There’s an earthy feel to The Goob, Guy Myhill’s directorial debut. A gritty coming of age story set in Norfolk; it packs a powerful performance from fellow debutant Liam Walpole as the title character, and strong support from Sienna Guillory as his mother Janet and Sean Harris as vicious stepfather Womack.
After premiering in Venice, the film played at the London Film Festival last October where Culturefly joined Guy as he spoke about Norfolk, his experience directing a feature for the first time, and where that title comes from.
Is it conceivable in your mind that a film like this could have been made anywhere but Norfolk?
Guy Myhill: No, I don’t think so. I mean if someone put a gun to my head or gave me a million pounds I’d translate it but from the outset it’s firmly rooted in my mind there. I knew the stock car track, I knew the people that ran that. A close friend runs an agency dealing with migrant workers so I’m familiar with that landscape too. It would have been hard if it was not Norfolk.
Is that where you’re from?
GM: I wasn’t born there but it’s where I live.
It’s undiscovered in a lot of ways.
GM: That’s why we’ve got to keep schtum. It’s brilliant. It’s a part of the UK that’s unlike any other. Huge beaches, a gorgeous landscape. Some people think it’s an awful place but I don’t.
You brought that out a little at the start with a bus driver telling the kids they have to get out.
GM: I know. He says it’s a shithole, tells them you’ve got to get out of the shithole. But that’s not my feeling for that landscape. It was just there as a kind of method, a line that has the payoff at the very end when he does escape. I don’t see it in those terms but for the story he was trapped.
So it’s not necessarily Norfolk he’s escaping?
GM: No, not at all. More that situation he’s in. The bus driver might view Norfolk as a shithole, and that’s his perception dragging these kids every day up and down the road to school but I love that landscape.
The Goob is the first in a trilogy right? Is it all about Norfolk?
GM: Certainly that’s the landscape. The next one starts in Coventry but ends up in Norfolk.
The dynamic between Goob, his mother and stepfather is a fascinating one.
GM: I don’t think it’s uncommon that dynamic. This is what it’s really about. When Goob realises his mum loves Sean’s character more, he realises he’s lost his mum’s love.
She comes across as a victim as well.
GM: Absolutely. Desperate to hang onto her man. And boy. She wants to keep him in that childlike state and manipulate him in that way. When he sees through that, he has that pasting at the end from Sean, he knows it’s not safe and she tries to give him cuddles and keep him in that infantile state and keep everything together. Nothing to rock the boat even though this new stepfather figure has attacked her son. She doesn’t want to change that equilibrium.
So she’s not necessarily trapped in that relationship?
GM: She’s desperate to have a man, will do anything just to keep him. Her husband and Goob’s father has died and very early on there’s a scene in a van with a character called Levi who was one of his father’s best friends which isn’t really written in the story, who shows him a photograph of his dad. It’s very early and I never want to go into big detail but he’s a kind of mentor figure for him and a counterbalance against the Womack figure, the much more softer figure.
Womack’s a scary figure.
GM: He is but he’s stuck.
So they are victims showing their worst side in a way?
GM: And dealing with it in a way that they feel is best. But trapped. Again to allude to that there’s a a shot later in the film, Goob’s in the diner looking out the window and Womack is at the front end and these cars are just going by and he turns round and looks at Goob and this is it, this is us and Goob gets up and goes. There’s something about them, they just can’t get beyond this situation.
Goob gets away though, admittedly to an uncertain future.
GM: He actually has a little cameo in the next in the trilogy so you know he’s ok. He’s going to be in the dodgems at a seaside funfair.
Is it too late for the others to get out of this world?
GM: I think it’s really hard. Of course they can but change is difficult. So I think they would need to see they are trapped and I’m not sure they can. I think maybe Womack knows that and he’s on quite a good thing really. He’s come in from his stock car world and he’s womanising but he’s got this diner and a little plot of land attached to it, so he’s actually created a little world for himself. He’s obviously not happy as he’s seeing other women. Sienna’s character twigs that but is happy to let that go. But until they properly look at that, I don’t think they could move on. That would be my take.
So Goob is the one character moving forward?
GM: Yeah. Arguably you can say the mentor figure Levi who gets back with Hannah Spearritt’s character Mary as well; he shows Goob a sense of love, commitment and loyalty. He knows that Mary has been with Womack but he’s going to give things another go and try and make it work. So Goob gets these little ideas and notions. Of course, he’s walked in and seen Womack having sex with his mum, quite brutally. It’s kind of a loveless scenario. He’s had a little fumble at the racetrack and then he meets this picker Eva and something else develops for him there. And hopefully, I was trying to convey this sense of a steep learning process but one he picks up. Look, when he leaves on that bike, we know it’s going to be a rocky few weeks, months, years, whatever. The next one I wanted to show that actually he had managed to get out and he’s got a little job and holding it down.
It’s a great bit of casting for Goob.
GM: Yeah, he’s brilliant. He’s great; he’s got a Bowie quality I think.
When you found Liam for the role did it change? Was that how you’d envisaged it?
GM: What I’d wanted was a kind of out of world quality and we hadn’t got it. It was close to the wire, it was two to three weeks before we were due to start shooting and I’d got five on a back-up but nothing really clicked. It was the most anxiety we’d had on the thing. We were sending teams out to these market towns in Norfolk – I’d exhausted Norwich which is where I live – and we were going out to other places and someone stumbled on him in Dereham. He was on his phone and had just walked into the casting woman who took a snap of him. He had this Spock like quality from Star Trek. He had this yellow t-shirt with a blue trim and his hair was short. His physicality is brilliant, he’s awkward. It’s like he’s only just learned to walk. That awkwardness, when I saw him physically and how he moved, we tried to make the start of the film quite awkward. Some of the cuts are a little bit tough. As he matures, we try to get more of a softness through.
Where does the name come from?
GM: I was on my first day at school in Essex, I was only about seven, I sat down at a desk, this kid within a minute threw a chair back and started writhing on the floor at which point everyone jumped on him. He was having an epileptic fit and his name was Graham Taylor and everyone called him the Goob. Not in a derogatory way, that was his nickname. And they grabbed him and pinned him down and the teacher got a ruler so he wouldn’t choke on himself. It stayed with me. I’ve never spoken to him since then. It’s a name that I think you remember. It’s just a bit daft isn’t it? It’s nice. I like Harris’ line at the end “we call him the fucking Goob”.
How did you find your first full length feature?
GM: I’ve worked with big crews before but the hardest thing for me was actually moving them around. We shot it in about 20 days and getting that amount of people to move around that landscape, you lose so much time. A car battery goes down so you lose two hours. It’s that that I found frustrating. Time is what I want more of, shooting time. I think it’s a tough thing to do. We finished and I went and had a massage in my hometown and this woman was doing it and I just sort of burst out into a convulsive shake from all the stress. She’d only just started and I went into this kind of spasm.
But something you’re willing to put yourself through again?
GM: Oh look, I’ve been fortunate because it’s my first one and the reception has been positive and we got into Venice and now we’re here. Things that were never really on our minds when we set off. I’ve been really lucky and I’ve been lucky in that I’ve worked with Sean before and my brother who was the art director and with builder mates. I’d worked with them. Everyone else was coming to the table and I think film is about forming relationships. So everyone else was fresh. We were just lucky that we were able to click and play.
The Goob is out in the UK on 29th May 2015. Our LFF review can be found here.