scenes for her. One of them was with you and Ruth. It was a very layered and emotionally charged scene that had to be shot very quickly. And it was walking back together afterwards that I knew I had to ask you. I remember I sent it to you on a Monday and by the Friday you'd told me you were up for it. I was over the moon – it was an incredible moment for me and the project!
In the film, there is actually very little dialogue. Yet you manage to tell us so much about Jake’s interior thoughts and feelings. Do you have a method to get this across?
COLIN: That was the power of the script for me. The lost loneliness of Jake sort of gave me the impression that he had gone beyond words, beyond talking, and beyond trying to articulate what no-one can understand anyway. He's also not allowing words to affect him, quite literally cutting off communication with his phone.
A lot of what I feel sometimes is an instinct and a kind of inhabiting of the swirl of thoughts that could potentially be going on within a character. Making a sort of sense of it. For me to walk the line of trying to meet the character halfway, I suppose. I find it hard to articulate myself, but it's making it as true and as real for myself as possible. Whatever self-deception I need to adopt to do that - I will do whatever it takes to get there.
Did you always imagine that dialogue would play a small role in the final version? What was your starting point in beginning to put such a tough personal matter for you onto paper?
LINDY: The concept of the film actually came from screenwriter, Leigh Campbell, who also wrote my feature film Kicks. She had written a one page idea and asked me to read it. I knew immediately that I had to direct it, and begged her to let me collaborate with her on the script. It resonated so much with my own experience of losing my brother.
Leigh had originally conceived it as Jake's mother searching for him. I asked her if we could switch it to his sister. As soon as we did, I realised that I had so much I had to say.
Actually there was quite a lot of dialogue written in early drafts. But as we progressed, I understood that what was happening inside Jake's head, and that his quiet intention was way more emotional and powerful than anything he could say. So gradually the dialogue got more and more stripped back.
Unless you have been in that situation yourself, taking your own life is such a complex thing to get your head around. How did you prepare for the role?
Colin Morgan on location in the seaside town of Blackpool, England, during the filming of The Laughing King. See more photos from the film >
COLIN: I had a few research books from previous projects which I referenced for insight. You also lent me that great book by Matt Haig, "Reasons To Stay Alive", which I think is a book everyone should read. I tend to fuel myself up both factually and imaginatively as much as possible before any project. Then I place a lot of trust that "on the day" it will colour and evoke what I need, trying to remain as open as possible to what's going to come out or what isn't.
It's such a delicate and unpredictable process in this whole business. It's always fearful, and self-doubt is constant, but the story and the character usually always prevail. And yes, this particular matter of suicide is so, so complex and hard to get your head around. But I guess I felt a sort of insight that was unexpected for me, and I guess that brought some peace in a way.
What about exploring deeper into this subject matter creatively for you? Did it open up any new understanding for you in the cases of your brother and friend?
Director Lindy Heymann and Colin Morgan on location in the seaside town of Blackpool, England, during the filming of The Laughing King. See more photos from the film >
LINDY: Yes, I think I felt the same way. In some ways the film was very cathartic for me. I think for years the way I had dealt with my brother's suicide was to create my own interpretation of why it happened. I found a way to be philosophical about it. I was only 21 when it happened (Marcus was two years younger). In some ways I was too young to process an event like suicide.
It was only when I experienced it in my life a second time, when my dear friend Shaun took his own life at 49, that I knew I had to face the subject head on. I was seeking to understand how someone could feel that suicide is an answer. Making a film about it and exploring it from a character’s point of view helped me do this.
Quite a few people in Blackpool approached the crew whilst we were filming and shared many of their own stories with us. How did people respond to you? Wasn’t there that guy who approached you when you were trying to break the £50 note?
COLIN: Ha, yes, sometimes people can be blinkered in public situations and not see the whole scenario. So yes, in the scene where the guy selling the postcards wouldn't take my 50 quid note, a guy did come up and very helpfully give me directions to the nearest bank where he was sure they would give me change. That was actually a lovely human moment in the midst of everything that I just loved.
I know we talked a lot about Blackpool as a "character" in itself. Was that always the location you had in mind?
LINDY: Blackpool was there right from the beginning. Leigh had been there, and it had inspired the whole film. The title… everything. makers.
It's a very atmospheric place. A Northern British seaside town that in many ways only makes sense when it’s packed full of families and holiday-
We shot there in early May, so the season hadn’t quite begun yet. It has a stunning coastline and the sea is epic - it’s as if it’s calling you - and the beach is vast especially when the tide is out. Sadly, some people do choose it as a place to end their life, and in a way, I can understand why. It does feel like the edge of the world.
The cast and crew filming on location in Blackpool. See more photos >
At one point it looked like we weren't going to be allowed to shoot there, as Tim Burton was using Blackpool as a location for his movie (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children) and had the run of the town for six weeks. Fortunately, our producer knew Tim Burton’s location manager, and they gave us their blessing to shoot on the section of beach and pier that we'd always envisaged. Another piece of good fortune for us.
In looking back now, what if anything did you take anything away from the experience of playing Jake?
If you’re in crisis,
don’t be a statistic.
There are people
who can help.
COLIN: Well I think I said to you on the day we shot the scene where Jake walks into the sea, I think I said: "I can understand how it makes sense". And I know it may seem a little scary to get that insight. But to me I understood there and then, unexpectedly, having done all the preparation and putting myself in his situation. I had this sort of expanse of understanding, and it didn't frighten me.
LINDY: We shot your walk into the sea handheld (Edu Grau our DOP was following you). I was running alongside holding a handheld monitor so that I could watch the shot. And I remember that I was transfixed and I lost my breath watching you. It was so affecting that some of the crew were crying. It was as if Jake’s walk into the sea was a release for him rather than an ending somehow. It made me think about it from Marcus’ and Shaun’s perspective, rather than my own. That I think has really helped me - so thank you.
To find out more about the creative work of Colin Morgan, Lindy Heymann, and the entire team of generous and talented people who donated their time to create The Laughing King short film, visit our filmmakers page.