Andrew Haigh on Looking: ‘Melancholy exists in most people’s lives’

The bittersweet HBO drama about homosexual friends in San Francisco may air its final episode this weekend but its British director, who also made 45 Years, will continue his investigations into the ambiguities of human relationships

One of the best lines in the feature-length finale of Looking, HBOs show about the lives and loves of a group of early middle-aged men in San Francisco, skewers such a large chunk of the gay experience that it might end up chiseled in marble on the facade of the Stonewall Inn. Doris, a longtime straight friend, hovers at the edge of international disputes between hero Patrick and his exs new boyfriend: Ooh, I love it when homosexuals argue with other lesbians about being lesbian, she trills.

Its seducing to imagine that writer and director Andrew Haigh conjured that line in response to the more piquant criticism of his series, whose absence of an obvious agenda resulted some to label it post-gay. In a 2014 article about the first season, Slates J Bryan Lowder wrote: Straight critics and viewers seeking liberal cred knows where to find an easy tool here; Looking is, after all, gay without any of the hard parts( dick included ), homosexual thats polite and comfy and maybe a little titillating but definitely not all up in your face about it.

Despite the brickbats, Seeming was renewed for a second season, and ripened into a layered portrait of contemporary homosexuals relationships and relationships. Haigh proved himself be permitted to orchestrate some truly gut-wrenching moments( the disastrous Halloween party Patrick throws is referred to by fans in hushed tones ). It gained a devoted following, but HBO eventually decided to cancel it, offering Haigh the opportunity to close with a movie. I ask him whether the network had really been after something else, perhaps the Girls for lesbians it was initially touted as. They always knew what the reveal was, he tells. Im sure they wouldve preferred it to have a larger audience, but it wasnt that they wanted us to make a different show.

Despite the frustration, Haigh seems content with the way things have turned out. Even though we did get cancelled, there is an endpoint. Lots of reveals get cancelled, and then they never get to end their stories, its merely over. It was a really interesting, wonderful experience, and I think we all cared passionately about it.

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That indicates. The Looking movie is as honest, funny and affecting a depiction of lesbian life as Ive seen in years. The performances are disarmingly natural and Haighs skill as a dramatist clear. In one scene a casual meeting between Patrick and Kevin their affair formed the backbone of season two switchings from small-talk to a profound emotional reckoning in seconds. It leaves you feeling almost winded.

And though the story is to a certain extent rounded off, there are no neat endings thats not Haighs style. He agrees that his characters often reach phantom conclusions that turn out to be far less stable than they anticipated. The imagined place of safety is reached, but it comes with a fresh define of dilemmas. Just as in life.

Sometimes that can be quite bittersweet, he says. You can achieve one thing but because of that you have to adapt or lose something else. If you end up in a relationship, you sometimes have to lose the closeness of your friendships, for example, or you have to move away somewhere For me that creates the feeling of melancholy which I guess exists in most peoples lives. Certainly in my life, and in perhaps the things that I do as well.

Haigh is now back to proper film-making, working on the adaptation of a volume called Lean on Pete, and which will star Steve Buscemi and Chlo Sevigny. Its most varied. Its not so much about relationships, its about a 15 -year-old kid working at a horse track up in Portland. There are no lesbian storylines. When I started attaining movies, it was never that I had this large ambition to only do gay-themed material, he says, acknowledging the success of his breakout feature Weekend( 2011 ), which told the story of a one-night stand that turns into something much more for “the mens” involved. I entail plainly its hugely interesting to me and hugely important because I am gay, but my narratives they are about people trying to understand who they are.

Patrick Patrick( Jonathan Groff) and Agustn( Frankie J Alvarez) attend a lesbian bridal. Photo: Melissa Moseley/ HBO

In 45 Years, released last year, a couple in their 70 s find themselves unexpectedly plunged into self-doubt on the eve of a big anniversary party. What if they had never got married? If one or two apparently innocuous selections hadnt been constructed, how would life had turned out? It turns out whereas it is Haighs obsession. He talks about gratifying his partner. I dont believe in fate, so I dont believe that I was destined to go out that night. I feel like I simply chose well, fuck it, I may as well go out because Ive got nothing else to do. And that changes the course of your life.

Its not an unusual experience, he admits. But its the emotional toll that interests him. I think it is a burden that we constantly realise that there isnt that much rhyme or reason to why something happens, he tells. If we think about that too much, it can make all of our decisions very stressful if you dont believe in fate its easy to think that life is inherently meaningless, and thats a very stressful thing for people to have to deal with.

This stress descends on Kate, the character played by Charlotte Rampling, with a vengeance. She is haunted, and her performance haunts the spectator. Her expression in the final scene is all thats needed to turn the film on its head. Rampling was nominated for an Oscar, but may have scuppered her chances when she stated that the row about absence of diversity in the Academy was racist to whites.

Haigh tells its pointless to think about whether her remarks cost her the awarding. Im not responsible for what someone says or doesnt tell. I can have my views on what was said. I ask him what they are. Clearly there isnt enough representation[ of people of colour ]. I can totally understand why people are angry that there isnt that representation. And I think its not only a question of representation on the screen, its about behind the screen, and I dont just mean directors and writers and producers, I mean throughout the industry. There needs to be more a chance for minorities, whatever that minority might be.

Andrew Andrew Haigh: Im not responsible for what person tells or doesnt tell. Photo: Karen Robinson for the Observer

Representation is personally important to Haigh. When I ask him if he guesses his work, frequently about the minutium of relationships, is political, he says that it is. How he chooses to depict lesbian people has an impact. In the 80 s when I was a teenager, there was nothing. There were pretty dreadful stereotypical characters on some TV reveals and that was about it. Jonathan Harveys 1996 film Beautiful Thing marked a turning point. I wasnt even out when I watched that. I was a cinema usher. And I watched it sitting in the back of the cinema and I was blown away by it, it was so emotional and overwhelming.

I think its amazing how much things have progressed, he continues. The fact that gay people can get married now is something that I suppose most people would never have believed But youve always got to be wary of things reverting again. We live in a society now where it is easier to come out he catches himself not for everybody. But it is easier for some people.

Everyones different, after all. In any community theres privilege and the lack of it, promiscuity and puritanism, thrill trying and playing it safe. If you dont like Lookings particular brand of gay, recollect: arguing about it is feasible to half the fun.

Appearing is on HBO at 10 pm on 23 July in the USA, and 2 August on Sky Atlantic in the UK.

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