Harry Wootliff and stars on Glasgow drama Only You

Glasgow plays a pivotal role in the new romantic drama Only You, which follows a couple from a New Year's Eve hookup to the trials of conceiving a baby. We speak to director Harry Wootliff and stars Laia Costa and Josh O’Connor about the film

Feature by Josh Slater-Williams | 21 Jun 2019
  • Only You

Take the captivating Spanish lead (Laia Costa) of the single-take German wonder Victoria, the breakout star of God’s Own Country (Josh O’Connor), and a BAFTA-nominated writer-director of acclaimed shorts (Harry Wootliff), and you have Only You, a romantic drama that makes some of the most vibrant use of Glasgow as a cinematic setting in recent memory.

Following a shared taxi-based meet cute, Elena and Jake start a passionate relationship that turns into something long-term. Ominous signs are afloat, though. Elena, nearing 40 and nine years older than Jake, is insecure about her age, and their romance struggles under pressure to have kids. Complications with conceiving and the ordeal of fertility treatments don’t always get the most nuanced explorations onscreen, if they’re depicted in depth at all, but Wootliff’s film is an intimate and touching exploration of an issue sometimes still considered taboo.

Ahead of Only You’s world premiere at last year’s London Film Festival, Wootliff and her stars spoke to us about their drama.

Why Glasgow for the film’s setting?

Harry Wootliff: It was going to be set in Leeds because that's where I'm from. And then we got Scottish money [including from Creative Scotland], so we set it in Glasgow. But I love Glasgow. I'm so happy to have set it in Glasgow, even just to have characters have a Scottish accent; dialogue-wise, everything sounds a bit better in a Scottish accent. So, it was partly to do with the funding, but partly because it's a northern city so it's quite easy for me to relate to. It was perfect being there. We filmed in a small area, barely left Finnieston. 

Where did the film’s story originate?

HW: I wanted to write a relationship film that had a problem at the heart of it that felt very contemporary, and also was quite a taboo subject that people didn't talk about. And I wanted it to feel like you're a fly on the wall in that relationship; that it's very intimate and real.

Josh and Laia, what drew you to the material?

Josh O’Connor: I really fell in love with the relationship. I liked the idea it presented that love isn't just as straightforward as, 'It’s love, you either love each other or you don't'. There are other aspects to it or societal norms that can influence where that journey goes. It was a love story that I hadn't seen before, told in a way that was really new and exciting. And also, I met Harry and I really liked Harry. 

Laia Costa: I loved the story a lot, but I was very aware there was a lot of stuff that I was not really getting about both characters: why they're saying that or why they are acting this way. And then I talked to Harry over Skype, and then I was like, “Oh, I'm realising there's a lot of stuff that actually is very far away from my reality.” And that was something really interesting to me. If you have a role where someone is inviting you to discover new realities, I think we as actors go crazy about this stuff. It’s been one of the most interesting projects for me because I think that I've been growing up a lot as a human being with it. 

Harry, evidently, they love you. What did you love about them?

HW: I don’t want this to sound like an insult towards Josh, but Josh, when he read it, managed to capture the naïvety and the wisdom that the character has. He managed to make him lacking self-awareness, manipulative and very charming at the same time. I think it's a really difficult part to play because of the lack of self-consciousness of that character. He has lines which are so romantic that could just sound cheesy and terrible, but they needed to sound real. I knew that you could read them on the page and think, 'Who would say that?' But I knew there was a version in my head where they would sound natural and real. And in a way, when you meet someone and you say those things to them, they are real; they are so romantic but they are so real. He’s not a player in any way.

And Laia I had seen in Victoria and she's amazing. I was just 100 percent that I wanted Laia, without the need for reassurance from others. I want Laia and I don't care what anyone else says.

It’s a very emotionally raw film, but also very funny in places.

HW: What was interesting with the humour is that I knew that it was on the page, but I think we must all have a shared sense of humour because they really picked up on it and ran with it. The couple have a really good sense of humour.

JO'C: I think that was it for me. It was always just that Jake and Elena are, I think, very funny. I find them funny.

Did you take anything from your real life relationships that influenced how you played this one?

LC: Elena is so far away from my real life that I could not take anything from myself. That's why I was like, “Maybe I'm not getting her at the beginning.” That's why I think being an actor is such a gift because it's about trying to really become people that you are not like.

JO'C: To go on what Harry was saying earlier, where there’s lines like, “You're my everything”. I think, to a certain extent, of course you have to glean from human experience. If I look at a line like that and I think of when I've been in love, I would say things where in my head afterwards, I would think, “Fuck, it’s actually kind of mental that I said that.” But in the moment, you don't think that. You don't have that kind of self-consciousness. You’re just saying it because that's how powerful love can be. So, I’m gleaning stuff from that, but nothing specific because, as Laia said, the joy of what we do at work is that we get to make something up.

LC: And also, it’s not just about the actors but also the director, because when my husband saw the movie, he told me, “I've never seen you talking like this or doing these gestures ever.” He’s my husband and we’ve been together 12 years, so he knows me very well, and he was like, “I've never seen you convey these emotions.” And I think it's because of Harry.

JO'C: I also think that there's this really cool relationship in this film with [the cinematographer] Shabier Kirchner, who’s like a third lover in this relationship. It almost felt like we were dancing, moving or arguing with him in some scenes.

Elvis Costello’s song I Want You features prominently in the film’s opening meet cute and also later in the film. Was it always in your mind when writing?

HW: I put that really early in the script. Okay, what they're going to dance to? Oh, Elvis Costello's cool. That would be really good. Sort of romantic but edgy. I wrote it in and then kept it from the very first draft. For the whole soundtrack in the film, you hear lots of tracks played out quite long and quite high in the mix. So, you really feel the music, but it's not manipulative and feels very eclectic.

Only You is released in cinemas and on-demand 12 Jul by Curzon Artificial Eye