Interview with Director Jonny Campbell


Earlier last week, we had the opportunity to talk with Director Jonny Campbell. 

Campbell is the BAFTA winning director of the cult zombie hit, IN THE FLESH, and has directed the fan favorite television series, DOCTOR WHO. He is now bringing his dark comedic sensibility to the HBO/BBC adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s bestselling novel, “THE CASUAL VACANCY,” starring Michael Gambon, Keeley Hawes, Rory Kinnear, Monica Dolan, Julia McKenzie, and Abigail Lawrie. Screenplay written by Sarah Phelps.

Alternative Mindz: With The Casual Vacancy coming to the United States this week, what can we expect from the miniseries when it premieres?

Jonny Campbell : Be prepared for something different. I see it as a modern fable; a twisted parable almost mainly looking at something universal [involving] teenagers and parents and how they react to death. Intended to be like a 19th century novel in a contemporary setting. It’s a thought provoking story which challenges an audience on many levels. As a filmmaker, I have found the myriad reactions to it a fascinating and enlightening exercise in both demonstrating an intelligent audience’s capacity to engage with and benefit from unusual storytelling as well as exposing others’ prejudice and superficiality. 

Alternative Mindz: The miniseries is an adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s bestselling novel. Will the overall themes of the novel be brought up on the television show?

Jonny Campbell: Sex, death, mortality, grief, compassion, social responsibility. The novel is far-reaching in its themes and intense psychological analysis of a host of characters with countless incisive observations about the human condition. The book requires total concentration and is a most rewarding read. The dramatization does not set out to transpose verbatim all of these characters and themes, but chooses a route through the material to accompany (rather than replace) the original text and present the world and characters with as much story and character as can be woven satisfyingly into the three hour film.

Alternative mindz: Working on films and TV productions, directors form bonds with their cast. Which of the actors you have worked with in the past do you like working with the most?

Jonny Campbell: I was lucky to have assembled a most accomplished cast to work with for this project thanks to a wonderful collaboration with casting directors Lucy Bevan and Olivia Scott-Webb. I’d enjoyed working with several actors before and they were fantastic again e.g. Keeley Hawes (Spooks and Ashes To Ashes), Rory Kinnear (Judge John Deed), Julia McKenzie (Death In Holy Orders), Emily Bevan & Marie Critchley (In The Flesh). It had long been an ambition and was a particular joy to work with Michael Gambon at last, but the real highlight was to nurture and work with such a talented array of unknown young actors. Abigail Lawrie (Krystal) and Brian Vernel (Fats) created a particularly beguiling double act within the story and I am especially proud of discovering Abigail Lawrie and guiding her in her debut role.

Alternative mindz: You have directed episodes of Doctor Who along with In The Flesh. As a director, what differences of direction did you take when filming The Casual Vacancy?

Jonny Campbell: I didn’t instinctively take any different directions – I always just try to immerse myself in the material and focus on telling the story. There was, however, an unusual challenge here in that the nature of the storytelling was unconventional. The narrative often follows a “mood” rather than a central character or be simply plot driven. It is very much character driven and requires sensitive intelligence and extra engagement on the part of the viewer, not just because the general subject matter is difficult, sobering and full of darkness, but also owing to this style of storytelling, which requires the audience to fill in gaps occasionally and think for themselves rather than receiving everything on a plate. It’s not everybody’s “cup of tea” and not everyone will get it or want to get it, for that matter. It goes over some heads and bypasses some hearts in the process, but will touch a nerve with many.

Alternative Mindz: Since you had success with directing along with the awards and nominations you have received, what does it take to become an award winning director and what kind of advice, if any, could you give to a person who wants to become a director?

Jonny Campbell: Awards and nominations can come in useful, but are not a goal in their own right. In fact, it is almost certainly a guaranteed failed mission to aim for them. I think they tend to come when good teams of people have come together and believed in the project/stories they are telling and taken pride and care in doing so. To become a drama director? I think it’s the best grounding to study literature and storytelling. Study and think about human nature. Go to the theatre.

Alternative Mindz: Do you have any future projects that are coming your way soon?

Jonny Campbell: Hopefully! Am reading several intriguing scripts and developing a few others. 

Alternative Mindz: We want to thank you for taking time and talking with us! Please feel free to mention any social media outlets you are active on and how fans and new fans can find out more about you.

Jonny Campbell: Pleasure. Thanks for asking. I’m on Twitter – @CampbellJonny1.

THE CASUAL VACANCY is a story of a village tearing itself apart, revealing the townspeople’s idiosyncrasies, and addressing social responsibility with one’s response to the poor and disadvantaged. At times darkly funny, it portrays a town whose residents are selfishly stuck in their beliefs and traditions, unaware they have the power to change. This sadly comical selfishness comes to play an important role as events unfold.

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