An interview with John Hillcoat, director of The Road

“Arriving at the Hove flat the film director John Hillcoat shares with his wife, the photographer Polly Borland, and their eight-year-old son, Louie, I’m met by a great pile of plastic toys dominating the huge Regency room. There’s a child’s drum kit, crates full of toy cars, space hoppers, a play stove … actually, there’s so much stuff it’s impossible to grasp with the eye, let alone enumerate. ‘Oh, gosh,’ says Hillcoat, in his soft Australian accent, ‘we’re having a material cull. We realised we hadn’t thrown anything out for years — since we moved here in fact.’

“It’s a nice irony, for The Road, the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel that Hillcoat has directed, is — looked at one way — all about stuff and the culling of it. Shot over the winter and spring of 2008-9 in four US states and more than 50 locations, The Road depicts with uncanny realism the halting progress of a father and his 11-year-old son (played, respectively, by Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee) across a post-apocalyptic America.

“All the useful stuff they have is stashed in a shopping trolley, while their desperate search for food is conducted against a backdrop of civilisation’s discarded toys, its smashed cars, crushed houses and defunct machinery.

“On the afternoon I speak with Hillcoat, he’s just learned that the film failed to secure any nominations for the Golden Globe awards. Despite this weighing a little heavily on him, he does his best to shrug it off: ‘The Globes are voted for by anyone in LA who’s ever written for a foreign newspaper or magazine,’ he says. ‘That means, like, Romanian cookery writers.’

“Nevertheless, the coming Baftas and, of course, the Oscars, are a real worry for the director — which is a shame, I think, because The Road is such an artistic triumph it should elevate Hillcoat above such mundane concerns. But that’s not the way it goes with the movies — and John Hillcoat knows that better than most. ‘It’s not awards per se that bother me, it’s entirely to do with the impetus they give for marketing a film.’

“The Road is only his fourth feature in more than 20 years, and while a lesser man might be tempted to blame the studio system, or the almighty dollar, Hillcoat owns his stuff: ‘Basically, I frittered away the Nineties making pop videos and being pretty self-indulgent.’

To read the rest of Self’s interview with John Hillcoat, visit the Evening Standard.