Beyond The Pole: Helen Baxendale interview

We caught up with Helen Baxendale to discuss her film Beyond The Pole, out on DVD and Blu-ray this week…

Beyond The Pole is the story of two hideously unprepared men and their well-meaning but shambolic trek to the Antarctic. We spoke to actor Helen Baxendale, who co-created the film with partner and director David Williams, about the casting, production and promotion of the film.

What first made you want to make Beyond The Pole?

God knows why, because it’s been a nightmare from start to finish, and we’ve not seen a penny reward! Only joking!

We thought the radio series was funny and could film it with two leads and a cameraman following them and make it cheap and sell it for a million dollars. Unfortunately, lots of crew insisted they were absolutely vital and they probably had a point as we were floating on sea ice in polar bear territory.

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Was it tricky getting funding for a film with such an unusual subject?

Funding is always tricky, but actually we financed this in three weeks, because we could tell people they had to make up their mind quickly because the location was melting! Which as it happens was quite true. We also had a terrific reel from rehearsals, which showed them exactly how strong the script was.

I understand you originally optioned the script seven years ago – what happened in the intervening period, and what was the turning point that meant you could get on and make the film?

Well, during that time we had a number of scripts that at different times looked like they might go, and at the same time we were working with Shooting Pictures making a living. The turning point was the script coming together. As soon as it did we financed this in three weeks. I don’t think it often works like that as I heard the other day Little Miss Sunshine took six years to finance! It’s not a game for the impatient…

How has social media helped in marketing the film?

It’s been everything and is very exciting to watch how people can spontaneously come together and make things happen. Beyond The Pole’s Facebook page has been incredibly instrumental in introducing us to new people and to making connections with journalists, cinemas everything.

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It was people power which got cinemas to book us and actually sidestepped the whole distributor thing in the UK. It will be very exciting to watch how the industry responds to filmmakers getting closer and closer to their audiences – and they must, as for too long it has been quite impossible for filmmakers to actually get anywhere near to revenues arising from their work. Too many middlemen!Were you involved in the location shooting of the film, and if so, what was the experience like?

Very involved in the UK side of things, as we shot in Lichfield, where I grew up, and many of the extras are friends from school. The Greenland leg was largely down to David working with Arctic First, our Arctic co-Producers who David met the October before we shot. It was absolutely vital to bring them on board, because although we have shot all over the world, the Arctic Sea ice was a new one for us – as were the local polar bears – and David and I were both determined that safety be looked after by experts.Did you always have Rhys Thomas and Stephen Mangan in mind for the lead roles?

Yes, absolutely. David had seen Rhys previously for a pilot which in the end went to Russell Brand, but he was determined to work with Rhys because I think to be honest he fell in love with him a bit (I was busy being in love with Russell)! Rhys had this reel, though, which was full of humour and warmth, and this great energy.

David worked hard to get Rhys on board with financiers, and I’m delighted he managed to because the performance Rhys puts in is just wonderful. If there is a comedy god I hope he has BAFTA’s number, because he and Stephen put in these quite amazing performances.

Funny, moving, wonderful. Just rich. I should also mention Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood), who is just hilarious in this as a cocky gay Norwegian, and I’m hoping True Blood fans aren’t too shocked at this new side to their favourite bloodsucker!

Despite its self-deprecating humour, Beyond The Pole manages to sneak in some genuinely thought-provoking commentary on climate change. Was the film intended as a kind of Trojan horse, where these themes could be presented without preaching at the audience?

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Our aim was to make a comedy. It has been described as a cross between The Office, Withnail & I and Touching The Void. That’s quite a few crosses, but I think they have a point. It’s a kind of action/adventure/comedy/disaster road movie in a land without roads that should make you laugh, cry and hopefully want to single-handedly change the world we live in before it’s too late!

Seriously though, most films worth their salt will have something to say about the world we live in. Even Avatar claimed that! We’re no different but ultimately this film is a comedy that I hope will be a cult hit, then a household name and ultimately a goddam blockbuster!

So much about the film game is PR and marketing money, but we’ve got a great story here and I think we’re in it for the long haul. Time will tell but I suspect we will be around long after a lot of the American blockbusters we hear so much about at the moment have vanished without trace.

Helen Baxendale, thank you very much!

Beyond The Pole is available on DVD and Blu-ray from today.