Magazine article Screen International

Screenwriter Luke Davies on How He Avoided the "Bad Path" with 'Lion'

Magazine article Screen International

Screenwriter Luke Davies on How He Avoided the "Bad Path" with 'Lion'

Article excerpt

Writer discusses collaborating with director Garth Davis and avoiding sentimentality on the awards-contending drama.

Australian writer Luke Davies had a challenging but rewarding task to adapt Saroo Brierley's memoir A Long Way Home into the feature film script for Garth Davis' feature debut Lion.

The film tells the incredible true story of how Brierley was separated from his family in rural India as a young child and adopted by an Australian couple. Decades later, he found his birth mother with the help of Google Earth.

Producers Iain Canning and Emile Sherman of See-Saw Films had previously worked with Davies on Anton Corbijn's Life (2015). Davies is also a poet and novelist - he co-wrote the script to 2006's Candy, which starred Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish, based on his 1997 novel of the same name. The Weinstein Company's awards-season contender stars Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara and young Sunny Pawar.

In this interview, Davies tells Screen about the challenges of developing a story set half in India and half in Australia; how he avoided sentimentality; and what Saroo has in common with WALL-E.

When you were first approached about Lion, what excited you about telling this story?

It had a mythic structure: "Reunification with the lost mother". That's one of the earliest stories from the mists of time. There are only a few: "The warrior killed the beast"; "The brother killed the brother"; "The son killed the father". And yet, at no point in the history of human civilisation, until 10 years ago when Google released the Google Earth app, could this story have happened. So it felt like a modern myth, too.

What was your collaboration like with Garth?

I love the man dearly. He's not just a fine director; he's quite the radiant, transcendent being as well. Everyone falls in love with Garth. Hang around with him for even five minutes and you'll say the dominant qualities he emits are joy, wonder and enthusiasm.

What were your thoughts about the tone and how to avoid it playing like a Hallmark card?

I'm not a sentimentalist. I loved the gritty toughness of the story, in its moment-by-moment details. Pure peril for little Saroo; a more complicated anguish for his adult self. I knew I was in good company: neither Garth nor See-Saw are prone to syrup. It's nice to begin a creative process with a whiteboard and a broad structure, knowing that the mission statement is "unflinching". And that a company like See-Saw Films will support you in that. There were many bad paths a story like this could take. Tone, we knew, would make or break this film.

Did you think about different approaches to the structure before settling on this one?

I believed strongly that we should begin at the beginning, in the literal sense. Hollywood financing wisdom would say, "Establish your adult star actors, set their context, then loop back when necessary, via flashback, to the story at its beginning." But it was clear we were dealing with a fable that could hold its own weight, so to speak. I said to See-Saw, "Let's begin with a five-year-old non-professional actor speaking in Hindi with English subtitles for the first 50 minutes of the film, before we even meet 'the adults' [the characters played by Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham and Rooney Mara]." Hats offto See-Saw: they essentially said to Garth and me, "We support you, even on the less obvious ideas. …

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