David Jonsson, Vivian Oparah, Raine Allen-Miller Talk Sundance Hit ‘Rye Lane’

It’s little wonder why British romantic comedy “Rye Lane” has been scoring so much positive buzz of late. Directed by Raine Allen-Miller, it’s an infectiously funny and stylish feature debut that tells the story of Dom (David Jonsson, “Industry”) and Yas (Vivian Oparah, “Class”), who find connection with each other while getting over their respective breakups.

The film, written by “Bloods” scribes Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia, had its world premiere at Sundance in January. Ahead of the film’s U.K. premiere – taking place at the infamous Peckhamplex, which features in the movie – Variety caught up with Allen-Miller, Jonsson and Oparah in London earlier this week to chat about first meetings, inventive camerawork and much more.

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What was your reaction to reading the script for the first time?

Raine Allen-Miller

I went into it feeling like I’m not going to direct a film that I haven’t written. But then I read the script and I just laughed at so much of the jokes. What I loved about it was that it was a simple story about two people walking around and having a nice day. It was just unapologetically happy.

Vivian and David – the first time you were in a room together, did you immediately know that you were the right duo for the film?

David Jonsson

We were initially paired with different people. So I had a different girl that was reading for us. Obviously you meet people, and as actors you only want to help each other. So I think Viv was rooting for the guy she was paired with…

Vivian Oparah

David was in the room already with the girl so I was just chatting with him, and he seemed like a cool dude! And when I got in the room with him, anything that I threw at him he would bat it back at me 20 times harder.

David Jonsson

Viv came in on 10. She had something that she was working with and she was unrelenting. Every now and then we would do something and then we’d hear “all right, cool” and then we’d turn and see Raine in the corner who was clearly loving it!

Raine – in what ways did you want to put your own stamp on the film? 

Raine Allen-Miller

After reading the scripts, I was like this has to be set in South London. That world that they’re in needs to be an amazing world. I know South London so well and it is incredible. And when there’s two people walking and talking, you almost need the location to be a third character in many ways. I definitely felt like I knew the types of people that I wanted to cast for it, the world that it was going to be set in, and also the type of romcom that it could be. It was going to be this cool indie film that portrays a place and people in a different way to how they’re normally portrayed in film. That vision was there from the beginning.

The inventiveness of the camerawork from scene to scene really makes this feel fresh too. 

Raine Allen-Miller

I really love camerawork. But we’re motivated by the story, character and the performances as well. Those flashback scenes, for example, are going into their minds. And so it was really important that there was a clear transition where it goes from Dom outside Persepolis in Peckham, going through the doors and into the cinema. All that stuff is done in a slightly more surreal way, but that’s intentional. And there’s always a reason for it.

I have a fairly decent technical knowledge because I’ve had the opportunity to kind of play with that kind of equipment, making commercials. It was important to add as much of that as possible because that’s me as a director, and that’s how I see the world.

Vivian – how did you unlock your portrayal of Yas? What do you feel makes her unique?

Vivian Oparah

She comes across like she’s got it together really well, but she doesn’t and she’s insecure. Her messiness as a woman, and her need to just have the space to be messy and figure that out feels like something that I feel like a lot of women don’t feel like they have the space to do. I’ve felt claustrophobic, from an identity perspective. And sometimes you just want to stretch your legs and be a mess and be crazy. And Yas just does that. It was kind of cathartic to play her.

A rom-com where dark-skinned Black British people are at the forefront both behind and in front of the camera is not something we often see.

Raine Allen-Miller

What I love about being Black is that we are just normal people that have fun and are idiots and are goofy and embarrassing and wear pink Converse and are complete messes. We are just normal people. And for me, the film was about showing Black people in a way that is not traumatic. It’s actually just dead happy. And that was something I felt so strongly about. Incorporating specific cultural references into the film was so fun, but it wasn’t conscious, because that’s my life.

How excited are you to have the premiere for this film at Peckhamplex?

David Jonsson

We shot it there! It feels like home.

Vivian Oparah

I love that cinema. And you can’t go and make a film about Peckham and then go “OK, we’re going to Central London!” No other place would have been right.

“Rye Lane” is produced by Yvonne Isimeme Ibazebo of Turnover Films (“Top Boy”) and Damian Jones of DJ Films (“The Lady in the Van”). It was developed with BBC Film and funded by Searchlight Pictures, BBC Film and the BFI, with Searchlight Pictures distributing worldwide.

“Rye Lane” will be playing at Glasgow Film Festival on March 12 and will open across U.K. cinemas from March 17.

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