Peter Mackie Burns about his film Daphne

I recognise my deceased friend in her.

Scottish filmmaker Peter Mackie Burns loves Daphne. Not surprising, as he based his title character on the people he loved. In fact, his affection for her was so deep, he gave her his own apartment. “I don’t think I would be able to do that again.”

Lively Daphne - a pretty and witty, but cynical hedonist at the age of 31 with red hair that is hard to miss - lives and works in London as a waitress. This would be alright if she were still a little younger, but as she does not have any better options, living her life as if she were twenty-something seems fine for now. And so she parties and fucks around without moving forward. Until she witnesses a knife attack that throws her off balance.

Daphne is the subtle feature film debut of Scottish filmmaker Peter Mackie Burns, who won Berlin’s Golden Bear for his short film Milk in 2005. He previously tried out Daphne’s character in 2003 in the short film Happy Birthday to Me, with the same screenwriter, Nico Mansinga and wonderful protagonist Emily Beecham.

Where does Daphne’s character origin?

“I always draw upon people I actually know. Daphne was largely based on a good friend of mine, who sadly passed away. We used her sense of humor and her tendency to shock people. That is also why I love the character: I recognise my friend in her. And of course, my screenwriter and I complemented this with our own interests. Moreover, I see more and more of these women, at a similar age, in London - where, as you may know, it is increasingly difficult to live a normal life. It has become ridiculously expensive.”

Still, the part of London where you filmed looks rather normal.

“That’s Elephant and Castle, a central area that I know quite well. It’s not fully gentrificated yet, however, it is well on its way. Because our protagonist is experiencing an inner change, we thought: let’s pick a location that is under development too.”

So you live there yourself?

“That’s right.  I actually live in the apartment we used as Daphne’s. I even lived there during the recordings haha!”

How’s that been for you?

“Pretty weird. I lived on set. So at the end of a day of shooting I’d say: goodnight to you all, and then I’d stay there haha! Then it was my home again. Very strange. Honestly, I don’t think I’d be able to do it like that again.”

I thought the apartment was remarkably tidy, for a person living such a messy life.

“Well, parts of her life are in order, while other parts are not. Just like most people. We developed her character in great detail. For instance, she’s a person that’d never check her bank statements. That would make her physically sick. She can keep her bedroom tidy. She can clean her kitchen, where she works. But if she has to check her bank account, she panics.”

So the city and the apartment reflect her personality.

“The film is a portrait. We worship the work of Cassavetes with Geena Rowlands. Especially her role in A Woman Under the Influence, one of my favourite films. Nonetheless, we didn’t want to get as close-up. I thought: let’s not chase Daphne too much, because this is someone that keeps people at a distance, psychologically. Over the course of the film she comes a little closer, though.”

Do you think she’s cynical?

“I consider her cynicism, like her humor, to be a shield - similar to that friend of mine. She’s not really cynical, she uses it to keep people at bay. It’s an act. So when she quotes Žižek, that’s a provocation too. She provokes others - and herself. Can I say this? Can I get away with it? Will people actually believe me when I say it? She’s the kind of person that only reads the prologue of a book.”

The soundbites.

“Yes. The Small Guide to Žižek, you know?”

She bluffs her way through life. Some sort of of puberty, stretched towards adolescence.

“It’s a refusal to grow up. But that’s kind of normal in our culture, isn’t it? Daphne loves life like a 25 year old, although she’s 31. You see it everywhere. And it’s not only women, men too. She doesn’t want to be defined by a man, a child, a career, not by anything at all. In the meantime she should’ve been long gone from that kitchen she is working in. And everyone over there knows it. It’s time for her to think things through, to stop acting so fucking cool, and to finally grow up.”

Daphne had its world premiere at this year’s IFFR and is now screening in Dutch cinemas.

Text: Kees Driessen.
Image in header: Joke Schut.

Photo in header: Beeld in header © Joke Schut. Tekst: Kees Driessen.