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There's something about Suzie

by: Caroline Westbrook - Last updated: 2004-03-02

The Gold family from Suzie Gold

The Gold family

Kicking off your film producing career with the first British Jewish comedy since Leon The Pig Farmer is certainly a good way to begin – although as Rebecca Green admits, it was the air of familiarity that drew her to Suzie Gold. “Probably one of the reasons that I made it is because it’s about a world that I knew – I wouldn’t want to make a film about a world I knew nothing about,” says the 29-year-old. 

The daughter of former Carlton TV boss Michael Green, Rebecca actually grew up in West London rather than North London, but spent a lot of time in the North London areas Suzie frequents thanks to family connections – and admits that she still returns there on a regular basis for Friday nights with the family. But away from the Shabbat dinner table, she’s busy promoting Suzie Gold – and over a cup of tea in her Central London office, Green reveals all about the project – while offering a few opinions of her own about the state of British Jewish moviemaking.


When did the idea for the project come about?

I guess it’s just what I know. I didn’t grow up exactly in North London but certainly on the periphery and had friends and family there and would go to Friday nights there, so I just thought I’d like to make a film – and I think just observing the characters really, there are so many different generations, we’ve got four generations in our family, my great-grandmother is still alive, and my grandparents and my parents, and I’ve got younger brothers – there’s just such a huge family element everywhere in my life. And they’re funny, they’re outspoken, there’s a lot of humour and warmth and insanity, which interested me. So I kind of wrote some characters and then quite a simple story – it’s meant to be something that’s quite sweet and fun.


How much involvement did you have with the script?

I worked with the writers – Lisa Ratner, a girl I grew up with, I was best friends with her sister and still am, I’ve known them my whole life – I took it to her because I knew she went to film school and she knew about scripts, so I gave her my notes and my ideas and she embellished that. And then Ric Cantor who was a director who was kind of young, Jewish, cool, knew the world, intelligent – he came along, and he had a writing partner. It was an organic process where we’d all sit around and argue about what was going to happen – would Suzie introduce her boyfriend to her parents, would she do this, would she do that – so there was a lot of discussion and battling about that, and how she would end up. The thing I wanted to make clear is that Suzie is really young – she’s not 29, 30, she’s 23 – but in that world it’s like ‘Come on Suzie, you’ve got to get hitched’. Her younger sister is getting married and she’s onl! y 21. So there’s a lot of pressure at a young age, and I think the thing that we wanted to try and end up showing was that she was breaking free of what her parents wanted her to do.


Did you have help from the Jewish community when it came to production and where was it filmed?

Part of it was filmed at Abbey Road Synagogue, who were really great, and really helpful, and that was tricky because we could give them the script pages but then certain synagogues we approached started saying they wanted editorial rights! So that was quite tricky with the whole synagogue thing but Abbey Road were fantastic and really helpful. We filmed St John’s Wood High Street, we were in one of the hairdressers in the high street which we decorated, Café Josephine in the high street – a bit around Hampstead Garden Suburb which was where she lived.


Did you consider any British actresses for the part of Suzie or did you have Summer Phoenix in mind?

I would have considered a British actress if I had thought there was one as right as Summer. I saw her quite early on in the play This Is Our Youth – I’d just finished the script – and I thought she was brilliant, perfect. She looked the part – she really does look right – and she’s got the attitude. With some British actresses, the look – the English rose look – isn’t really the Suzie Gold look – but I think because I found Summer quite early on I didn’t really go there, and also the financiers want a name. If I could have just blindly cast in North London I probably could have found someone but they want a bit of a name. She really worked hard on the accent and really threw herself into the role, and got into the whole scene. She hadn’t done a British accent before, and she was great. She doesn’t overdo anything, she always keeps that kind of restraint because there’s a very mad world around her and you’ve got som! e really strong characters, and I think if she had overplayed it it would have been too sickly sweet but she always seems to have some control.


How did Rachel Stevens get involved?

We just thought Rachel was so perfect, she’s a good person to tie in with a movie like this, being from North London and being that kind of girl, and we thought it’d be great to get her in somehow. So we offered her the cameo – it’s a cute little role – and I have to say she looks gorgeous on screen, and she can act!


Suzie Gold is probably the first British Jewish comedy film since Leon The Pig Farmer – why do you think it’s taken so long for another British Jewish comedy to be made?

I just thought there’s so much value here, so many great characters and such a world of opportunity, why don’t we just do it?? I mean, we’ve had East Is East, Bend It Like Beckham, Monsoon Wedding, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you’ve had all these cultures – where’s this great Jewish culture? And I think that there’s an element that is definitely political – doing a film about a Jewish family is trickier than it seems – it’s a very sensitive issue. I think it’s part of being Jewish, I mean I feel it myself – we have this paranoia that is ingrained, you probably could not even live in a Jewish community and still have that paranoia, that’s just sort of been handed down to you, you can’t get away from it. So I think it’s probably been quite tricky, and getting it made, you’d think there’s such a Jewish element in the film industry, in America and England and maybe they’d snap it up but no – a lot of the Jewish members of! the industry were scared. And I think certain Jewish people may have that reaction when they see the film, it’s close to the bone, sometimes it can be uncomfortable. For that reason for me I say ‘brilliant, let’s make the film, let’s do it’, for a lot of people they were like ‘ooh, it’s very Jewish isn’t it’ and I was like ‘Yeah?’


Would you like to see more of this kind of Jewish film being made in the UK?

Absolutely. I mean I’m not a hugely political person and I obviously haven’t made a very political film but there was a part of me that thought ‘obviously there is anti-Semitism and it bothers me and it’s horrible’ but I didn’t want to make something where someone could turn around and get all anti-whatever about it. I want to show something in a non-political light where you can appreciate a people for their warmth and their humour rather than anything else, and that’s very interesting. Jews will look at it and they’ll see themselves and then feel embarrassed but a non-Jew’s not going to pick up on every little thing. They find it interesting, the customs and things like that, and it’s definitely something I’ve learned – that there are so many Jewish people in the film industry, it should make it easier to get something made. Absolutely the opposite! I think that is the way, and that must be the way things work, it! takes an outsider to appreciate something.


The Isle Of Man Film Commission is involved in the project – when did they come on board?

At the financing stage, because it’s somewhere that we go to take advantage of the tax break, so we basically used the studio there – they have very good facilities, and a huge studio – and we built our sets there, we recreated a North London house in the Isle of Man.


What’s the reaction been so far from people who’ve seen it?

Really good, my friends and family loved it, and I was terrified to show it to them. The thing with comedy is you can tell really quickly if they like it or they don’t like it, you can’t fake it. So it was great that my friends love it and a lot of people seem to be talking about it.


How do you plan to follow this up?

I have another film in the pipeline but I haven’t really concentrated on anything since Suzie Gold – once that’s out I can go and work on it. It’s a bit too early to talk about it.


Does it have a Jewish theme?

No, I don’t think so. The one I’m looking at doing next is not Jewish, but it’s all about the material, you read loads of stuff and if something’s great, you think ‘I’ve got to do that?’


What’s your own personal background?

I grew up in Kensington – my parents, I think they grew up in North London and they decided they wanted to be a bit different and so they moved to West London. But with the families still Friday nights were always North London-ish. But what do you count as North London? Does Baker Street count as North London?


Do you still go back to your North London family for Friday night dinners?

Yeah, I’m a big Friday night girl. Love the food, love all the cooking, love the family, love the chat. I’d be lost on a Friday night without it. As far as shul-going goes, I’m a Suzie Gold three-times-a-year type of shul-goer, to Great Portland Street. It’s lovely