Exclusive Interview: Guy Kent and his film debut in Autumn Lights

By Veronica Iannuzzi

Set against the stunning backdrop of Iceland, Autumn Lights is a story about an American photographer named David who stumbles upon a horrible crime scene. Played by Guy Kent, David is forced to stay in the area for a police investigation. He soon meets a mysterious couple and becomes implicated in their complicated relationship. Guy Kent sits down with Flanelle to unpack the film’s intricate and beautifully presented themes.

Flanelle : I watched the movie last night and I though it was really wonderful. But before we delve into the movie, can you tell me a little bit about yourself? Where are you from and why did you decide to become an actor?

Guy : Thank you I’m so glad you enjoyed the movie. I grew up in Los Angeles and I’ve always been around the entertainment industry. I knew it in a sort of intimate way because of family and friends. When I was younger I didn’t quite realise that you can make a career out of being an actor, but then as I got older I really started to get into theatre and film making. During high school I was part of a television show and it aired in Los Angeles. So I definitely had a true and serious love for the process of filmmaking, story telling, and then of course acting. And then I ended up going to USC film school, and while I was doing that I was also studying theatre. I was really interested in method acting, Lee Strasburg and that whole world. So that’s really where I found my entry point with film making and acting. I have such a love for movies that I’m continually inspired by other actors and directors. I really think that film is a director’s medium and I get really excited about the work they do. In looking specifically at this film’s director Angad Aulakh (who’s also my producing partner in Autumn Lights) we met and pretty much immediately wanted to collaborate with one another. I was focused on acting but I was also interested in the other side of it, not only having gone to film school, but also because producing gives you an incredible opportunity to get more involved in the creative process. That was something that I not only was looking for but something I love to do. Within a year after meeting Angad we were in pre-production for Autumn Lights.

I like what you said about a film being a director’s medium. Are there any other directors that you really admire or whose work you think will stand the test of time?

Oh yes absolutely. Just looking retrospectively, Stanley Kubrick is someone Angad and I speak about often. When his films came out some of the reviews were very negative, Space Odyssey is just one example and it’s one of my favourite movies. Kubrick was someone who understood film as a visual medium. A lot of other directors focus on the characters or the development of a story, whereas Kubrick looked at it very holistically and was able to tell a story through sound, visuals, and of course through character and dialogue. The quality of the story telling is just amazing. Another director I admire is Nicholas Winding Refn. I think he swings in the art house sort of realm, but he’s got such an incredible stamp on all his films. It shows how unique and how strong his voice is. Another great example is Angad and the amazing work he did with this film. He’s a director that I want to work with over and over again. I think he’s got so much to say and Autumn Lights is just the tip of his creative iceberg. As his career continues, I think he’s going to constantly surprise people, especially with the next movie we’re doing. Going back to your original question, I love directors that have such strong points of view. These three that I’ve mentioned have really powerful creative perspectives. Looking specifically at Kubrick and Refn, they have such a long career and such a vast number of genres that their creativity is seen throughout their cinematic repertoire. So in regards to Angad, it’s incredible to work with someone that has a vision. It’s not only inspiring to work with but it’s also exciting. As an actor my job is to bring a director’s vision to life. So it’s such an amazing process to work with a director that has such a clear idea of what they want to create and inspire.

On that note, I’d love to dive into Autumn Lights because there are so many things I want to talk about. For one thing the setting of Iceland seems beautifully deliberate. I think the location and the physical setting is really important in the movie. There’s a really romantic and gothic feel about the physicality of he area. So what made you decide on Iceland as the place to bring the story to life?

I agree it is beautiful and gothic looking in so many ways, that’s a great way to put it. We had originally looked at Northern Europe as a whole because we were very inspired by Scandinavian cinema and we love Scandinavian chamber films. So we looked at Northern Europe as a broad beginning. We were searching for a place that had the geographical isolation as well as the coldness you get with that terrain. Iceland was a real contender for several reasons. For one thing, the beauty of the area was hard to ignore. Iceland has such dramatic geography and the lighting just made the whole setting perfect for the film. It also has the backdrop that not only gives a gothic coldness or feel to it, but it also allows for a romantic mood as well. It was able to hit two very different themes that exist within the film. It makes for a nice juxtaposition of landscape in terms of mood.

