why tim walker's new film is all about mermaids

We catch up with Tim Walker and Ben Wishaw to talk film, fairytales and falling in love with one’s muse.

by Tish Weinstock
20 April 2015, 1:20pm

Fall down the rabbit hole and enter into the wonderful world of legendary photographer Tim Walker, where silver-haired mermaids swim in tanks and a lonely artist mourns his muse. A place where time stops and dreaming begins, Tim's latest poetic offering is a ten minute short starring Ben Wishaw as the grieving artist and Kristen McMenamy as his underwater muse. Inspired by the mermaid stills he took of Kristen for W Magazine, (she'd always wanted to be one and Tim had always wanted to shoot one); Tim brings the fairy tale alive in this captivating short. As The Muse is released exclusively on We Are Colony, we catch up with Ben and Tim.

What was it like working together?
Ben Wishaw: I loved it. I love working with Tim. He knows what he wants; he has a clear vision of things. So I trust him, really.

In order to produce a truly inspired piece of work do you find it beneficial to be on the same page creatively as the people around you or does working with people who have different ideas work better?
Tim Walker: I think it's good to be on the same page. Don't you think?
Ben: Absolutely.
Tim: But I think if you're working with someone you have to be very open. Sometimes I get stuck and it's good to ask someone, anyone, ''What can we do to make this better?'' Maybe they are on a different page and thinking about something differently that can really benefit the film or the picture. You never know what someone might say that inspires a whole new way of looking at things, so yeah. That's a good question. I think it's all about being open.

As a silent film, the axis around which the film revolves is movement - the constrictive movement of Kristen in the tank, the mournful body language of the artist - how much importance, Ben, do you place on movement and how conscious are you of your body in the way you act?
Ben: I think it's very important. If you see an actor not using their body, it can be very flat and then it's hard to get into them. It's about being expressive. 

Do you enjoy using your body as a vehicle for expression?
Ben: I do. I love moving and I love dancing and I love physicality in myself and in other people. I really appreciate it.

Do you prefer working with actors who have that same sense of physicality?
Ben: Not at all. I love different people; everyone comes from a different angle. Everyone's a different human so their acting will be different to yours. It's a very personal thing, acting. It comes from within.

Do you find that you are someone who really immerses yourself in a role, because some actors prefer to put on the mask of another character without really experiencing it?
Ben: I tend to be more instinctive. If I overly analyze…I'm much more interested in being surprised by something and where your intuition takes you. It's that thing of your intuition being faster than your mind. It's about using your instinct to its maximum capacity.

Are you a fan of spontaneity within acting?
Ben: Yeah, I love that. I think it's something I'm trying to achieve more.

Would you ever want to direct either a film or a play?
Ben: I'm really interested in all of that. Everyone is entitled to have a go, there's no wrong or right with directing. Some people do things; other people talk about doing things. I admire people who do things. I think it takes great courage to put a work out there and see it through.

Tim, your work deals with fantasy and fairytale, but how important is it to anchor it in the real and have that human element involved?
Tim: That's a really good question. Fantasy and make believe can't sing unless there is something real that happens within it. That could be a mistake or something that someone adds on the day or the spur of the moment that gives something life. I think that make believe and fantasy can't exist without a hook on reality. If it's all fake and fantastical, it doesn't grip or resonate. Don't you think?
Ben: Without a doubt.

What do you think it is about the mermaid specifically that is so captivating as an idea? Why does it have more mileage than, say, the siren or the centaur?
Tim: It's that nature element that we connect to. In modern times, we've sort of isolated ourselves from being part of the natural world. It's a mythical thing that is had connected to the ocean. It brings us back to the natural world, which is where we all come from.
Ben: I think there's a wildness to it which we find very attractive, it's the ocean.

How hard was it to pull off a film about a mermaid?
Tim: So difficult. Just watching it now all I was thinking was, "that tail doesn't look right." You see flaws all the time. I could see Kristen's feet. But when friends look at it, they just see the magic. I always find that you can always do better. But I think if you ever make something that's perfect, maybe it's game over and you retire. I mean, we didn't use any CGI.

Ben, how do you feel about watching yourself act?
Ben: Fine, most of the time, these days. I used to hate it and I still don't particularly like it with other people. But I've gotten over it; you have to.

You shot the entire thing on film, why choose film over digital?
Tim: I think digital ruins the whole flow. I did a job the other day where I had to use digital. I'd never done it before and it just killed it for me. It was horrific.
Ben: Why, was everyone just looking back at the pictures?
Tim: Everyone was just looking at the film. It was really eerie. All the people you normally ask questions were just in the corner looking at the film.

Whose idea was it to have the mermaid in a cage?
Tim: That came from Kristen, she's got a boyfriend who's an art collector and she made a joke that he's now collected her and put her in a fish tank. She was the trapped piece of art.

To watch The Muse exclusively and take a sneak peek at behind-the-scenes footage, head over to We Are Colony.

Tim Walker
ben wishaw