Good Luck to You, Leo Grande Director Sophie Hyde Talks About Exploring Sex and Sexuality on Screen and More in This Interview

Sophie Hyde’s work as a filmmaker has gone from strength to strength with a body of work in short form documentaries and fiction films before moving into feature films with the highly acclaimed drama 52 Tuesdays, before working in the UK with the truly excellent comedy/drama Animals. Now, in 2022, her most intimate film yet is released into the world as she teams up with Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack with the comedy/drama Good Luck to You, Leo Grande.

Here, Thompson plays Nancy Stokes, a widow who hires Leo Grande (McCormack), a sex worker, to explore the world of sex and sensuality that she has yearned for in her life. Across the tender 97-minute runtime, the audience is embraced with a vulnerable, open, and honest discussion about sex, the yearning for pleasure and satisfaction, and the role that sex workers play in satiating that desire. Hyde’s direction supports and amplifies Katy Brand’s intimate script that moves easily between the dramatic and the comedic, never leaning into the possible melodramatic or farcical trappings that these kinds of films have often found themselves moving into in the past.

In this interview, Sophie talks about her interest in exploring sex and sexuality on screen, how she managed that balance of comedy and drama, and what the importance of the set design was for the film itself.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is in Australian cinemas now. Nadine Whitney reviewed the film here, calling it a film that “is an emotional journey not only for the characters but also for the audience.”


There is a theme that sways in all of your feature films, which is [an] interest in digging into sexual desires, or sexuality and all the intricacies that come with sexuality. I’m curious for you, as a filmmaker, where that interest comes from?

SH: I’m just really interested in sex, I guess. [laughs] I think I’m really interested in who we are, what makes us who we are, and how we treat each other. And at the heart of that is identity and sexuality. They form how we connect to somebody else, how we feel about ourselves. And that can be very beautiful and intimate and inspiring. And it can also be very shameful, and I think that in our culture, we have a great deal of shame about all these things, our bodies, sexual desire, for instance, and sexuality.

And that means that we have a really hard time finding connection, or we have to do a lot of work to strip away all the walls and barriers that we put up that we think of the things that make us who we are to actually connect with somebody else. We always try to be so perfect all the time. One of the things I like about this film is like, whenever they’re not perfect, whenever they do something they think is wrong, they get deeper into it with each other, which is pretty true of life, I think,

That’s what I really love about the film, that it carries that emotional weight that’s there between people. I found this a really very powerful film. It also has moments of comedic lightness to elevate things. How did you find that balance of the comedy and the drama?

SH: It was really enjoyable for me actually, that kind of balancing act on this because, as you said a lot of the time I’ve dealt with my films with sex and sexuality and desire and those ideas. And I think I can be quite serious about things because these things matter a great deal to me. I think all of the things I’ve made have had a large amount of comedy in them, actually. But when you just go into something and go, “This is a comedy” – which is what we did with this, it’s a comedy – it helps me a lot to kind of find freedom inside that to be like, “Okay, I want this to have a lightness to it.”

But I still want those things to be real and truthful underneath. We need to be making an audience laugh, making an audience feel good and allowing a sort of fizziness to happen. And so, for me, it’s very freeing as a director. I think I’ll always be like, “I’m making a comedy”, [laughing] no matter what it is now, just because it allows me to find something.

I did this weird survey thing [with] Emma and Katy Brand, the writer, and Debbie [Gray], the producer, when we first started and I asked them a whole lot of questions because I knew the kind of film I wanted to make. And I wanted to make sure we all wanted to make the same kind [of film] or that I was achieving what they wanted as well. And I asked a whole lot of questions, and I was like “What kind of film need does it need to be? What’s the most important thing?” [And Emma] was just like “Funny, funny, funny, funny,” with her response. But what’s great about Em, of course, is that she wants to drill into the truth as well. She doesn’t want the funny to overtake that.

With that in mind, your films really do give the actors the space to explore emotional freedom and intimacy and vulnerability. How do you manage to get them to the right space on the day when you’re shooting?

SH: In a real mixed bag kind of way. There’s a method that sort of developed over the years, I try and think about what it is that I want them to feel in a scene or come to in a scene, and then try and create a whole lot of exercises and parameters and things around them to make that happen. And there’s no answer to it. It’s just the truth is I try to be vulnerable with them, and not too vulnerable, as in I can’t be director who’s standing there being like, I need to look good all the time, or I need to show you that I know what I’m doing, all of those things. I have to be someone that’s like, “If you’re willing to put yourself on the line, I’m willing to put myself on the line too.” The way that we converse with each other is very open and free and frank, while at the same time behind the scenes, I’m like, “How do I make sure this happens?”

