Today we sit down with writer/director Stephen Bradley in order to have a chat about his new film Noble. The film chronicles the incredible real life story of philanthropist, survivor and general all-round extraordinary woman Christina Noble who battled through a truly awful childhood and adolescence and then went on to monumentally improve conditions for the neglected street children of Vietnam. Read on to learn more about Noble and Stephen’s new film…
Could you begin Stephen by telling our readers who Christina Noble was and what your film’s about?
Christina is a lady who had a very difficult childhood in Ireland and the UK. When she was in her twenties she literally had a dream that she should go to Vietnam and so, after she had brought up her own children, in 1989 she hopped on a plane with just a few dollars and no real idea of what Vietnam really was and went there. Since then she has helped over 700,000 street children and their families right across the country.
What strikes me is that her incredible story is one that everyone should know and yet I personally hadn’t heard of her until Noble, how did you discover her?
Well my wife, Deirdre O’Kane, did a lot of benefit gigs for the Christina Noble foundation about eight years ago and during that time she got really interested in the whole story. That was the beginning of a five year journey for the two of us, both in getting to know her and getting the story rights etc.
At what point did you decide you had to make a film about her?
It was when I read the book. Like you I didn’t know much about her, only what I had heard going to the gigs with Deirdre in the early 2000’s. But when I read the book I just thought that it was an extraordinary story, although obviously there is a lot more in the book across both her earlier and later life than what I can cover in the film.
How did you choose where to place the film’s focus when writing the script?
I went through lots of drafts as there was just too much to cover. I decided that I just wanted to capture the essence of Christina’s character and that is the fighting spirit which gets her through the tough times as well as her sense of humour and love of music. I wanted it to be an entertaining rollercoaster ride rather than something you would have to endure. Therefore I cut across time periods between her childhood and Vietnam in order to show how she could do what she does.
You’ve made a number of documentaries alongside your features previous to Noble, did you consider going down the documentary root when approaching Christina’s story?
No I never wanted to make a documentary here, I always had a vision for it which was more cinematic what with shooting in Vietnam and having period pieces. And I always wanted to make it with actors too.
To what extent did Christina get involved with the film?
She was very involved at the beginning of the process; considering us and granting us the rights to her story. I spent about two years picking her brains and trying to get every story out of her that I could. After those two years were up though she signed the rights to us and then said ‘off you go and make your film then’. Which was both very generous of her and very necessary. If she had been looking over my shoulder throughout it would have been disastrous. She saw the final shooting script and made a few changes to the dialogue and then she didn’t see an edit of the film at all, not until it was finished.
How do you approach using multiple actors for one role, ensuring that the portrayal stays consistent?
I knew that it really came down to the casting, now obviously I had Deirdre leading the charge from the start, and then it was a process of matching middle and little Christina to her. I was very lucky to find both Sarah Greene (who plays middle Christina) and Gloria Cramer Curtis (younger Christina) who we found after a long trawl of looking for actors for the part.
Did you get the three of them together to talk through the role?
Well, although Gloria met the other two, child actors don’t really work like that and so you need to lead them by the hand. But I brought Sarah and Deirdre together a lot. Even though Sarah wasn’t filming in Vietnam I brought her out there so that she could get to know what Deirdre was doing, hear her voice and also get to know the crew as well.
And one final question Stephen, now that you’re wrapping up on Noble’s publicity tour do you have your eyes already set on future projects?
Yes, in what’s completely the other direction to Noble I’m developing a comedy bank heist film. I’m doing that with five actors I have worked with before and we have been workshopping that script for a couple of years already. I’m also developing a very big historical saga, which unfortunately I can’t say much more about. But that’s been taking up a lot of my time and is very exciting!
Noble opens in UK cinemas today (12th February), will you be checking it out? Let us know in the comment box below!