TORONTO—As if the title Salmon Fishing in the Yemen doesn’t conjure enough cross-cultural connotations, Swedish director Lasse Hallström made the movie because after 15 years of living in America, he was starving for British humour.
Usually, the 65-year-old Hallström initiates his own projects (My Life as a Dog, The Cider House Rules), most of which share the same gentle humour and heart-warming view of humanity (and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen very much feels like “a Lasse Hallström movie”).
A wealthy sheikh (Amr Waked) dreams up the outrageously expensive, impossible idea of bringing salmon to the desert. He’s assisted by his representative (Emily Blunt), who drafts Ewan McGregor (playing a British fisheries bureaucrat who wouldn’t be out of place in a Monty Python skit) to make this happen in order to create a photo opportunity for the government press secretary (Kristin Scott Thomas).
Speaking during a one-on-one interview with the Georgia Straight in a downtown hotel room just after the film’s world premiere at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, Hallström said the movie pretty much jumped into his net. “It was a gift from someone who took over something else. Like, it was another director involved, and, yeah, I don’t know the details of the story, but I read the script and I just loved it. It was the best script I’d read in a long, long time. So I said ‘Yes.’ ”
During a question-and-answer session at the film’s premiere, Hallström said actors were “his favourite people”. When asked if this was really the case or just something he says at galas when the actors are standing next to him, Hallström laughed. “I really do love actors. That’s what my key interest is: to help actors to create something that is as real as it can possibly be. So anything stylized or false or theatrical in something that sets out to be realistic, I cringe. I get allergies; I throw up…My ambition is to bring it down to a real level. I think Ewan and Emily have some great scenes and moments when they’re absolutely relaxed and authentic and I take pride in that, in having been part of that.”
Like most of Hallström’s films, the performances in Salmon Fishing are so natural and relaxed it often has an improvised feel. Hallström had a mischievous twinkle in his eye when he talked about his approach to letting actors improvise.
“I’m very open to the actor going off and presenting suggestions for me and doing whatever he wants to do,” he said. “But if he starts doing things that’s outside of my rulebook, my taste—you know, my particular taste—I will start to range them into playground. Whatever that playground is, I want them to play and have fun with it, but if they jump over the fence, I will throw them back in. Yes, it’s a lot of improvisation. Not that much of it ends up in the film.”
Watch the trailer for Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.