At the Tribeca Film Festival, we sat down with one of the stars of Scott Graham’s latest film, Run, which had its world premiere at the festival. Marli Siu (Anna and the Apocalypse) plays Kelly, the pregnant girlfriend of Finnie’s teen son Kid, who ends up accompanying him on an impromptu drag race in the dead of night. ‘
In this film, almost all your scenes are just with Mark Stanley who plays Finnie. I was wondering how different this was for you coming off your last film, Anna and the Apocalypse, which is sort of a bonkers zombie musical and very much an ensemble piece.
It was a different process. With Anna, we were just left in a green room to bond, just like six kids in a school running around so it was quite natural for it to become an ensemble piece. I loved the process of Run, we felt so immersed because we were living in the town where we were shooting. I met Amy [Manson] and Anders [Hayward] for a few days and then the rest of it was really just me and Mark in the car. It was so easy to get into that mind frame and connect with Mark really quickly because we spent so much time together. There were so many times where we were sat in the car together having to just sit there all night, we would do personality quizzes on our phones and just chatted so much.
With a lot of films like this, there’s not a huge lead time where you have a chance to develop relationships with the other actors beforehand. Did you get to know the cast before beginning shooting or were you just meeting people on the first day on set?
I think we were there about a week before where we got a bit of rehearsal time with Scott, more just to get to know the area. I met Mark in the chemistry test and then properly that week — he’s the loveliest guy and it’s so easy to get on with him. But also it worked for our characters to not be super close, because they wouldn’t really be. Actually, because we’d filmed the first scene where I get in the car and first meet him halfway through the shoot, Scott had to remind us that we were a bit too familiar with each other — he’s the dad of your boyfriend so it would be a bit more awkward.
I found it really interesting that almost all of your scenes are with Mark — Kid is the character you’d be closest to, but you really only have one scene with him.
One second with him!
Was that hard to build out that relationship that’s never really explored on screen but its just sort of subtext?
That was in my head, the little bits that are mentioned of Kid. A lot of its just shown visually, you see her on her phone, but they have to have enough impact that this relationship is believable. You understand Kelly’s actions are done through her love for Kid. I only really met Anders for one day in rehearsal and then we had that one day of filming together, so it was a conscious thing in my head to keep reminding myself of that relationship. Before I came up to Fraserburgh, I had a month where I was making loads of pinterest boards and stuff and creating the character of Kelly and doing a lot of work in my head about their relationship. And with Kelly, I’ve met those girls, I went to school with them. When they’re in relationships, that’s their whole life, and Kelly’s whole life is Kid. She loves him so much, so it was very easy to understand even the small moments when she talks about him, you know how much he means to her.
What was the thing that first drew you to Kelly as a character that made you really connect with her?
I don’t know if it’s in the film, but in one of the audition scenes she’s walking up the pier with Finnie, and the way Scott’s written it she’s talking about if Kid was here, if he knew, and then she just says “Fuck!” And I was reading it like, “How does she say that?” I don’t know so much in America, but in Scotland, there’d always be a girl at the back of the bus playing her music on her phone who just randomly screams things and yells. I was like, “Oh, I know her, I know exactly who that girl is.” She’s just got all this emotion that’s on the surface and there’s not much concealing it. Everything that’s there you read in her face and she doesn’t really mind.
You had said that you spent some time in the town where you were shooting beforehand to get a feel for it — is that similar to where you grew up?
Well, my mum dropped me off! I had gotten home a few days early to go home and my mum drove me to Fraserburgh because we’re only like an hour away. The town where I grew up is really not far, so there were so many similarities to the town, to the shops, to the community, to the way everyone knows everyone, to the way you see teenagers in cars. In little towns where there isn’t a cinema, there isn’t clubs or loads of things to do, the thing you do is get your car driving license and you drive around the town. Our thing in Forres was that you’d drive to McDonalds as soon as you got your driving license, which is a half hour drive, and the guys used to race each other on this road. So yeah, the town had so many similarities to where I grew up.
Small towns, it’s always that thing where the car is your independence.
