We caught up with rising director Carol Morley (The Falling, The Alcohol Years) for our second chat on her highly-cerebral and sublimely-beautiful neo-noir Out of Blue, based on Martin Amis's novel "Night Train". Our first interview, with Out of Blue's composer Clint Mansell (who also did films like Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan, and Loving Vincent), can be read here.

In Out of Blue, Patricia Clarkson (The Green Mile, Sharp Objects) is New Orleans homicide Detective Mike Hoolihan who investigates the murder of noted astrophysics and black hole expert Jennifer Rockwell (Mamie Gummer) – the case leaves the typically stoic, no-nonsense Detective Hoolihan questioning her own reality and the universe.

Out of Blue is a smart, subtle, and savvy film noir. It is as if The Big Sleep and True Detective Season 1 had a hard-boiled, cinematic daughter who was raised by Raymond Chandler and loved reading his detective novels in between books on quantum theory. It is surreal, sublime, and so beautiful to look at, in huge part because of Morley's exceedingly purposeful and intuitive hand as director.

Morley also used the New Orleans backdrop to phenomenal effect; in essence making it its own character with all the eccentricities you can imagine a place like The Big Easy has. Clarkson being born and raised there, also contributed much to both Out of Blue's atmosphere and this city-as-character idea.

The result is fantastic entertainment that does not assume (as so many films do nowadays) that its audience is made up of complete idiots who won't understand the plot unless its spoon fed to them. Out of Blue is mature entertainment that gives its audience the dignity of assuming they are capable enough to understand such a mature plot and such complex content.   

Carol Morley. Photo Courtesy: Paul Marc Mitchell.

Catch Out of Blue in UK and Irish cinemas now and enjoy the interview below.

Hello Carol and welcome to The 405! What inspired you to take Martin Amis' source novel and make a neo-noir feature out of it?

I really loved the themes of cosmology and the detective. The book was written as a noir – so that was in the pages – but I did have the total freedom to take it to the places that felt right. I expanded on some characters and invented others – such as Toby Jones's character Ian Strammi. That name is actually an anagram of Martin Amis!

[Laughs] Nice. I did not make that connection.

I wanted to put the author within the film. So I consider the film a radical adaptation of Martin Amis' novel "Night Train" – not a description of it – Out of Blue is more like a companion piece.

Interesting. I'm going to have to read Amis's novel now. What were the challenges like?

There are always so many challenges to a film – bringing it to life. Not least of all financing! 

Yep. That is almost always the central answer I get when I ask that question.

There were many people on the film I had not collaborated with before, so you have to go deep very quickly in terms of those relationships – which is daunting but ultimately very rewarding.  New Orleans is an amazing place to film, but we had a hurricane warning on day one of our filming! Prior to that at some points in prep we were knee deep in water – so that was a challenge!

Wow. Yeah, I know the city pretty well, which is the perfect segue to another interesting point about Out of Blue. You really did well in using the New Orleans backdrop in the story to where the city is almost its own character. What was your creative process like towards that end?

It really helped that Patricia Clarkson is a born and bred New Orleanian – as I had always hoped that Mike would represent the city.

Patricia is an amazing actor. She is such a beautiful, nuanced performer. She brought so much to Detective Mike Hoolihan – imbued her with a lot of depth. I feel honoured to have worked with her! 

Clarkson was such an incredible asset to the film. As she always is to anything she was in. I absolutely adored her in Sharp Objects. Absolutely haunting.

She [Mike Hoolihan] is (unconsciously) hiding her past, and it felt like often Southern cities do too. I really wanted to bring out the city without it being on the nose, or touristy in any way, to construct and capture the atmosphere.

You accomplished that spectacularly. The south, I think, will reckon with quite a lot in its history for some time still. Those (historical) ghosts are very real in that region with its blood-soaked history. It is reflected from even something as simple as driving through those cities.

So much of a city is seen through the windows of a car – so, I wanted to emphasise that and much of the feeling of New Orleans is created through glimpses, and colour, and sounds, and of course Clint Mansell's musical score – which brings in instrumentation associated with the city, without being obvious.

Patricia Clarkson as Detective Mike Hoolihan in this still from OUT OF BLUE.

I enjoyed interviewing Clint. His time in the city I think really helped him strike the right tone for Out of Blue's score. Any funny or memorable moments from filming?

Well, our cat actor made the newspaper!

[Laughs] That's great.

In fact there were two cats. They were Russian Blues and a handler came to New Orleans from Mississippi with a cat actor in a very fancy box and the cat and box were stolen from her hotel room.

Oh no!

So we had to get another cat at very short notice. Happily the cat was returned to the hotel a couple of nights later, without the box. But, yes "Cat Actor Star Stolen" was a headline – which is meaningful since Schrödinger's Cat is such a part of the film story!

[Laughs] That's funny! Couldn't be a more perfect headline.

Switching gears a bit, one question I like to ask everyone, what makes a great film?

Casting is everything. Without the right person cast in the right part, nothing matters. They are the connection to the story and to the emotional heart and in the end to the audience.

You'd be surprised how little I get that response when I ask that question, Carol. You're absolutely right though: if it's not the right person the film will suffer. Another question I like to ask everyone, what directors and films have been most influential on you as an artist?

Douglas Sirk for his wonderful melodramas, Maya Deren for her experimental films of the '40s of which she said something like, "I can make a film for what Hollywood spends on lipstick" – and Jane Campion – who from the moment I saw her short films and her first feature Sweetie, I fell in love with!

I adore Deren's work! Meshes of the Afternoon is one of my favorite short films ever (watch it FREE here). She was also a prolific influence over David Lynch.

Patricia Clarkson as Detective Mike Hoolihan in this still from OUT OF BLUE.

Our last question Carol, what's next for you? I hope there's more neo-noir in your future, I really enjoyed Out of Blue.

My next film is a radical biopic of an unknown artist called Audrey Amiss. It’s going to be called "Typist Artist Pirate King" – the occupation she gave to herself!

Cool!

She experienced mental health issues all her life, and documented her life through her art, letters, and diaries. Read more about the project in this article I wrote for The Guardian!

But I'll never say no to another neo-noir!

Follow Carol Morley on Twitter. Follow Out of Blue on Twitter and like the film on Facebook.

THE FALLING (2014) trailer.

DREAMS OF A LIFE (2011) trailer.