Leslee Udwin is a film producer who started off her career as an actress, starring in shows such as 'Eldorado'. Her first feature film 'East is East' was nominated for four BAFTA awards. She followed that success with 'Mrs Ratcliffe's Revolution'. Her most recent adventure was to produce the follow-up to 'East is East', the aptly named 'West is West'.
Leslee Udwin attending premier for 'West is West'
Your current projects?
I am one of those few producers who are mad enough to just work away at one project at a time, so my current project is still ‘West Is West’. I will continue to give it my 100% attention, nurturing it through its release in the UK (which I’m thrilled to say has just had a spectacular opening weekend with dream results) and through its various festivals – am off to Australia next week... and its India release in April etc... Then I will definitely take a break for what has to become a current project: seeing my two young kids and making up to them for their loss of a mother over the one and a half years I was away from them (filming). Meanwhile, Ayub Khan Din and I are starting to think about and prepare the third and final part of the Khan family Trilogy – ‘East is West’?
What/who originally turned you on to film?
When I was three, a film was shooting in the house next door to us and I, apparently, wandered on set one day saying: 'I want to see the boss' and offered my services to act in it. There wasn’t a role for a three year-old, but I was allowed to spend time on set and apparently the Italian Director of Photography, Romolo Garoni, ‘adopted' me and I spent much time on his lap... My first career in life was indeed as an actress, though strangely enough, I was something of a theatre snob (believing that to be ‘the pure, uncompromising and unadulterated art form’). I acted opposite Alan Rickman and with Sir Alec Guiness, and played Lady Macbeth for Cheek by Jowl and Masha in 'Three Sisters' etc... and had a wonderful, rewarding career, but then simply got bored and frustrated at having more energy to expend than was required by an acting career. So I switched to producing. My background as an actress (primarily in theatre) did teach me invaluable instincts about what good writing is and about performance etc, so I am very grateful for it.
Career high so far?
I am fortunate enough to have the kind of mentality that makes me believe that whatever I am currently focused on is my career high (until and unless it gets proved otherwise), so of course I would say: 'West is West'. I am also, though, very proud of two other ‘highs’ – proving that an Asian-themed film did not have to be a ‘small, Southall-centric release’ (which was the intransigent attitude I was faced with when trying to convince distributors that ‘East is East' would be a cross-over, wide-appeal film). And also, my first job as a producer –‘Who Bombed Birmingham’ which helped release 6 innocent men after 17 years of wrongful imprisonment and had Margaret Thatcher apoplectic with rage in the Commons the day after its broadcast, growling: 'we will not have trial by television in this country'. Mercifully, we did.
Your first job in the film industry?
Very first job in film was as an actress in ‘Forgotten Prisoners’ for Turner Pictures, playing the Turkish wife of a political prisoner. First job in film behind the camera was as consultant on ‘Sitting Targets’ which was the story of my real life struggles against a psychopathic, evil landlord, and which I persuaded Mark Shivas to produce. I worked with the writer on the script and watched Mark at work as he put it all together and thought: 'hmm – I can do that!' and then started developing 'Who Bombed Birmingham'- my producer’s baptism of fire.
If I knew then what I know now…
I might just have given up. It is such a battle, every single time, and it’s getting tougher and tougher, and we have less and less support from successive governments who simply do not protect our indigenous film industry. If I knew then what I know now I would or should have gone into politics and become Films Minister and put into law a quota system which is the only answer to our problems!
Favourite British film?
‘Ghandi’ – inspiring, deeply moving, utterly engrossing. For me, heart and spirit and speaking directly to people about people and inspiring them to make the world a better place is the ultimate achievement of cinema.
If you could have directed/been involved with any film ever made, which one would it be?
I‘ve tried and tried and simply can’t confine it to one. But I would love to have produced 'Crash', 'Whale Rider', 'The Battle of Algiers', amongst many others.
First film you remember seeing?
'The King and I'
Favourite line or scene from a film?
“The Pakis are coming!”
Favourite screen kiss?
‘Notorious’ (how to beat the censors)
Favourite screen hero and/or villain?
Who would play you in the film about your life?
Bette Davis (and mercifully, on both fronts, there’s no chance of that!)