All of Us Strangers director: ‘It’s always surprising when queer content breaks through’

Director Andrew Haigh at a screening of All of Us Strangers.

Six BAFTA nominations, universal critical acclaim, and not a dry eye in the house: Andrew Haigh’s ghostly gay romance All of Us Strangers is already the must-watch queer film of the year.

Based loosely on 1987 novel Strangers by Taichi Yamada, All of Us Strangers follows Fleabag star Andrew Scott as a depressed and isolated queer writer in his forties, who is still reeling from the death of his parents three decades earlier.

In one week, his world changes: not only does he spark up a deep and beautiful romance with younger neighbour Harry (Paul Mescal), but he returns to his childhood home and reunites with his parents – despite them being dead.

Across weeks, he gets to have the vital, moving conversations with the apparitions of mum (Claire Foy) and dad (Jamie Bell) that he was too young to have when they passed, as his romance with Harry blossoms.

Though Yamada’s original novel features a straight protagonist, Andrew Haigh recently explained to PinkNews why he, as a gay man, couldn’t have told his version of the story without centring the queer experience.

“What I’ve always been interested in doing, and especially with this [film], is talking about queerness in relationship to family, and how complicated it can be in relationship to family,” he shared, “especially if you grew up in a generation of the ’80s and into the early ’90s, where it was very different than it is now – thank God.”

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A turning point in All of Us Strangers comes when Adam comes out to his parents, who are stuck in the deeply homophobic Thatcher era, and their response is initially less than approving. 

“Back then, it was a pretty rough time for a lot of kids growing up and growing into their sexuality. I felt like that adds so much to the story,” the Looking and Weekend creator shared.

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“[Adam’s] not lonely because he’s gay. But being gay and coming from that time has made him feel separate in the world to some degree. It’s almost like the world has made him feel lonely.”

As part of the discourse surrounding the film, Paul Mescal has been forced to explain why it was OK for him, as a straight actor, to portray a gay character, arguing that it depends who is in the driving seat of the film.

Haigh has now explained that gay actor Andrew Scott was always going to take the lead role in the film over Paul Mescal, because the story needed to focus on a particular generation of gay men.

“It always had to be from Adam’s perspective,” the 50-year-old director explained.

“I’m the same age or a little bit older than Andrew Scott’s character. That was the generation that I wanted to talk about.”

The contrast between Adam and Harry is an exploration of how gay men of certain ages live their lives differently, even though they are all profoundly affected by the same trauma that can come with growing up queer.

“In many ways, [Harry] is slightly more liberated in the world, and hasn’t been burdened by some of the things that [Adam] has been burdened by. He releases some freedom in Andrew Scott’s character, which I think is really interesting,” Haigh shared.

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“Once you’ve seen the film, you realise there’s also a sorrow and a sadness inherent in [Mescal’s] character too.”

Paul Mescal (L) and Andrew Scott (R) in All of Us Strangers.
Paul Mescal stars alongside Andrew Scott in All Of Us Strangers. (Searchlight Pictures)

Though it’s emotional, All of Us Strangers also highlights the beauty that comes with being able to live as your true self around those you love the most. In opening himself up to his parents, Adam is able to heal the wounds of their complicated relationship.

“I think it’s amazing how often we aren’t our true selves to people, even if people are still alive,” Haigh reflected. 

“You still probably don’t have those difficult conversations that you need to have. I understand why we don’t have those difficult conversations; I think there’s a world inside [all] of us that is tormented and a little bit broken, that we’re trying to deal with almost every day of our lives.”

Haigh hopes the film will show that there is an alternative reality out there for those who don’t feel able to be themselves. 

“I think the film for me was to say: ‘You know what, it’s OK. I get that you will feel like that, and there is a way out of that. You can find love and intimacy and be known and be understood.”

Paul Mescal, Andrew Scott, Claire Foy and director Andrew Haigh at a screening of All of Us Strangers. (Getty)

Rightfully so, All of Us Strangers is pulling in an impressive slate of award nominations – including a BAFTA nomination for Best British Film. It may have been shockingly snubbed by the Oscars, but Haigh is more assured to see the film resonating with so many queer people worldwide.

“It’s always quite surprising to me when something with queer content actually manages to break through and get talked about,” he admitted.

“Now I’m alright with it not being some big mainstream billion dollar because clearly, that’s never going to happen, and there will still be lots of people out there that won’t go and see this film because of the content, or what they think is the content.

“That’s a shame, because I feel like this is a film for everybody,” he added.

“But it’s amazing that it has been taken under the wing by a lot of people and I love that.”

All of Us Strangers is out in UK cinemas now.

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