Two Strangers Who Meet Five Times is an eye-opening film that addresses racism and homelessness in London in 2018. Not only is this an award-winning film but also this film is eligible to be considered for a 2019 Academy Award. Film and Television Business had the pleasure of interviewing director Marcus Markou. Our interview consisted of a variety of questions such as what inspired him to make this short, what made him want to become a director, the casting process and why it is important to acknowledge racism and its effect on people.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? Where did you grow up? What made you want to become a director?
I always had a love of acting at school and I always wanted to be an actor. However, as the eldest son of Greek Cypriot immigrants, the idea of acting seemed like a frivolous, irresponsible act. I started my working life as a magazine journalist then at 27 I went to LAMDA. However, not long after that, the pull of publishing took me into an online venture – and an Internet startup. Whilst growing this business I worked with an improv theatre company and started writing plays. Then from plays, I went to short films and feature films.
What inspired you to make this short?
After Brexit, we’d all seen this spike in intolerance in ordinary situations. So I wanted to explore this and find a compassionate angle. I had a colleague at work who had experienced this and I wondered what would happen if then met his abuser again in a formal situation, like a job interview.
Why did you start off with the second time they met instead of the first?
Because the second time these two strangers meet is that ordinary everyday situation that then starts to turn nasty. So the story does start there and we then explore the future but also the past of these two people. Each exploration is a revelation.
Have you ever witnessed or had any encounters like the one Alistair and Samir had on their second meeting?
Yes, my colleague at work was racially abused – more severely than I pictured in the short film – outside a tube station during rush hour. It seems that these ordinary situations of being at the shop till or bus queue or cash point can push people over the edge.
Why is it important to acknowledge racism and its effects on people?
Because racism is illogical. It’s an act of insanity. Racism creates a judgment on someone’s entire life based on their skin tone. This is ludicrous.
Tell us about the casting process.
In this case, I looked at a lot of showreels and came across Laurence Spellman. His showreel stood out. And then his CV showed he had worked with some of the best theatre directors in the country, more than once. If Trevor Nunn is hiring you repeatedly, then that is good enough for me. In the meeting with Laurence, he mentioned his friend Sargon Yelda. They had been at primary school together and then lost touch until they were reunited at the National Theatre in an Ibsen production (which I had coincidentally seen). I loved that their own lives mirrored in some way the story. And Sargon’s theatre credits were outstanding – with many examples of great theatre directors hiring Sargon on a repeated basis.
Why did you film Two Strangers in London?
Apart from that fact that I live and work in London, I do think London has a global appeal in storytelling terms – like New York. It is a melting pot of cultures and people. And so stories set in London can have a universal appeal.
How has the audience been reacting to your film?
Most people have been moved by the film – often in ways I never imagined. Full on tears. Recently, someone sent a picture of themselves having just seen the film with makeup running down her face and looking broken – with the message “what this film has done to me”. It’s a very strange business that we take pleasure from creating so much pain! But it is good pain. It should be cathartic, it should release pain. I’ve always wanted to tell those stories. But they are not easy to get right. And shorts have the power to do this. And I have always been a huge fan of Oscar Wilde’s shorts. I have yet to read the Happy Prince without crying. It triggers something every time. The same happens when I read Paul Gallico’s Snow Goose.
What projects are up next for you?
I am working on a feature film called Crazy Blue about a former boyband star from the 90s, who is now a forgotten recluse, living alone but is saved by this crazy family who ends up moving in with him. It’s a love story and a comedy and I think in these Brexit and Trump times it’s needed badly.