There is a new movie hitting UK cinemas this weekend; Chicken, directed by up and coming UK director Joe Stephenson, a heart-warming film which tells the story of a lonely young man, Richard (played by the brilliant Scott Chambers) and his journey to a new life after a life altering discovery. 4YE were lucky enough to see the movie and have a chat with the director Joe Stephenson about his first movie last year.
Now ahead of its UK release with opening weekend screenings introduced by one of the film’s biggest supporters Sir Ian McKellen, I had a chat with Scott Chambers about the movie, and his excitement at the movie finally getting its UK release. Chambers has been blown away by the support given to the movie by McKellen and is very excited for this weekend’s screening events. “I’m completely blown away by the support from Ian Mckellen who is hosting three of the opening London screenings. The generosity is mind blowing and it will really help the film to be seen by audiences that may not have seen it if it hadn’t been for him. I am trying to be at the three opening screenings with Joe [Stephenson] and Ian McKellen.”
Chambers first came to the attention of Stephenson when the latter saw the original stage production of Chicken at London’s Southwark Playhouse, written by Freddie Machin, where Chambers first played the role of Richard. Chambers said that there were a number of differences between playing the role on stage and translating that onto the big screen. “I think the biggest change with playing Richard on screen was that we had the freedom to take the characters to new locations, new situations and for me, to have the chicken on set, and to build a relationship with the chicken because she is so important to Richard. On stage you have very limited resources so you truly have to immerse yourself into this imaginary setting, whereas on screen it’s all been done and it’s real and right in front of you.”
There is no doubt that Richard’s relationship with those around him, especially Fiona the chicken, is at the emotional core of the movie and Chambers spoke of the challenges of working with the live chickens, which seemed to have both positives and negatives attached to it. Chambers said that although there was an element of uncertainty to begin with, over time working with a feathered co-star was on the whole an enjoyable experience. “I was definitely cautious about the chicken at first, and thought it would be a bit of a problem but she really wasn’t. We had two on set, I named one shy and one confident. When I would have a scene where I was to run I would want shy as she stays still, if I had a monologue to the chicken or a bit of dialogue I’d get confident because she would always give me something back.”
Another key relationship to Richard in the movie is that between him and his brother Polly (played by Morgan Watkins), which is tumultuous throughout the movie and causes Richard to have to completely change his life by the end of the movie. The scenes between Watkins, who was “truly incredible to act opposite”, and Chambers were the ones which hit home the hardest when I saw the movie. This was gained by Watkins and Chambers working behind the scenes to create a back story for the duo. “We worked very closely prior to the shoot together writing our character biographies, but from our own characters perspectives. Morgan’s would be a lot more darker than Richard, possibly because Polly knows the truth and was exposed to things Richard wasn’t which was interesting. We would discuss every morning the scenes we had and what was going on between the characters. There’s a few areas that are answered in the film, but some that leave the audience to decide for themselves so it was for me and Morgan to really clarify every question so that we knew exactly what had gone on since birth to the present circumstances.“
Chicken was both Stephenson’s and Chambers’ first feature production and it is clear that Stephenson was there to support Chambers and the rest of the cast through the film in ways other than just directing. “Working with Joe was genuinely incredible, he is basically Richard too. He was always there for me and supported every decision or idea. I think it was slightly easier in a way for us working together, because we already had a strong bond and we both trusted each other completely which I think with this project, if the trust wasn’t there that it could of turned into something else. Myself and Joe both needed this opportunity and worked hard to try and achieve something great.” Chambers also spoke about the challenges he had faced professionally prior to accepting the project and the pressure he put on himself to portray Richard’s learning difficulties in a sympathetic manner. “I’d been acting for a few years but struggling to get anywhere so when I had this opportunity I just did whatever I could to make it what it had to be. I was extremely worried about playing someone with learning difficulties in my first performance too, I didn’t want to insult anyone or fail anyone in my performance so I remember getting stressed out over that.”
Chambers’ portrayal of Richard is truly beautiful and whilst watching Chicken I really felt like the audience was getting a glimpse into the soul of a lonely young man who just wanted the world to love him and everyone else. Before Richard meets Annabelle (played by Yasmin Paige), he creates his own group of friends in a way that only he could – with stuffed roadkill. Chambers spoke about the scene and how it allows the audience to get a view into Richard’s world. “When I saw that scene in the script I smiled because I completely got it. It was really well done, because to someone from the outside looking at it, not knowing Richard they would maybe think it was very strange, but he wants family and love which is what I think those moments represent. I was aware as an actor that by the point these scenes unveil, the audience need to get who Richard is so they understand the scene, and so that was something me and Joe talked about a lot and how to make Richard instantly understandable to the audience.”
I asked Chambers about where Richard would be if audiences were to see him in the future and it seems that both Chambers and Stephenson have had thoughts about Richard’s future. “I think Richard has two dogs now (one called Donkey and the other, Truth), and probably does taxidermy classes! I think he lives on the farm with Annabelle’s parents (she’s probably at University), and I think he’s receiving all the love he could of ever wanted. I think mentally he’s going to have grown more, had closure on certain parts of his life and I think he won’t feel alone anymore. With not feeling alone, I think would bring his confidence up and he will finally be who he wants to be.”
On its journey to release, Chicken has been shown at a number of international film festivals including the New Hampshire Film Festival where the film had its US premiere and won the Grand Jury Narrative Award. Chambers has travelled extensively with Stephenson promoting the movie, and he said that showing the movie to an international audience was interesting and exciting. “My most memorable experience was Busan International Film Festival. To see the film with subtitles and still have a strong reaction was pretty incredible. I was worried certain things may not translate due to the language Richard uses, but it seemed to go down really well.”
Chambers is certainly not resting on his laurels and has a number of new projects in the pipeline, including the film adaptation of Stephen Fry’s novel The Hippopotamus playing Roger Allam’s gothic son. He is currently filming Hush in Glasgow with Celia Imrie, and he will be working again with Stephenson in the very near future, which is very exciting. He would also relish the opportunity to return to the stage which brings its own set of challenges and rewards. “I would love to return to the stage at some point. I’ve always really enjoyed staying in a character for a solid hour or so and going through all the motions, feeling the audience’s reactions. My dream role on stage would be something at the Royal Court, it’s my favourite theatre in London and you can keep it natural. I’ve never been into performances where the actors are screaming to be heard, I like intimate theatre. My dream role on stage would be something like American Psycho.”
There is no doubt that Scott Chambers has a bright and exciting career ahead of him, and I for one can’t wait to see this talented young actor grow and develop. Thank you to Scott for taking the time to talk to 4YE. Chicken hits UK cinemas May 20 and tickets for the London screenings are still available and I would urge everyone to support this fabulous British film.