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Interview: Actors Joe Cole and Lina El Arabi on Making 'Eye on Juliet'

April 19, 2018Britany Murphy

In director Kim Nguyen's Eye on Juliet, a young man named Gordon sees a young woman named Ayusha one day, and then begins to fall for her. That, in and of itself, isn't strange. However, Gordon happens to be an employee of a security company who uses drones called hexapods to scout the perimeter of an oil pipeline, and Ayusha happens to be thousands of miles away.

An unconventional romance that shows us how love has no bounds, Eye on Juliet had its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this past year. And that's where The Reel Roundup sat down with stars of the movie, Joe Cole and Lina El Arabi, to discuss the pair's roles, the filming process, and much more.

What was the filming process like? Because your characters don't really have much face-to-face contact until the end of the movie. So, how was that to film?

Cole: Yeah, it was really a challenge. That was part of the reason why I wanted to do the film, because it was very different to anything I've done before. But yeah, largely acting into a computer screen with nothing on it — it was challenging just trying to find or have some sort of connection with Lina's character.

El Arabi: It was tough. It was really tough, but just like Ayusha doesn't know what Gordon looks like, I didn’t know how Joe looked like. And so, I had this in common with Ayusha — it was like our secret. [laughs] So, I created my own Joe Cole ad she created her own Gordon. And it was hard because it's a machine and you don't have any eye contact or emotions. And yes, it was such a big challenge.

When you actually filmed the scene where you two — your character, Ayusha, and Gordon — finally meet, did he match up to what you were picturing?

El Arabi: I was disappointed. [laughs] No, I'm kidding! It was weird because he did actually know me, because he worked with me on the screen, but we only had one day in Paris to do this scene. And for the first time, my whole person was Ayusha. Like, I was meeting Joe and she was meeting Gordon, so it was like reality and fiction was the same.

When you read the script, what drew you to the character of Ayusha?

El Arabi: I think that she's really strong and clever, and she knows what she wants. And she has the worst disease; I mean, she's in love. And I think she loves her family, but she loves her freedom too. I really admire her, actually.

The technology used in the film — the hexapods — is really different from any other movie I've seen. Was that something that drew you to the project when you were reading the script?

Cole: Yeah, I think Kim kind of built this world — this kind of odd sort of world, really — and the exploration of technology and all the rest of it was kind of fascinating. When I read it, it was just very different to anything I've read. And for that reason, I wanted to be involved.

What was it like working with Kim, and to have a director who allows you to explore the character and add your own things to the character?

Cole: Kim was a joy to work with; he's got a real zest for life, and he was very open to me exploring the character, and changing dialogue, and making it truthful to myself. And building this character together in a collaborative way, because of his support, it gave me a confidence to really sort of go for it. So, yeah, it was a real joy.

It's very freeing as an actor to do that, and it's not always the case. Sometimes, you have to be — you're there to just play a piece and play it straight, exactly as it is on the page. And other times, you get to be collaborative and, you know, certainly the latter is more fun for me and more enjoyable. However, I understand both sides of the coin.

El Arabi: Yes, I felt really free and comfortable, because I think that he loves actors. I really love him as a human being. He's kind and calm, and he really loves what he does, and he knows what he wants. I mean, everybody loves Kim. It's impossible to not love him.

Because so many of us are on our phones all the time, or on computers, did that make the film more relatable to you? Even though for your character it's different, because he's using the technology as part of his job. But when his friend puts him on dating apps, it's really relevant to what's going on now. So, did you identify with Gordon's situation?

Cole: Oh, definitely! I think Kim's tried to sort of replicate that, and he's juxtaposed it with what's actually happening in the real world. I think a lot of people are meeting people through computers now, or phones or dating apps or online. So, although he's in security, he meets this girl through his security company. So, it's a reflection of modern-day society and how people meet in the modern-day world.

Did you find Ayusha relatable? As you said, she's going through this struggle, and she's in love. But she loves her family, so it's hard to go from one to the other.

El Arabi: I mean, she has a real problem. Yes, I think she's really independent and she just wants to have a better life, and this life is not in her village. We have to remember that when we are forced to be married to an older man we do not love, it's rape. And yes, it's a real problem. She just doesn't want to be raped. But I don't want to judge them. It's just a different culture. I really respect them. I am not like, "Oh, her parents are mean." It's just different. In France or in Canada, we just have other problems.

The film also touches upon a lot of different themes, like what is going on with Lina's character and her family, and then Gordon has just gone through a break-up. Did you feel like there was any part of you within the character that you could easily relate to so that you could portray Gordon on-screen?

Cole: I think we've all had our heart broken in some way or another. And yeah, for me, capturing that vulnerability and that anger and frustration, and all of those feelings that come with that, was an important part of expressing this character. And then, how that can influence you and influence your life. And in Gordon's case, it inspires him to really focus on something and really do something selfless, and actually have some sort of success with a project — which, in this case, is working to get [Ayusha] out of her country.

Say you were just watching the film for yourself. When Ayusha finally gets to escape, it's really heartwarming, and you just have this feeling of, "Yes, finally!" As an outside spectator, what did you feel when she finally got to escape?

Cole: Yeah, I felt the same. Most of the time now, you don't really get the payoff in films. It's quite depressing in a lot of ways, and I think with this one it was nice to see that the characters do meet. Spoiler alert. [laughs] I thought that was a really beautiful touch to a modern love story. So, it was great to see that.

What was it like for you to act out that scene?

El Arabi: It was really difficult, because I was supposed to walk with the hexapod. And the hexapod walks really slowly. So, I had to make it [laughs] slow motion. It wasn't easy, but it was really fun. We had fun times with this thing. [laughs] But I love this scene! I think it's beautiful and the music in the movie is really important.

I enjoyed how the movie left things kind of open-ended. Obviously, Gordon and Ayusha finally met each other, but from your point-of-view, what would you have seen in the future for the characters?

Cole: That's left up to the audience; it's ambiguous at the end. I'd like to think that they would have ended up together maybe and built some sort of life together in the West, or remain good friends.

El Arabi: That's a good question! I don't know, because I don't know if they love each other. Maybe in the future, but at this moment when they meet each other they're not in love. But maybe in Eye on Juliet II [laughs] it will be Gordon, Ayusha and their children. [laughs]

Building off of the last question, could you see yourself doing another romantic movie again in the future?

Cole: [laughs] Yeah, never say never! I think it just depends on the story and the director. But for sure. I think it's an important part of life, isn't it — love and romance. So, yeah, I would for sure.

Eye on Juliet is in theaters April 20th.

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