Director Mike Leigh in conversation with Andrea Sabbadini

Mike Leigh and Andrea Sabbadini

Photo: James Royall

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Listen to the Q&A session

Venue: The Resource Centre, Holloway Road

Date: Sunday 29 June 2008

Writer-director Mike Leigh (left) talked to psychoanalyst Andrea Sabbadini about his films and plays, his working methods and his influences. They debated whether there is any comparison to be made between the idea of the psychoanalytic process as a ‘narrative’ co-authored by patient and therapist, and Leigh’s creative work with his actors.

"By creating characters who are completely three dimensional, and therefore the language of background, family, childhood, experience, psychology, motivation, emotions, sex, etc - everything you can think of - it’s on the agenda. All those things are dealt with... we must travel across the same highways and down the same byways as psychoanalysis does." Extract from A Conversation with Mike Leigh, an article based on this event which appeared in the journal Projections. Access the full article or listen to the conversation below.

Mike Leigh is one of the UK’s most renowned writer-directors, known for his depictions of the drama inherent in the lives of ordinary people. His plays include Abigail’s Party and Two Thousand Years, and his films range from High Hopes, Life Is Sweet and Naked to Secrets & Lies, Topsy-Turvy and Vera Drake. His latest film, Happy-Go-Lucky, is released in April.

Andrea Sabbadini is a psychoanalyst in private practice in London, where he also chairs the European Psychoanalytic Film Festival and a regular series of screenings and discussions at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. He is the book review editor of the International Journal of Psychoanalysis and the editor of two volumes on European cinema, The Couch and the Silver Screen and Projected Shadows.




The mind's highways

Monday 1st September, 2008 | Posted by Caroline Graty

As well as being a fascinating insight into Mike Leigh’s filmmaking technique, his conversation with psychoanalyst Andrea Sabbadini was one of the most rigorous in drawing out the connection between psychoanalysis and the creative process.

For example, Sabbadini likened Leigh's process of creating characters by drawing on different stories and characters to a process called condensation, which Freud describes in relation to the dreamworld, where two characters might converge into one.

He summed it up with a quote from Leigh’s book, Mike Leigh on Mike Leigh, saying, ‘He is talking about his work, but I thought he was talking about what psychoanalysts do.’ The quote is as follows:

‘The whole job for me is taking a journey of investigation during which I discover the truth. It’s how the characters respond and how I then respond to them. It’s how I reorganise or reinvestigate the material, and indeed challenge it, in a creative way, to arrive at what is dramatically coherent for me.’

Remove the word ‘dramatically’, said Sabbadini, and this was as good a definition of psychoanalysis as he could think of.

Leigh acknowledged that his method of improvisation and character creation, drawing as it did on background, family, childhood, emotions and so on ‘must travel up the same highways and down the same byways as psychoanalysis does,’ even though there was no intentional link with the field.

He also noted a major difference. ‘You do have a different responsibility I hope, from our responsibility, and a different objective... our job is to tell stories and entertain people, and make people laugh and cry, and I hope yours isn’t.’

The conversation also gave us a glimpse into Leigh’s early aspirations. ‘If at a certain age, seven or eight, you’d asked me what I wanted to be, I’d have told you I wanted to be a comedian’, he says. He declares a love of comedy and roundly rejects the perception that his films are depressing. ‘That’s a recent piece of bullshit that’s been invented by journalists in the context of Happy-Go-Lucky coming out,’ he says, ‘as though there have never been happy characters or moments, or warmth, or joy in any of my films, which is nonsense.’