Totally, it’s your freedom, isn’t it? As soon as you get a car. And it’s weird because last night at the screening there was a few people like my friend from England and people in America and even though it’s this tiny town in Scotland, it’s relatable to all these small towns all over the world, people really do go, “Oh, that’s my home, that’s where I grew up.”
The film has a strong racing element to it — was that something you were familiar with before shooting or did you rely on the director’s experience?
Well, probably more from just knowing boys from my town who used to race that was familiar to me. I hadn’t ever been in a car race, I wasn’t really involved in that sort of scene. Scott grew up in Fraserburgh, so he was very familiar with it. I didn’t do a lot of research into car races particularly, but when I was there went to where Kelly would have worked in a bowling alley. I spoke to the guy who worked there and asked him a little bit, because when he was a teenager he did car races. So I chatted to him quite a lot about working there so I could understand what Kelly’s day to day would have been like.
What was it like when you were filming some of the more intense driving scenes?
When the stunt driver was doing the actual scary turns and everything fast the first time, I was scared like, “Am I dying? What do I do? What’s the protocol?” But they were amazing — the stunt drivers are so good at their job. The first time I was really scared but after that it was so much fun and I really just wanted to do it again and again. And it was probably harder to act scared because the actual experience gets your heart racing but you know you’re in safe hands — the thing I had to do was hide the enjoyment of it I guess because it was actually really fun!
Your character doesn’t drive at all in the film but I’m curious: on a scale of one to ten, one being a very slow grandmother and ten being Finnie in this film, where do you fall?
Me as a driver? Oh god, I’m so glad I didn’t have to drive, I’m not good. I’m not reckless, I’m the opposite. I’m so bad at driving, I just ask so many questions and am so unsure. I think you have to have a bit of Finnie’s arrogance to be a good driver, don’t you? I mean, he is reckless, but he’s good. I’m definitely on the more grandma side of driving.
Since you guys are alone for most of the film, did you feel like you got a chance to get to know the other actors in the film at all or was that totally separate?
It felt like a separate world! I met Anders and Amy the week of rehearsal and we got on really well, but then once we started filming our stuff was so separate. I had a week off in the middle where they filmed all their days and it felt really weird leaving. I just loved every minute of that film, I was like, “please let me be on set!”
The film has a strong sense of wanting to get out and escape, is that something that you related to?
Massively, oh my god. Living in Forres growing up I was dying, dying, like genuinely. So that’s a huge thing I related to in the script, that claustrophobia. When I moved to Edinburgh I could get a bus at the end of the road and go into town, you can’t do that in Forres. And I lived outside of town in sort of the countryside, if I wanted to go out at night my mom had to pick me up and take me home since there wasn’t any taxis. There’s just not the opportunities that you take for granted in the cities, that you can just do internships or walk into buildings and meet people, so I was so ready to move into a city.
I actually feel with Kelly, I felt she was different to me in the fact that she is stuck in her circumstances but unlike Finnie she doesn’t see that as entrapment. I think the thing that causes her the heartache and pain and makes her act the way she does in the film is Kid breaking up with her. I think she’d be so happy to have his baby and live in that town. That is her dream, and she wants to have a family. The girls that I went to high school with who have babies and did live like Kelly, they’re so happy — that’s what she wants to do and I don’t think she sees that as entrapment at all. But it’s more the fact that he’s left her that she doesn’t know what to do.
The one scene where Kelly is going to go into the house to pack a bag to leave and Finnie asks her if there’s a place that she likes and wants to stay, but he’s not happy there, if that would be ok too? That does speak to that idea that Kelly would be happy to settle down somewhere if it was a place that she liked and was with people she cared about, whereas Finnie just wants to escape.
I felt with that line Kelly is just going along with it because she’s so out of options and doesn’t know what to do she wants somebody to just say, “Let’s do this,” and I think that’s why she goes along with it. And I actually think when he says if you want to stay, that would be Kelly’s nightmare, to be left somewhere! She just wants to be loved, and she’s angry at Kid and thinks maybe this’ll cause a reaction. But I think if they actually ran away she’d be like, “Fuck, what am I doing?”
I think she sees a lot of Kid in Finnie, so there’s maybe some transference in terms of emotions.
