Stephen Graham Talks Feeling The Heat In Exemplary One-Shot British Drama ‘Boiling Point’

If you think that a 92-minute British drama following the staff and head chef of a restaurant on the busiest night of the year isn’t going to be one of the most intense and gut-wrenchingly anxious things you’ll see this year, you’re mistaken.

Boiling Point, directed and co-written by Philip Barantini, stars one of the UK’s finest acting talents, Stephen Graham, as the gastronomic leader whose world is on the verge of collapse. Filmed in one continuous shot, the film is an outstanding work that deserves to be considered one of the best movies of 2021. It quite rightly leads the nominations at this year’s British Independent Film Awards with a total of 11 nods.

I caught up with Graham to discuss the drama produced by his company, Matriarch Productions, which was a race against time with constant challenges and a journey that has led to critical acclaim. 

Simon Thompson: I was genuinely surprised how Boiling Point left me exhausted, shaken and in pieces. It is way more intense and emotional than I was expecting.

Stephen Graham: It really is. Hopefully, people won’t go into with any expectations or any idea of what’s going to happen, and then all of a sudden, you’re taking on this everyday journey in this man’s existence and experiencing this hour and 32 minutes of it. It’s not just about one man’s life, though; it’s about every single person that is in his orbit. You get to have a little peek into their worlds in a way that is slightly voyeuristic. What I’m really proud of with Boiling Point is the journey that we take you on. Someone else said to me is that when they watch it, they want to know more about the characters you’ve seen, which is excellent. There are lots of emotions. My favorite part, which really wowed me, was the moment in the kitchen with the pastry chef, Emily, and her protégé, Jamie. When I saw that, I was just like, ‘Oh my God!’ I didn’t see that on set because I was waiting for the DOP to come back through the kitchen and pick up with us somewhere else. I didn’t see it until we saw the whole piece, and it was so powerful.

Thompson: That moment made me feel like I’d had the air sucked out of me.

Graham: Nobody sees it coming. It comes from nowhere, and it’s played so subtly and so beautifully by Hannah Walters (Graham’s wife) as Emily and Stephen McMillan, who plays Jamie. She throws this intense moment away and tells him they’ll deal with it after the shift, and they carry on with what we’re doing. We never go back to that moment, but you watch it, and you’re like, ‘No, I want to know what happens. I want to know how he gets on.’ That snippet of life, then having it go away again, is incredible. It’s so hard to do.

MORE FOR YOU

Thompson: It was incredible. Boiling Point is one long shot. I’m assuming that if something went wrong, you had to start at the very beginning again? How many times did you have to film it? I’m thinking you only had the restaurant for a certain number of nights?

Graham:  What an observation. You’re right. There was a loose script. There were bullet points and elements that said things about certain characters that we needed to tie in together, but on top of that, there was predominantly a lot of improvisation. It’s the same way that Shane Meadows works. It’s fresh, every single take. There might be an idea that you have or that the director liked and wanted you to try and follow up with, but that was it. Matthew Lewis, our DOP, was 23 years old. He was incredible. The lad carried the camera right out in front of him. He had this little device strapped to his back that allowed him to have it suspended there, but for 92 minutes, he’s carrying that thing around and filming. It was like a jigsaw. 

Thompson: Like a great dish, Boiling Point had to have all the right ingredients in the exact right amounts.

Graham: Exactly. It was such an honor to be a part of this with our production company, Matriarch Productions. In the words of Stanislavski, without sounding pretentious, there is no such thing as small characters; there are only small actors. For this, there were no egos on the set. Everybody was integral to the story. Everybody was important for the movements of the story, and whatever arc or journey each character was on, it was all relevant for the story that we were telling. You can imagine the kind of pressure there was, but it was vital to eliminate that pressure and make it feel as authentic as possible. You don’t want to be the person that gets it wrong. If you can imagine the intense concentration on that set and the energy and the f**king frequency that we would all vibrate at because everybody wanted to do the best for each other. Personally, I’ve never been in an environment like that as an actor, with the amount of support and, without wanting to sound w**ky about it, the collective consciousness. the energy in that room was f**king palpable. It was ridiculous. When we finished the shoot and got the take, it was like winning the World Cup or something.

Thompson: When you got the take that is the movie we see, did the director ever turn around and say, ‘Stephen, let’s try for another, just in case.’

Graham: (Laughs) Yes, he did. We did two takes a day. We did two takes on the first day, and it was like, ‘Okay, this is good. We’ll come back tomorrow, and we’ll get ready to do it again.’ Right at the beginning, I said we’d get the take we wanted on the third go. We came back the next day; that was the day that Boris Johnson shut everything down, so that was our last chance, and we had the possibility of doing two takes. We did the warm-up, and we walked through everything, all the set dressers did their thing, and the real chefs were preparing and cooking the food we needed. When we were ready, we went for that third take and got it in the can. Everyone was buzzing, the energy was great, the atmosphere was fantastic; however, Phil said, ‘I think we could get it a little bit better. I think we could do one more technically perfect,’ and I was like, ‘Grrrrrrrrr!’ Anyway, we did it again, and from an acting perspective, it was as good as the third take, but some of the stuff that a lot of people might not notice in the movie theaters was a bit more polished. So technically, the fourth take was better. However, my viewpoint was that I didn’t think anyone would give a f**k about it technically because we’re following performances right the way through this situation. If we lost interest in any one of these performances, or any bit of this story, we’ve lost that audience, and we can’t afford to do that. It wasn’t like we could insert a montage or a car chase or something like that. We had to keep the audience in the restaurant, in the kitchen, focused on these people, so the performances had to be at their peak. We had that on the third take. Phil agreed, and the take that I knew would be the best one, the third one, was the one we ended up using.

Thompson: Shooting Boiling Point in this way is no mean feat.

Graham: What we had to do became like a ballet in many aspects. It was almost choreography. There had to be a magical synchronicity between the DOP and the cast. You had to be fully aware of your surroundings, where he was and where he was going to be, and where you needed to be as an actor. You also had to keep it as realistic, as truthful, and as authentic as possible. It was like doing a play but doing a play and film are different disciplines. This was minimalistic and needed to keep that true social realism aspect of acting within that one hour and 32 minutes of non-stop movement.

Thompson: I also wanted to ask about the environment you were in. The level of focus for the improvisation is intense, there’s so much to think about, but you’re also doing it in a working kitchen, and those places are hot, noisy, smelly, distracting environments. That is an extra level of challenge.

Graham: Oh, you’re absolutely right. It also puts you right in the moment. To me, acting is about being in the moment and also listening and reacting. That’s the art of it, for me, because that’s how it is in life, unless you’re entirely driven by ego, and you don’t listen to what anyone else says. It’s about being open to the possibilities of anything happening within that moment, and the kitchen environment where you open the oven and that f**king heat almost knocks you out, it is intense. It’s not like we could shoot that scene 17 times. It was a boiling hot f**king oven, and the heat was going to whack you in the face, and you’re going to have to get out whatever is in there and carry on like it’s not a big deal. It was a wonderful exercise for all of us to be in the moment and play the moment that we were in, but it wasn’t comfortable. It was absolutely worth it, though.

Boiling Point is in theaters now and On Demand and Digital from Tuesday, November 23, 2021.

The Tycoon Herald