Interview with Gerard Johnson
Words by Joshua Phillip
In this interview I talk with Gerard Johnson, writer and director of the BIFA nominated film MUSCLE starring Cavin Clerkin, Craig Fairbrass, Lorraine Burroughs, Peter Ferdinando, Sinead Matthews, and Polly Maberly.
MUSCLE was shown in BFI, Curzon, and Art House Cinema in December 4th, 2020 and is available for purchase on DVD February 1st 2021.
Gerards other films include Tony (2009) and Hyena (2014).
I heard you mention that Muscle was inspired by a man you saw in a gym. Can you explain what happened?
I’ve seen lots of Terry’s over the years in gyms. There were a couple of guys in an LA Fitness in Piccadilly that gave me a lot of inspiration though. One looked like the devil and would shout across the gym at people if they had any kind of incorrect form, another guy ex-soldier who had been to Iraq opened up to me in the sauna.
Taking that idea and starting on the film project to Muscle, what were the first steps you did after that experience in the gym? Where did you begin?
I wrote a little treatment years ago around the time of Tony (my first feature). It was in the back of a drawer until I met Producer Matt Wilkinson and he asked me if I had anything knocking about. I pitched it and he loved it so then I wrote the script.
What did it take to write the script and what conditions do you like to write under?
I wrote Muscle before I had kids so it was a fairly straightforward daily writing process. Muscle was a very enjoyable script to write and I had a lot of fun with Terry and Simon. It was a joy to write.
When writing the script was there any food you would fuel up on? Would you drink lots of water and coffee?
Lots of water throughout the day. Bulletproof Coffee to start the day though. Then always a break for a nice long walk to clear the head.
What did you learn about health and nutrition and exercise when researching the film?
I knew quite a bit before I started on Muscle, I’ve been going to gyms on and off since I was a teenager really so had a fair bit of understanding of nutrition and supplements etc.
What supplements do you use?
Not really any at the moment unless you count alcohol?
We actually see the physical transformation of Simon played by Cavin Clerkin as the film progresses. How did you achieve this?
We shot the first block for a week and then took three months off so he could just go for it. He had a personal trainer and was training everyday, plus he was eating six meals a day and taking loads of supplements, He had never done weights before this film and now he’s addicted to it.
One image that stood out in particular to me was when Simon is walking across a field that has industrial towers in the background. It suggests the extension of masculinity on the planet. Was that intentional?
Wasn’t intentional but I like it!
Craig Fairbrass as the very complex character Terry. Talk about him?
He is a very complex character that’s for sure. They are always the most fun to write, I drew on people I knew from my past. He is very damaged goods I would say.
Talk about the filming
I see filmmaking as getting your troops together and going into battle. Everyone needs to be on the same page and ready to follow you into the unknown. Very exciting times.
Why did you use the greyish blackish film texture? I thought it was incredible by the way. Especially in contrast to the way you used the beams of light that you shone into certain scenes.
Thank you! It was always the intention to shoot in b/w and I love how it has turned out. In between the stunningly beautiful shots it gives sense of oppressive dread which is what I was going for.
How often do you go to gym?
Not at all at the moment as all the gyms are closed due to the pandemic. I’ll hopefully get back into it this year at some point. Fingers crossed.
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