Living In An Illusion: Director Josephine Mackerras Talks ‘Alice’

Alice tells the story of a mother (played by Emilie Piponnier) who appears to have it all until she discovers her husband is living a double life, leaving her penniless and alone with a child. Her fight back leads her into a world of discovery, not only about her husband but also about herself.

Writer and director Josephine Mackerras joins us on Close-up Culture ahead of the film’s premiere at SXSW.

Q: I believe you were in pre-production for a different feature film before plans fell through. Can you tell us what happened and what eventually led you to ‘Alice’?

A: Yes, we were just about to start casting in London. It was very exciting, and then I fell pregnant, it was postponed. But the reality of having a baby was a lot harder than I thought. The project sort of withered away.

I wrote Alice with the idea of doing a low budget that I could shoot locally and feel more in control.

Q: ‘Alice’ follows a women who is suddenly thrust into a desperate situation by the secretive and reckless actions of her husband. What gave you the idea for this scenario?

A: I’m fascinated with the idea of living in an illusion (I think we all do to a much smaller extent) and how the pain of waking up to those illusions is usually accompanied by a sort of liberation if we’re strong enough to take it.

The double life of her husband is the ultimate dramatic tool to thrust Alice into not only survival mode, but a questioning of her whole life and her way of being in the world.


Q: It is fascinating to watch Alice go follow this path of discovery. Can you tell us more about the journey Alice takes in film?

A: Alice is a people pleaser to her core. She has lived via everyone else’s expectations – those of her parents, of society and of our culture.

When the illusion of her perfect life is destroyed she is pushed into survival mode, she is pushed to face society’s greatest taboos. Her sense of identity shifts to the point of her realizing she has never really listened to herself and doesn’t really know herself. Therein lies the start of her own empowerment.

Q: I was struck by Alice’s interaction with her mother and later with a lawyer. Both speak to the hypocrisy and tribulations facing modern women. How important was it for you to address this in the film?

A: Very. Though both are different angles.

As a writer I spend a long time on back stories for my characters, to understand what brings them to their present situation. Alice learnt from her mother to always self sacrifice. The phone call with the mother shows where Alice has come from and the mentality she is up against.

The lawyers dialogue about the difference for men and women in the legal dilemma came from real life transcripts. My greatest love in writing is being able to shed light on a cultural blind spots through drama, and the hypocrisy that unfolds legally for Alice, I feel this does shed some light on that particular issue.

Q: The friendship between Alice and Lisa (Chloé Boreham) is beautiful, especially the scene where they dance together. Can you talk about their relationship and capturing that endearing connection between the two?

A: Lisa and Alice are complementary characters, they have lived their lives in opposite ways and sort of complete each other.

From the moment I did a casting with the two together, their chemistry was perfect. So much so, I asked them not to see each other outside of rehearsals. I didn’t want anything to touch their chemistry before the shoot.

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Q: That was a wise choice because the chemistry between Emilie Piponnier and Chloé Boreham shines through. What were they like to collaborate with? Any fun stories?

A: They were both great!

It wasn’t that funny at the time, but in retrospect getting the shot of the girls jumping in the canal was interesting…! The director of production didn’t want us to shoot it because we hadn’t asked permission. I was determined to get it, but she started telling the girls about how the canal was filled with huge swimming rats, vermon and eels – she totally freaked them out!

But like the champions they are, they jumped (followed by scrubbing down with disinfectant) and we got the shot!

Q: It must take a special drive for someone to want to become a director. Why do you feel you were drawn to it?

A: I discovered the theatre young, I’ve always loved studying great writers and learning what makes a great performance. I played the saxophone and loved doing art. Then I discovered filmmaking. It is the synthesis of everything I love. Writing, acting, art and music. If I wasn’t making films, I don’t know what I’d do with myself!

Q: The film will premiere at SXSW in March. How excited are you for audiences to see your first feature film?

A: OMG, I am so excited!

Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: I have a couple of scripts I am working on. I would love to meet like minded producers, I can’t wait to work on a project just as the director and completely focus on what I love doing without the production pressure.

Nothing makes me more alive than working with great actors, cinematographers, editors, and telling stories that are meaningful and entertaining.


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