To celebrate the release of the critically-acclaimed new British film The Last Tree, we sat down with its from writer/director Shola Amoo and leading man Sam Adewunmi, to discuss the film, its cultural impact and its unique visuals that demand it be seen on the biggest screen possible.
Scott J. Davis: Congratulations on the film. You’ve been promoting it ever since Sundance, how are you now processing the release and the great enthusiasm for it so far?
Shola Amoo: It’s kind of been a bit of a whirlwind! We premiered this January in Sundance and played in a space that was far away from the world the film is set in but it was great to get that reception. And it’s just been about maintaining that energy and positivity, which has carried over to the London previews, and to ensure that we get the film as wide as possible on the big screen. So yeah, it feels like we’re in a good place.
SJD: So take us back to the beginning – this is a very personal film to you. How long ago did you settle on now to tell this story?
SA: It felt was right for now. Because it’s semi autobiographical and I was interested in that kind of cultural displacement narrative, but then also talking to other British-Nigerian who were fostered and really just matched their story with my story to create the reality of it all. This is a story that’s informed by mine but that gave me the right level of authenticity and objectivity to see it from different angles.
SJD: Sam, how did this come to you? Did you did you get script from your agent?
Sam Adewunmi (Femi): I did a self-taped audition in 2017 and then again in 2018 and it was then when I got to read the script and I thought, “Woah, this is really cool.” And as a young black actor, I thought that to tell a story like this would be a great opportunity, it’s certainly not something that comes around every day. Then I got the role pretty quickly after that.
SA: The energy that Sam has such an organic nature to him. It’s like anti-performance in a way, I always try to eliminate “performance” when it’s as organic and real as that. He had a great empathy and understanding of it all as well as being very culturally specific, pretty much all the chops needed to bring all the other layers and nuances underneath the character because there’s not one that speaks often. This was always about submersion, keeping you objectively in Femi’s head as much as possible and see his story from that perspective. We wanted you to really feel every sounds as if you were Femi, every footstep so that really led camera, sound everything was told and felt around that concept.
SD: What was for you for you, Sam, that made you want to play Femi? Was there a specific thing that you kind of latched onto immediately when you read the script
Sam: The idea of the different masks that he wears and how he is trying to figure itself out and that will be sort of different spaces maybe not so much when you don’t necessarily explore as much when we are Lincolnshire but a lot when he’s when when he grows up and is a bit older you know seems like you always listen to The Cure and he says “Yeah, I’m listening to 2Pac”. And also how he is around his Mum and teachers, he’s different, has a different side to him. I just found that whole concept of like someone kind of hiding all the time and never really showing their true selves something that I could connect with.
SD: There’s also a huge anxiety, frustration and anger to Femi, not an easy task to play, because there’s so many so many layers to them.
Sam: Yeah, I guess this one just felt a bit more like an internal one and one where I had to investigate those feelings for myself. And when I felt those feelings, and I just thought that it’s quite a universal film in many ways and it’s something that we could all relate to. It was about going back into that teenage angst of my own and investigating that part of yourself and trying to just trying to create a truthful performance.
SJD: Femi’s relationship with his mother is also very fraught and frosty but you and Gbemisola Ikumelo – who is magnificent in the film – have a wonderful chemistry. Was that easy to capture between you?
Sam: We both understood our characters plight but also each others so I felt wonderful to work together. We both held space for each other, supported each other during the five days or so we were on set together and that really helped us to translate the relationship on-screen despite the friction between them through the film and allowed us to bring our best work without holding anything back.
SJD: In terms of the release, then, we’re coming out with the monopoly period of superheroes and blockbusters, how in and you know, that kind of stuff. How important is it for you to have someone like Picturehouse Cinemas on-board to distribute the film in the UK it gives the film such a great platform for us all.
Shola: Super important as you get something like a 50% better chance of accruing audiences and engaging and having presence and all those things that a film like this needs in its domestic territory. For me they were the perfect partners – obviously, they own cinemas which is always a good thing! And just been able to play trailer with the like of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood or Pain and Glory, that’s amazing. It’s a real godsend!
SJD: The fact that you’re getting released in cinemas as well rather than a direct-to-VOD release must be even more pleasing and allow audiences to discover it how you intended?
Shola: Absolutely, and the film is truly a cinematic experience, you have to see it in the cinema – to see every little intricacy we do with the sound design and the way we capture each landscape there’s really no greater experience than that – to truly take it all in. To see posters of the film, to see it on the big screen, that’s incredible for me and for the cast and crew.
SJD: As for you next film, do you know what story you want to tell next?
Shola: I definitely have it in mind and right now I’m diligently working in a cave to bring it to fruition. I see every film as an evolutionary leap, I’ve felt that on my films so far. You can make a film at the same budget level each time but I actually enjoy the steep jump as part of the process. I want to make progress and I’m happy to grow organically and see where it goes.
SJD: Are you hopeful of a reunion with Sam in the future?
Shola: Absolutely, we will reunite at some point for sure. I’m excited for what might happen and it will present itself and it will be the perfect context just like this was.