Last night film buffs and critics alike hustled their way to Russell Square for a special Q and A event. The Curzon Renoir screening of The Gospel of Us was introduced by Michael Sheen and Dave McKean. Both men were both clearly very proud of what they had achieved in bringing the three day theatrical event to the big screen. Sheen spoke of how excited he was about bringing McKean’s unique vision to the experience, while McKean spoke of how pleased he was to be able to present a finished version and no longer having to worry about how to nail Sheen to a cross.
After the film, Sheen and McKean returned with writer Owen Sheers to talk about their respective experiences of making it. Sheers talked about the project as being inherently visual, with the entire town working as the stage and the idea of “The different perspectives of witness.” Sheen spoke about the long term graft of the project, explaining to the audience that he had begun preparations two and a half years before they put on the play. He spent a great deal of time trying to meet as many people in Port Talbot as possible, talking to local groups, charity organisations, and retirement communities, because he wanted them to inform him what the piece would be about. “The town has to tell us the story it wants to tell.” Sheen grew up in Port Talbot and the film clearly means a great deal to him personally, he even mentioned that there are some autobiographical moments within the piece. He spoke about how the town is often the brunt of jokes in the area, which has led simultaneously to both a self-deprecating attitude and a fierce local pride.
Sheen, Sheers, and McKean further spoke about the fears they had as they were about to start. They only had one shot at everything, what if it rained, what if nobody showed up? Then thousands of people descended and McKean had to scrap his plans and instruct his cameramen to shoot what they could. Paparazzi were a problem on the first day of filming, although McKean told how his wife had dealt with a photographer who was in the way by tugging on his trouser leg and shouting at him. He also talked about how the nature of the crowd meant that it was impossible to get a shot for more than three seconds without an iPad getting in the way. Sheen revealed that local theatre performers had been mixed in with the crowd but after the first day they were indistinguishable from everyone else.
What really came through during this Q&A session is how impressed and pleased the three were with how much the project meant to the town. At the local premiere a few days ago there was an exhibition with photographs and written memories, while locals showed Sheers their tattoos of lines from the script. Sheen hopes that, in the future, people will point out locations from the film, “That’s where they crucified Michael Sheen, that’s where they beat him up, that’s where he needed a break and had a bit of chocolate”. On the other side of the coin, he mentioned that a teacher had asked a classroom in Port Talbot who the son of God was, and a child piped up, “Michael Sheen, Miss.”