Matthew Chapman is a very interesting writer/director/producer, originally from England. We discussed how he became a film director at 25, after leaving school at 15 and doing manual labor for several years (including working in a frozen pea factory). We also talked about numerous subjects, such as President Jefferson taking out and rewriting pages of the bible, and how strange Americans are in holding contempt for the poor vs. Europeans towards their lower classes. Eventually, however, we got to talking about Chapman’s latest release from IFC Films: The Ledge. The film stars Charlie Hunnam, Liv Tyler, Patrick Wilson and Terrence Howard, and uniquely addresses the perspective of an atheist amid crisis.
Where was The Ledge shot at?
The film was shot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Baton Rouge is the state capitol, but also the home of the Jimmy Swaggart Bible College. Swaggart, you may remember, was caught visiting a prostitute. After shedding, I believe, one and three quarter pints of tears on television, all was forgiven – and back he went to teaching young, fresh, virginal types on how to lead clean, biblically based lives… It’s not the funnest town on earth, but it does have a Whole Foods store which enabled people to only put on 30 to 40 lbs during production.
Interesting! The opening shot of The Ledge, with all the buildings and fire burning in the distance- any special significance to this?
It was a perfect view of the ledge itself- The foreground is the church, behind that is the oil refinery, commercial buildings- the fire is burning on the back side of the capital building.
What influenced your cast selection? Did you have any actors in mind while you wrote the script?
I got exactly the cast I wanted. Charlie Hunnam was the first one signed on. He reminded me of myself when I was younger- he has a charm and humor and wickedness and mischief about him. Liv I met early but was the last person to come on board. It was great to see Liv all grown-up in a mature role. I wanted Patrick Wilson since the beginning; I think Patrick is truly one of the great American actors, or at least he will be. Terrence Howard has an emotional quality I love- Without there being words, I wanted the audience to realize his character was suffering.
Gavin and Joe both have convictions, and they both follow through with these convictions. Shana and Hollis’s characters seem to change for the better at the end. Does The Ledge then support the idea that people can change, or does it support the notion that it’s braver to stick to one’s beliefs?
That’s a tough question because everyone on every side of every issue believes their convictions are correct and that they should stick to them. People must change, however, when what they think or do causes pain to others or to themselves. My conviction is that people should be tolerant, willing to sacrifice if necessary, have compassion for those less well off than they, and that forgiveness and mercy are more likely to lead to social progress and happiness than condemnation and punishment. I hope these convictions are expressed in the movie.
In a sense, it is a very “religious” film despite the fact that I’m an atheist. I think Liv’s character is always essentially good, and what she gains through the movie is strength and independence. Of all the characters, Hollis, the cop, probably changes most and by doing so saves his marriage and his family. Wow, it’s beginning to sound like something that “Focus On The Family” would endorse!
Well, speaking of Christian advice, you used a quote in the film from the bible- Leviticus 20:13. This quote is also used by many in defense against homosexuality. What do you think of the bible in general? Is it a big work of fiction? Is it largely misinterpreted? Or is it harmful in all respects?
I’ll answer that question with a question- How hard is it to determine what is right from what is wrong? I mean, would you do to others what you wouldn’t want done to you? Of course the bible has two different gods for each testament; it’s full of contradictions. I’ve had people come up to me and say, casually of course, “You’ll burn in hell for all eternity.” Apparently some 80% of the world is going to drown in a lake of fire.
I wonder where exactly the other 20% is going? I didn’t realize this initially, but on the movie board for The Ledge, a few people were comparing the film with Stephen King’s short story of the same name. Is there any intended relation or influence from the short story?
No matter what you write, it turns out there’s something like it. Although I like some of King’s work (in particular a book he wrote about writing, which is admirably practical and unpretentious), I have never read this story and did not know about it until after the film was finished.
Are you working on any future projects?
I’m starting to cast a movie I’ve written and will direct that takes place in 15th Century Florence at a time when the city was “the cradle of the Renaissance” – but also was dominated by a mad Dominican Friar called Friar Savonarola. He came up with the idea of “Bonfires of the Vanities,” upon which anything pretty or sensual was burned. Eventually, he turned his eye to art- lewd art by his definition- and in a single day is thought to have burned up to 100 works of Renaissance art. Botticelli is known to have thrown several paintings onto the fire. I use all this as a backdrop for a teenage love story that suggests romantic love cannot survive without the balance of love for society and a desire to improve things for your fellow human beings.
For more information on Matthew Chapman, click here.