Mysterious deaths, messages from the dead, a fool for an accomplice and a father daughter wrecking crew, plus fractious relationships, and desperation drive Gail Harvey’s latest feature Never Saw it Coming, based on Linwood Barclay’s novel, an amusingly black hearted gem. Emily Hampshire is Keisha, a single mother, psychic / con artist whose poor decisions and rotten luck put her in a bad place. She’s forced to scan TV news for families reporting missing loved ones and make them pay for her visions of where they are. She tries it out on the wrong guy, played with rabid zeal by Eric Roberts who has just watched as his wife drowned. His daughter, played by Harvey’s daughter Katie Boland knew what was happening. Everyone in this universe is guilty. And strangely, we root for the women – they have a lot to answer for but men must pay. Harvey who began her career as a news photographer at the Toronto Star is now a renowned international film and TV writer and director. I was struck by certain similarities to Wim Wenders’ films in Harvey’s music, angles, sense of unease, and flow; no wonder, he was one of her mentors. We spoke with Gail in Toronto.
How true the title – Never Saw It Coming! This complex crime thriller has so many layers. How tough was it to adapt from the book?
The book was strong. Linwood and I were friends. We worked at The Star 30 years ago and I hadn’t seen him in ages. I have a farmhouse in Prince Edward County and he wanted to buy a place. And we reconnected on Facebook. He asked me about life in the County and bought a house with a pool! He did well, he wrote 19 novels and is friends with Stephen King. He’s done so many books and TV shows and he asked me how to get a movie made from a novel. I told him you had to get an option from a studio and that it was tough.
But I looked at this little book of his and thought maybe I could do it; it was perfect, so complex. He wanted to write the screenplay. I made some notes and he was done in ten days. It was all in the book and the book is very filmic. It was a question of what you take away. The script was strong and I was pretty excited. I’m pretty experienced and so when I shot, I had already gone to the locations and taken angles where I thought things would be with my iPhone.
I was prepared but I needed great actors to pull it off. Emily Hampshire is so good. I’ve been watching her career for years and years. She has the intelligence and quirkiness the character needed. Eric Roberts and I bonded and we are very good friend. Kate (Boland) and Nick Serino were great. Tamara Podemski I didn’t know but I knew her sister Jennifer, They came to the set and it was one of those great things. Tamara and I met and I knew that was it!
Hampshire’s Keisha is a riddle wrapped in an enigma, a real con artist.
She’s guilty! But we root for her. She’s the lead but she kills two people. So I was concerned about getting people to feel sympathetic towards her. It’s totally because of the situation she’s in. I see it as a feminist dream. How do you play that scene – spoiler alert – when she falls on Kirk, she sits on a shelf for a moment and decides to kill him? Women are going to applaud. He was awful. It was funny. When we screened in Whistler people weren’t sure whether to laugh or not but as it went on, they were killing themselves. It was very funny! They laugh every time! I tod Linwood the only thing was worried about was the knitting needle in the eye and he said it’s got to be there. Everybody jumps! And we did it practically not digitally!
Yes, and Eric Roberts made Kirk truly awful.
He has so much experience and style. He came from Qatar to do this. I’d sent him a script and he made time to do it. He had four days off and flew to London, then Chicago and then Toronto! It was stressful getting him but he said he was coming anyway. He said “I have feelings about Gail Harvey and because of my work on Lost Girls with Katie Boland”. What a friend!
How did years of news experience effect what you do now?
I often think about my life as a photojournalist as being Forrest Gump. I stood behind Prime Ministers, celebrities, everything, some of the most important people in the world. I was there photographing Terry Fox, Wayne Gretsky. I stand behind excellence and tragedy and whatever is going on in the world and famous people. It was an education and meeting these people was an education. I read that Pierre Trudeau traveled and that was his education. I traveled a lot and had the opportunity to meet people and see a lot of things. Everything I do is coloured by it, that’s what I try to do in my work and photography.
Katie is such a talented actor. She can do a lot with a still face.
I say in classes and it’s a great tip that I learned early on, play it don’t say it. A ten second look changes the trajectory of a film, whatever the emotion, it colours it. Just use the face.
You’ve had an extraordinary career. It’s not luck, though; it’s what you bring to it.
I just finished Northern Rescue for Netflix so I was away 2 months, last year 8 months, finishing this. I’m not complaining. It is luck too. Incredible people like Arthur Penn, Wim Wenders and Dan Petrie were all so kind and generous and taught me so much.
Are you glad you’ve stayed in Canada and not left us for Hollywood?
No one wants to live in the States these days, but people still go there, mostly actors, for sure. It’s true that you get more respect in Hollywood. I have connections and yes I’d like to direct something like Grace & Frankie!
BFCA BTJA AWFJ TFCA FIPRESCI