Oh totally I think that’s what Scott did so well with the script and so subtly, that he sees so much of younger Katie in Kelly. There was a version where Finnie gets Kelly’s name wrong and says Katie. There’s a bit where Kelly says, “you’re just like Kid.” He loves Katie and she loves Kid, but at that moment in time they find that in each other and that’s what draws them together more than anything.
I wasn’t expecting to see subtitles in this film, but I do feel like that highlighted the script and the strength of the dialogue. Did you feel when you were reading through it that it felt really natural in terms of how you and people you grew up with would interact with one another?
Oh yeah, Scott’s dialogue is incredible. That’s why everyone I know who auditioned for this said it was the best script they’d read. It’s so rare that you get and it’s so easy to learn that dialogue because it’s so natural. Scott has a gift with that, I guess because he grew up in the town it’s about, he knew exactly how those people spoke and interacted. If anything, actually, from the start it kind of got stronger and stronger, the dialect, because we were living there and we were surrounded by the people. And also the little boy who plays Stevie is from that town so his mum was on set a lot. So we would ask her sometimes like, “Well, how would you say this.”
That sounds like just a really great experience.
It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever done. It’s sad because it was one of these dream projects and now I’ve done it I’m like, “Ugh, will anything ever be as good as Run?” I’m just so glad I got to be a part of it, and even before I got in the room for the audition Scott was on one of those dream people to work with lists. Genuinely, I tried so hard not to fangirl in that room because I loved his work and was so excited to work with him. If I never worked again I’d just be so happy I did this film.
In terms of the scale of the scenes that you guys were doing, was there a really small crew where it developed into a tight-knit family environment?
Oh yes, the crew were amazing, we got really close with them. I actually knew some of them from Anna because it’s a Scottish film again so it’s quite a lot of the crew, so that was incredible. But also because there was quite a small cast, you were hanging out with the crew loads. Because we were doing night shoots, we thought the best thing to do on our days off would be to go out at night to stay in the “time zone”, so we’d all go out with the crew to the one club in Fraserburgh and get really drunk.
I really learned from Mark on that job, because it was my second film I’d ever done. Mark as number one on the call sheet would be the first one out there offering everyone cups of tea, and I realized from that how much more fun it is to hang out with crew. No one really tells you when you first start if you’re allowed to — if the crew are busy, are you meant to go talk to them or are you meant to stay away and go sit in a green room? But from working with Mark it was like, no, the best way to work is you’re just one big team and everyone chats to everyone, it’s lovely.
Yeah it must be hard to judge — you have a moment of downtime, but are they working on the lighting or doing something?
Totally, going over and annoying them. Yeah, I was just so intrigued by everything because I hadn’t done much in films I was just like, “What are you doing? Tell me how you do that. What’s this thing?” They were lovely in explaining it all.
It sounds like you got fairly settled in that town. What was your favorite part of being there?
In Fraserburgh…? (laughs) Filming was incredible, I loved every minute of it. But it was really fun when we got to go on the nights out in the town. They have one club where you’ve got underage 15 year olds to literally 60 year olds, there was this old lady who was always in the club dancing. So that was so much fun to just be part of it. And the town, you really got to know everyone, because it’s small you got to see everyone all the time.
One night we went out and we’d been out in that club and I think it was the costume designer — she turned around with her beer or something and knocked Mark’s tooth out! It was so funny — well, it wasn’t funny at the time. Mark was like, “Oh fuck, I’ve got to film tomorrow, I’ve not meant to have my tooth knocked out!” The makeup artist wrapped it up in a tissue and I put it in my purse. Luckily I think Scott’s mum had a friend who was a dentist and fixed it all up, but it was so funny. We have pictures in a photobooth, we’re all quite drunk, with Mark grinning and his tooth’s knocked out we were just like, “What do we do, what do we do?!”
That’s a good time to write in a fight scene I guess!
Yeah! Kelly gives him a punch and knocks his tooth out! Everyone was so calm and handled it like it wasn’t a big dramatic thing, I just remember at the time it being hilarious, oh god the lead actor’s lost his tooth! And it’s because you’re with such great people that everything is heightenedly funny.