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Charlotte Regan on her film 'Scrapper'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

When the film "Scrapper" opens, Georgie is a 12-year-old who doesn't play. She cleans, she vacuums, takes out the trash and steals bikes with her pal to sell them. She comes up with a clever way to conceal from social welfare workers that her mother has died, her father's never been around, and she's on her own. Then one day somebody jumps the backyard fence.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SCRAPPER")

LOLA CAMPBELL: (As Georgie) What are you doing in my garden?

HARRIS DICKINSON: (As Jason) Are you Georgie?

CAMPBELL: (As Georgie) Who's asking?

DICKINSON: (As Jason) I'm Jason. I'm your dad.

SIMON: "Scrapper" won a grand jury prize at Sundance. It stars Harris Dickinson and Lola Campbell and is written and directed by Charlotte Regan in her feature debut. Charlotte Regan joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

CHARLOTTE REGAN: Aw, no, thank you so much for having me.

SIMON: How did you create this savvy and profane and delightful young woman?

REGAN: Oh, God knows. I think it was all down to Lola Campbell, who we cast. She's, like, the most incredible child I've ever met in my life and has such a mix of maturity and willingness to play and believe in magic. So she's incredible.

SIMON: Well, where does the story come from?

REGAN: I think I always kind of wanted to tell a story about working-class characters that didn't come across as depressing and let them lean into the joy of their life, like working class characters that aren't defined by their hardship or their trauma. They're just existing and just playing and just like, allowed to be free and joyful. So I think that was kind of the anchor of the film. And beyond that, it's just evolved over so many years.

SIMON: We should note Georgie lives in a public housing complex. It's a row of little houses painted all pastels.

REGAN: Yeah, I think me and the cinematographer Molly were just so aware that even during the summer in Britain it is often just pouring with rain. And we were so keen that cinematically it kind of looked different to those kind of desaturated kitchen sink dramas that you usually get out of Britain. So I kind of was quite adamant that we paint the houses and my producer wasn't impressed or happy with it.

SIMON: (Laughter).

REGAN: It took him months to convince people to paint their houses a pastel color. So yeah, it wasn't the easiest, but I think it was worth it for sure.

SIMON: How did you come to cast Lola Campbell, find her, put her into the film?

REGAN: I often think she found us, and she would have found us no matter what. But she sent in this incredible tape just talking about Home Bargains, which is, like, a discount store. And she was obsessed with that shop and still is. So she didn't do anything I asked her to do on the tape. She just rambled away about how great this shop is.

SIMON: (Laughter).

REGAN: And just from the moment I saw it, I was I was pretty much like, it's her or no one. No one else can play it other than her. And we'd seen hundreds of young people, and they were all kind of incredible in their own right. But Lola, I think, is the best actor I've ever worked with and always will be. Even if you give me, like, Daniel Day-Lewis, I'll still be like, no, Lola.

SIMON: Well, if Daniel Day-Lewis is listening, he's got a high mark to meet.

REGAN: Yes.

SIMON: I want to ask you about - I don't mind telling you - my favorite scene. Georgie loses a tooth. Jason, trying this new paternal bit, goes to her pillow and puts his hand under her pillow to try and play tooth fairy.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SCRAPPER")

CAMPBELL: (As Georgie) What are you doing?

DICKINSON: (As Jason) I was looking for your tooth.

CAMPBELL: (As Georgie) Why would I put my tooth underneath my pillow?

DICKINSON: (As Jason) For the tooth fairy.

CAMPBELL: (As Georgie) What?

DICKINSON: (As Jason) You put your tooth under the pillow and the tooth fairy gives you a couple of quid, don't she?

CAMPBELL: (As Georgie) She's never done that before.

DICKINSON: (As Jason) Really?

CAMPBELL: (As Georgie) She must owe me, like, 20 quid, then.

SIMON: I love that scene. It imparts - it says so much about what they've both missed and what at least Jason is trying to do now.

REGAN: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. It's kind of a mix, really. I think it was meant to speak to all kind of, I think working-class kids who have had to shoulder quite a lot or have experienced quite a lot where they're such a mix of mature and so capable of having adult conversations - you know, she's looking after herself and living on her own. But then at the same time, the tooth fairy's real - she's also kind of willing to believe that. We've always called it, like, a coming of age in reverse. You know, it's Jason who's coming of age and it's Georgie who's doing the opposite. And I guess that was always kind of based on dads I recognized growing up.

SIMON: What do you think Jason begins to see as possibilities for his life with Georgie?

REGAN: He - him and Georgie, but him in particular, he starts the film flawed as a bad dad, and he ends it flawed as a bad dad, do you know what I mean? I kind of much prefer movies that feel true to life in that regard, because a lot of films by the end of the film, suddenly the bad dad has had a moment and become a good dad. But it just feels not very true to life. You know, we wouldn't all spend so much money going to therapy trying to fix our flaws if we could sort them all out within a couple weeks. That would be the dream, wouldn't it? So, you know, he's going to make as bad of an impact on her as he does a good one. But I kind of love the complexity of kind of parent-child relationships.

SIMON: I have read you grew up in London and started shooting what are called grime videos. Grime has some similarities to hip-hop, but its own British version, isn't it?

REGAN: Yeah, yeah. It's kind of like drill or hip-hop, but it's just the tempo that's different. So it's just a slightly kind of quicker speed. And it was like - it was a massive thing when I was young. All my friends were grime rappers. And I didn't really want to make films, but I went to the music studio with them and I recorded a few of my own songs. I was trying to be a rapper, and I was just absolutely shocking. I could tell by the reaction in the room that that wasn't the career for me. So the only alternative to stay in the music scene was my friends got me a camera and wanted me to film their videos. So I wish I was a rapper. Really I'm a frustrated rapper, but I don't have any rapping skills.

SIMON: Well, there's always time. But I'm interested in what you say about the reaction in the room. That must have been devastating.

REGAN: It was. It was heartbreaking to just see all your friends, like, really trying to be kind to you but also tell you you're absolutely shocking and have no natural talent is a blow for sure, yeah. But look, it all worked out, so what can you do, innit (ph)?

SIMON: What is it like to be on tour with a successful film, your debut feature, at a time when Hollywood is essentially shut down?

REGAN: Yes, it's strange for sure. Probably less of a feeling over here in the U.K., if you know what I mean. We're quite lucky that some of our cast have kind of been given permission to talk about this project in particular. So the cinemas are kind of still - yeah, pretty buzzing. It's such a weird mix, isn't it, because of what's going on? But then also it feels like such a moment in cinema with, like, "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer." Like, all my friends who have never before went to the cinema are suddenly seeing cinema as something to do on the weekends. So it feels like a very mixed time of, like, a brilliant time for cinema and for British cinema and new filmmakers in the U.K. Lots of my peers are making incredible films.

SIMON: I've read you want to direct a Bond film.

REGAN: I will direct wherever the money is right - you know, all very financial. But no, yeah, I love entertaining films. I love cinema that I go into it, and I come out feeling lighter and feeling kind of hype and energized, I guess. So I've always kind of loved the big spectacle kind of films.

SIMON: Yeah.

REGAN: They're my kind of movies, so hopefully one day - who knows? - if this doesn't go terribly, then you never know.

SIMON: Charlotte Regan is the writer and director of "Scrapper." Thank you so much for being with us.

REGAN: Thank you for taking the time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.