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The Man Behind ‘Gregory’s Girl’

Scottish director BIll Forsyth talks about his latest film and the upcoming ‘Local Hero’

Gregory's Girl

Clare Grogan has a crush on Gordon John Sinclair in 'Gregory's Girl.'

Samuel Goldwyn Company/Getty Images

AS BLOCKBUSTER after blockbuster clutters America’s movie houses, a small Scottish movie shot on a shoestring budget of $400,000 by a director making only his second nonindustrial film is garnering critical raves and ever-increasing audiences. The movie is Gregory’s Girl, and it’s an affectionate and insightful look into the world of burgeoning adolescence. Gregory (Gordon John Sinclair) is a Scottish high-schooler who seeks to win the heart of Dorothy (Dee Hepburn), a voluptuous tomboy who becomes the school’s top soccer player.

To capitalize on the film’s excellent word-of-mouth, Gregory’s Girl has been released slowly, much in the manner of Chariots of Fire. “There’s no way you can force it on people,” says the film’s director, Bill Forsyth. “It’s just got to find its audience.” Over a bowl of chili in a New York restaurant not long ago, I chatted with the unpretentious thirty-five-year-old Forsyth about his charming celluloid confection.

How did you get the idea for Gregory’s Girl’?
It was an act of desperation, really. I was at the end of my tether in terms of wanting to make industrial films. I’d done it for six or seven years, and there wasn’t even a living in it.

It seemed to me that if I wanted to make any features at all, I should try to get some experience working with actors. I thought that working with kids would be an easy way into that, so I went to the Youth Theatre in Glasgow and just began to settle in on what they were doing there. I spent about three years with a group of kids, getting to know them and working on ideas with them. And Gregory’s Girl came about during that period

What was the most uncomfortable moment?
The scene with the newspaper reporter, when he comes into the locker room to interview Dorothy. I didn’t have very much time to work with them on that; he just dropped into the scene, and everyone else had been around a long while.

And another thing: when we were filming, Gordon was actually getting on with Dee. And during that scene, Gordon became jealous because between takes, the other guy was chatting up Dee. And he had a car he could really drive. So the whole thing became real. He was really mad, you know!

Gregory’s sister is intelligent without being smug. How’d you manage that?
I was very worried about that; I’d seen other films where you get this kind of smartass ten-year-old girl. I was very conscious about not sliding into that, not trying to make her a smartass in the sense of giving her adult dialogue and just having her say it in a smart way. I think it was really the care we took in avoiding that.

Viewers in tune with the British rock scene will notice Clare Grogan, the lead singer for Altered Images, in the movie. Was she also in the acting company?
Actually, she wasn’t. She was a waitress in a restaurant in Glasgow, and I just asked her if she’d like to be in a movie. She thought it was a joke, but she gave me her telephone number anyway.

Did you have a part in mind for her? Was it the look she had?
I just wanted to get to know her, really [laughing]. She was just kind of fascinating. And I thought she’d be really good in a movie.

You end the film with Gregory and Susan, Clare’s character, walking together, and then a shot of Dorothy running by herself. Why?
It was just to wind up all the elements, really. I wanted that shot of Dorothy because she, in a sense, represented something beyond herself. The kind of unattainable woman that maybe haunts you all your life. So I wanted to get her on the road again.

Your next project is a comedy called Local Hero. Is there anybody of note in it, or are you going to make more stars?
Well, there’s Burt Lancaster. He’s quite a star already [laughing]. And he seems like a really nice guy. There doesn’t seem to be any of the star thing with him at all. He’s just a really good, hard-working actor.

It seems like a lot has happened in the course of two years: you go from making films about building bridges to working with Lancaster in Texas.
Yeah, but I don’t suppose it can happen any other way. Things change, you know.

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