I actually relate very strongly to the character of Leo, because to find and create professional intimacy with somebody means that while you’re always thinking about “How do I get them to experience what they want?”, or “How do I open them up?”, or “How do I achieve what they need?”, you also have to bring yourself in in a very present and real way. And I think that’s what Leo’s doing all the time, his performance, the fantasy that he creates, it includes himself in it. He’s there, and he’s present, and it’s real, even though it’s a performance, which is what you do as a director, and what actors do too, I think. So I find there’s a lot in him that is very much like making the movie.

You started working as a director in Adelaide, now you’re making films with Emma Thompson, have you had a chance to reflect on where your career has taken you, and who you’re working with and what you’re doing now?

SH: I just feel really pleased and delighted. I always had this thing, because I am a director from Adelaide, you’ll know because you’re Western Australian, it’s slower in some ways for us, because if you choose not to leave, it takes more time. One of the things that happened to me [in] taking more time was that I formed a really strong group of people, we formed a very strong collective and connection and creative collaboration between us in Adelaide that allowed us to really focus on the work. We’ve got really strong development muscles, and really strong making muscles. We’re not sort of business focused, and we don’t look out at the world as much as we could. And we don’t go out a lot. [laughing] So it has been slower.

I don’t know if it took me longer to know everyone in the industry, and I still don’t really. But it means that my focus has been on just making good work with the people I think are good at it and trying to get better at it myself. And so, to work with someone like Emma on this, who’s [at the] top of her game, like World Class, it feels like working with anyone that’s really, really great. And they exist all over the place, including in Adelaide. And it’s a true collaboration, and it feels good.

I feel so lucky, actually. I feel so privileged to be able to really just focus on what I care about, and what I love doing with great people wherever they are in the world, and to keep making those choices. And then to have someone like Emma brings this attention to a story like this, that it just wouldn’t have. You could make a very similar film – I mean, you’d still need someone to do the kind of performance that Emma did – but without somebody who’s so well recognised. But there’s this cultural conversation that is opens when someone like Emma is in a movie like this. That’s just thrilling to me. I’m just very happy.

One of the things which I love about this film is the choice of the window. And I’m curious if you can talk about the importance of the window in a hotel room for you?

SH: I think when there’s a two people in a room, and they’re going to have sex, or it’s about sex, you think maybe it’s going to be in the dark, like it’ll be meetings at night. And I sort of really loved the idea that actually the light was really important to us. If we had only two characters, and not many location changes, we needed something that felt like it shifted. And for me, that was the light. The window became very important because we wanted a kind of modern hotel that felt in between posh and cheap, like not leaning too far either way. And so that kind of big, big window became the thing that showed us what sort of building it was, I didn’t want to do exteriors or anything.

I said to Bryan [Mason], who shot the film and edited it, “I want there to be light in every shot. I want to shoot into the window almost all the time,” which is a really intense thing to say to a DP. Like, “Oh, my God.” It really gave us the look of the film, once we found how to do that and how to make that work. That and the neutral palate of the hotel room, there’s beautiful textures and stuff, and it’s a really well designed by Miren [Marañón]. But it did need to be neutral so it wasn’t drawing attention. It wasn’t saying ‘this is a seductive space’ or whatever. The window became crucial so that we could see time change and that we could change what was going on in the outside world, even though we were very much focused on them.

And it was fun, because obviously, [in] the first meeting the sun goes down, and the third meeting, the rain is happening. And we don’t really show any of that in any kind of cutaways outside, we don’t even know what the exterior of the hotel looks like, actually. We did shoot a couple of things outside, not establishing, but they never felt like the right things to bring in.

I don’t know if you’ve seen How to Please a Woman or not, but I love the kind of the way that these two films bounce off one another.

SH: It’s great. And also Renee, who made that film, she was the director on Aftertaste Season Two, which is my company’s TV show, which I haven’t been involved in. But it’s a really interesting thing, it is nice to think that desire might be something we’re talking about more and, and in all different ways like this.

I love that these conversations are opening up cinematically. Every conversation I’ve heard from audience members coming out of both of those films has been very much “Oh, gosh, I’m so glad this film exists, because I can now talk with these people about the kinds of things.”

SH: That’s really nice, isn’t it? There’s a permission that happens with some movies where it’s like it’s okay to see it and it’s okay to then talk about it. I mean, Em and I often talk about wanting audiences to feel better when they leave the cinema. That’s part of the goal. And I hope that feel better means [to] open up and talk to each other as well.

Andrew F Peirce

Andrew is passionate about Australian cinema, Australian politics, Australian culture, and Australia in general. Found regularly talking online about Sweet Country, and reminding people to watch Young Adult.

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