We joined stars of Salmon Fishing In The Yemen, Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor and Amr Waked with producer Paul Webster to chat about their upcoming film.
The giggling cast answered questions about difficulties of salmon fishing and filming on two very different locations.
STUDIO: Scotland looks beautiful in the film, particularly the castle where the Sheikh lives.
Paul Webster: That's Ardverikie. It's just southwest of Inverness, in the middle of nowhere. Beautiful place. Great pleasure to work at, but it was a complicated place because it was more difficult to get to the Scottish locations than it was to get to the locations in the desert. There are not very many hotels up there. Not many people live in the north of Scotland, so finding places to put people was difficult, but it was great fun.
Emily Blunt: There was that one day where it was really bad, wasn't it?
PW: Yeah, [but] we were on the river and it was great fun, and a very beautiful place to work.
STUDIO: Amr, assuming where you come from there's not much call for salmon fishing, I'm wondering what your experience of the art of salmon fishing was before you discovered the film and the book?
Amr Waked: It was actually quite educating. We don't really have salmon fishing in the Middle East, but we eat salmon, so it was quite interesting to see how this big fish is taken out of the water. It's quite a special way of fishing. It's not really like everything else. It takes much more time and needs a lot more physical ability. You don't just throw the thing and wait there, there's a special way to cast.
EB: It's like a dance.
AW: It is actually, it's quite graceful.
STUDIO: Amr, how pleasant or unpleasant is it to go salmon fishing while wearing those robes?
AW: That was actually deadly. The first time I waded without the insulators, I had a wet suit, but it brings the water in and it was like three degrees and I couldn't believe it. I was like, "You should do it. They're gonna make fun of you. You are from Egypt and they are from the north, so do not be so wimpy. Do it!" And I did it and I can tell you I really shivered for forty minutes after I got out. The problem is not when you're in there, it's when you get out and you get hit by the wind. In Morocco in the desert it was really cold as well, we went at seven in the morning and it was just like Scotland, it's just brown.
STUDIO: Emily, I believe that the most excited people when you were cast in this were your Mum and Dad. Having seen the film, what is their verdict?
EB: Well, they must have liked it a lot, because they are going to see it again tonight. I've offered them dinner with their long lost daughter, who lives in the States, but they've said no (laughs). They are gonna instead sit through the film again because they love it. I think my Mum's brought fifteen other Blunts with her. Many family members are coming tonight, so they love it. My Mum said to me after seeing it, "How refreshing to see such an original, uplifting film." I think there is an audience fatigue with all of these big blockbuster movies. Some of them are great, but a lot of them are mind-numbing, and people are crying out for great stories and something that will make you feel something in some way.
STUDIO: Ewan, it's been suggested that you used a very effective prissy Scottish accent in the film. Could you tell us why you use that specific accent?
EB: I love the accent.
Ewan McGregor: Fred's not Scottish in the book, and I felt like there was no reason why he shouldn't be. And in actual fact it would be helpful if he was. I was speaking to Simon Beaufoy, the writer of the screenplay, because I found it really difficult to get hold of our director (laughs).
EB: I don't think Lasse even knew that you were using a Scottish accent.
EM: I sat down with Simon and he was the one who suggested the Morningside accent. It's such an uptight accent, it's perfect for Fred. It was one of the things that made me realise I was in such good hands with you first time we met. I'd met Simon and I read some of the scenes with the accent and without, and I just couldn't decide. It seemed like it's such an unromantic accent (laughs). I thought regardless of how Fred is at the beginning of the script, he is sort of the romantic lead of the film and can it work with that accent? So when we met in rehearsal room, Emily said, "Well let's hear it." So we read a scene with the accent and without and she went, "You've got to do the accent!"
EB: It transformed you. I mean, it was just so instantaneously perfect.
EM: It was a leap. I needed the support of my fellow actor there to help me to do it. I had an old, distant relation called Betty Burnside who spoke like that, but every now and again she would slip and she'd go, "Oh, I dinnae ken," (laughs) so I called my secretary in the film Betty Burnside in remembrance of old Betty.
STUDIO: Paul, was this in any sense a tough sell going in? Because, as Emily suggested, once you've seen it the charms are obvious. Was it, because of its quirky detail, a tough sell for you initially?
PW: Setting up – yes it was. It took the combination of Emily and Ewan, and then Lasse joining fortunately on the back of a big hit movie, Dear John, to get us a green light to make the movie. I still think the movie is quite a hard sell. People, particularly in America, they think Salmon Fishing In The Yemen is a documentary. But to their credit, CBS Films never asked us to change the title. We thought about it at first and then realised that you've got to play to your strengths. I always remember many years ago, Four Weddings And A Funeral – when that was made, some of the executives originally suggested they should change that title and call it The Best Man. And Four Weddings And A Funeral has now slipped into the lexicon. I think you make sense of complexities like that. I think it's a wonderful collision; it's a great tribute to Paul Torday.
