Film & TV

Interview: Mark Williams, Director of Blacklight

Glam catches up with film director Mark Williams to chat about his latest project, Blacklight, starring Liam Neeson.

Glam recently had the opportunity to talk with cowriter, producer and director Mark Williams, about his latest film Blacklight, to be released in cinemas on the 20th January 2022.

Blacklight is the latest thriller by Williams, inspired by an original script by screenwriter Nick May. The original script was about controversial FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover’s secret COINTELPRO program, a program that directly targeted what Hoover considered to be subversives in society. For those unfamiliar with the programme, it started in the 1950s and took over twenty years to be exposed to the public. Eventually in 1975 it was declared that many of the FBI activities were illegal, as the programme not only illegally investigated, but also sought to wipe out people with differing political opinions.

The opening scene of the film, in which Sofia Flores (Mel Jarnson) is seen speaking to a crowd of anti-government dissenters is a subtle reference to the programme, and there are further references made throughout the remainder of the film.

Interestingly, “when this opening scene was being filmed here in Australia, on the 7th January 2021, it was the 6th of January in the United States, the same day that a crowd of protesters stormed the U.S Capitol”. “Art reflects life” Williams ponders, despite having written the scene long before then.

Although the political undercurrent of the thriller, which Williams has successfully adapted to be a parallel story in the present day, is a major drawcard to the film, the real hook for Williams when reading the original script, was the character of Travis Block.

Block is played by Neeson, who previously worked with Williams in The Honest Thief and whose role in the FBI is to rescue agents out of tricky situations. His role in the FBI is not only off the record, it also entraps him to his boss Gabriel Robinson, played by Aidan Quinn.            

In the film, the pair are lifelong friends from the war, yet the camaraderie and connection between Neeson and Quinn is real, as not only have the pair worked together before, but they have been friends for over thirty years. This authenticity is clear throughout the film in certain scenes that Williams has written and directed, particularly so in a highly charged scene where we finally see the steely Robinson crack as Block confronts him.

Both of these lead characters are incredibly complex and have made their careers in the moral ‘grey’ zone. Block is reflective in both his personal life and in his career in the film, querying whether the choices he has made in both were the right ones. Although for quite some time he has been questioning choices made in his personal life, as is clear in his relationship with his daughter Amanda (Claire van der Boom), the introspection for work comes to a head because of his protegee Dusty Crane (Taylor John Smith).

Given the incredibly layered, broken and in-depth character of Travis Block already, why add another layer of complexity, ie one that lives with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder)?

Williams has added this extra layer to Block’s character to physically demonstrate the amount of pent-up emotion that Block holds, guilt from the relationship with his daughter, from the war, and a disorder perpetuated by a need to get by each day in his morally grey line of work. Williams calls it the ‘physical manifestation’ of the emotions.

Is that also why Dusty (Taylor John Smith) is shown only in incredibly intense scenes?

Dusty’s highly emotional state is obvious throughout the film. To save innocent civilians, he inadvertently places many in harm’s way when using a garbage truck to escape. Williams notes that the inability to stop a garbage truck parallels exactly the trajectory of Dusty, ‘unhinged’ yet scared, and hard to stop now that the accelerator is on.

In actual fact, Williams reveals, Dusty was in the garbage truck with the stunt drivers as the scene was being filmed. “When he puts his arm up, this is because he is actually in the truck with the stunt drivers”.

It is no wonder that Williams has successfully been in the industry for such a long time, he knows how to embed real life and emotions in his art!

A key part of Williams’s skill as both writer and director is creating physical scenes that reflect the emotional state of the character to give an extra dimension for the audience.

Interviewed by Rebecca Wu

Blacklight was shot in Australia (Melbourne and Canberra) and was released this week.

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