One element that is really explored in the film is relationships. Do you feel that Autumn Lights is giving a pessimistic or realistic view of monogamy?

I don’t think the movie is taking a particular stance; instead it’s leaving that ambiguity to the viewer. When you look at each character, whether they’re involved in an extra marital relationship or not, you see the other side of it as well. Marie for instance, she’s entering all these extra marital relationships, but at the same time you’re seeing her intense loneliness and happiness. She also has an inability to find a solution so she’s incredibly lost. You may not agree with what she’s doing but you can understand what drives someone to potentially do something like that. The film doesn’t condone her behavior, but rather leaves it up to the viewer to observe and judge. It poses some interesting questions, but I don’t think it’s meant to answer them.

Another theme that’s powerful in the movie is isolation, and the setting reinforces that element so much. Oddly enough even when the characters are physically with people that isolation is still present. Do you think the movie is making a commentary about isolation? Specifically, that people just end up disappointing us and isolation is the lesser of two evils?

I think the way the movie handles isolation is unique because each character has a different experience with it. In looking at David, I think he will always be isolated because of his job and he’s constantly travelling. And he even says to Liv (a character in the movie), “you find a place you like, people you like, and then you leave. But then when you come back everyone has moved on”. For him, I think he yearns to find a connection with people but he’s constantly alone. The reason being is that he seeks out people who are going to leave him isolated. For Marie, it seems like she always returns to the isolation that she shares with her husband Jóhann. Not only do they have this home in the middle of nowhere, but then they’ll travel somewhere and be fairly isolated from the people they know. So I think the film poses the question rather than answer it. Would you prefer isolation, or being with the people you love? It sparks a conversation and makes you examine your own life.

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I’d like to explore light. It’s a word in the film’s title and it’s something that almost never leaves the screen. Oddly enough the only time we’re in the dark is when David is developing photos in his dark room. Can you tell me about the symbolic meaning of light and the role it plays?

Well looking at Marie and David, light plays an interesting role in their dynamic. I think it’s a juxtaposition between David absolutely being in the dark about who Marie is, even though it’s right there in front of him yet he can’t see it. It takes quite a bit of time for him to “see the light” if you will. In terms of mood, the light creates this suspended reality. You’re never quite sure what time of day it is or how many days have passed. It’s almost like purgatory where you have these characters that exist but you have no time or spatial awareness. The whole world of the film seems just outside of reality in the way characters speak and interact with each other. The light adds to the surreal and fantasy-like nature of the story. We see moments of the dark, and the dark room is David’s sanctuary. It’s where he goes to do his work, but it’s also a place of reflection. Another time we’re in the dark is when Marie thinks back to her time in Paris and it’s a scene at night. So that’s another moment in the dark when a character reflects on themselves and their complicated past.

( SPOILERS ! ) In looking at the ending of the film, I was pleasantly surprised because it didn’t end the way I thought it would. I assumed the story would end the way it began, with a suicide. But instead we see Marie and Jóhann seemingly finding a way back to each other, and the last scene is Marie smiling by herself. Do you think the movie is trying to end on an optimistic note?

I think the movie does end on an optimistic note because David makes the decision that he doesn’t want any more involvement, and that’s the first time he decides to do something that will positively affect him. And I think that’s a small win for him. You have someone taking control of his or her life. It’s optimistic for Marie too because she goes on having that memory of a beautiful time with David. I believe that Marie will be alright because she and Jóhann will be together forever. They’re one in the same and they’re really a match for one another. They’re both so well suited in their moral ambiguity. As strange as their relationship is it somehow seems to work for them. So the movie concludes with all the characters satisfied with the next step in their lives.

Can you tell me a little about the next movie you and Angad will work on together?

Well I can’t say too much about it, but all I can tell you is that it’s entirely different from Autumn Lights. We’re looking forward to talking more about that very shortly. We’re just getting that together now and I’m very excited about it.

Autumn Lights appears in selected theatres on October 21st, and it will be on demand in all of North America.

Photography by Leah Berman

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