EB: Simon Beaufoy was saying, "I seem to only be about movies with titles that everyone wants to change." Slumdog Millionaire, Full Monty, this one. He's like, "What's wrong with these titles?"
STUDIO: Ewan, in the book Fred is written as an older man. Obviously the character has been modified somewhat to suit your casting. Do you find yourself drawn to different parts now that reflect the fact that you are a man in your forties?
EB: How dare you (laughs).
EM: Not really. I felt that we could have aged me up. There was some talk of putting silver in my hair, but I felt that we could achieve his uptightness with the acting. I have to say it wasn't important to me to make him older. Now, great fans of the book might think that's a mistake, but I think it's possible to achieve the same effect. There are people who are younger than I, who are more uptight that I am. It's not necessarily an age thing. I mean, nobody is offering me twenty-year-old juve leads any more, but like you said, I'm in my forties, so it's kind of natural that would be the case.
PW: I think the book and the script is about second chances, and we talked about it. We've set the movie up and the idea is that Mary, who is played by Rachel Sterling rather wonderfully, we talked about them meeting at university and they've been together twenty years, and they've got stuck. So, it's quite possible. I think it's all about the acting. Ewan is just going from strength to strength, and for me it's one of his best performances.
EM: Oh you're very kind! (laughs).
STUDIO: Ewan and Emily, how easy was it to play the love story, given that part of the audience may be rooting for the relationship with the soldier boyfriend?
EM: (Laughs) Don't be ridiculous! Well, that was the beauty of love story, that it was complicated. I think what Simon did really beautifully was that, in the book, Fred's wife is really quite awful and Simon made it more complicated by making her not a nightmare – it's just a sad marriage and we feel for her also. I think that's really a mark of great writing, that we have sympathy for her as well.
STUDIO: Ewan, did you have any knowledge of the Scottish locations? As the only Scot in the principal cast, did you feel like being the tour guide for people when you were up there?
EM: No, we didn't have much the time. But it was lovely to be up there. I love being back in Scotland for a start, and I love working there. I made a film a couple of years ago called Perfect Sense in Glasgow, and I've never enjoyed that city more in my life. I think it was the first time I'd shot in the highlands since Trainspotting, so it's been a long time. It was gorgeous and it was lovely for all of us. Paul put all of the actors up in a hunting lodge, a rather splendid house with nice grounds and everything. All of the cast were there – after work we would all hang out and there was a little pond where we could fish. It was just really nice for all of us to do that. Nicest for all was Hamish who played the butler; he had the day off and Kristin Scott-Thomas had the day off, so he spent the whole day going around the highlands. I don't think he could believe his luck!
EB: He came down for breakfast and she just frog-marched him outside, "Come on! Let's go hiking!"
STUDIO: The film seems to be about believing the unbelievable and making it happen. Is there anything that has happened to you that you thought would never happen, but you've achieved it? Is it faith or good luck?
EB: I never know how to answer that, because I don't feel in my career that there has been a specific job that I think was going to be impossible. But I think in general, the fact that I get to do this for a living is pretty improbable, because it's so competitive and the main percentage of actors are not working. So, I think that that is pretty lucky. I quite enjoy the unknown about this job and being quite fatalistic about what's going to happen and the choices that you make.
EM: There are some moments when you go out of your trailer to go on set, and you don't know how you are going to do what you are going to do. And like that, you just don't know until the camera turns and then you know, half an hour later, you are walking back thinking, 'Well, that was all right.'
AW: All my career has been linked to fate. This movie too, for me, is linked to fate. I never thought I would be in it. I never thought it would be so well received. We all really believed in it, we all put a lot of energy in it. I think somehow that belief that you have, that faith that you have in whatever you do, somehow comes back to you and reflects back on to you from the impact of what you've done. It's really difficult to explain, but I do believe in fate and I am a product of fate.
PW: The reason we cast Amr and not an older actor was because not many older Arab actors spoke English fluently, and that was necessary for the character. Fate intervened very positively for us – Amr was the perfect cast when we watched him Syriana. Although, the set was washed away four days before shooting in Morocco, despite us being told that it never rained in there. However, a fantastic Moroccan crew built it back together in days. The atmosphere on the set was jolly and everyone got along. What appeared to be a difficult film was a pleasure.
Words by Busra Sahin.
Salmon Fishing In The Yemen is out in cinemas now.