Those we lost in 2021: Roger Michell remembered by Kate Winslet

NSeing a director was so secondary to who Roger was as a man in the world. He was just such a grounding, warm, extraordinary presence. I say this with affection, but some directors make it known that they’ve just walked into the room. Roger wasn’t like that. He didn’t need to be needed. He didn’t have an ego. He just wanted to be part of a team – creating little families, little families of people working together.

I had known Roger for a long time before we worked together on a film – 黒い鳥, に 2019. We’d worked together once before, に 2005, on an American Express commercial. A few years prior to that, The Mother [彼の 2003 film with Daniel Craig and Anne Reid] had completely taken my breath away. It was so natural, so crushingly real. It felt like the first time in a long time that any of us had seen actors in a film appearing not be “acting” at all. That was one of Roger’s most impressive skills: his capacity to get actors to just be. To just be and not act.

We’d spent years trying to work on something else together beyond that commercial, but for logistical reasons things never worked out. それで, eventually, 黒い鳥 came along [a drama about a family gathering around a mother for her last weekend before she dies]. It wasn’t long after my own mother had died, and I hadn’t gone back to work yet, I was in the throes of grief. Roger was so kind. I remember him phoning me: “You don’t have to go anywhere, we can shoot it in seven weeks and it will all be done. We can shoot it when it works for you, when you are ready.”

We ended up filming it – and I’m not joking – four minutes’ walk from where I live.

On set, I felt Roger constantly kept an eye on me, because he could tell that the tiniest thing might trigger me. There were so many similarities between the film’s narrative and the loss I was dealing with. I felt very cared for. Roger was a thick safety net, a warm security blanket. Quite literally a shoulder to lean on, to cry on. But I always got the sense that he did that for all the actors he cared about. It certainly wasn’t just me.

[object Window], if ever there was a moment when I might need a bit of guidance – if I was struggling to find my rhythm with a director or another actor who perhaps worked in a different way to me – I’d always phone Rog. I’d say, “Rog, help! I know you’ll know exactly what I can say to this person, AND how to say it. What do you think I should do? What should I say?” and he would pause… Sometimes he’d say, “OK. Let me think for five minutes and I’ll call you back.” Then he would take his five minutes and always call back and give me his proper, calm suggestions. Roger put everyone else first.

On set, he would be so egoless. He would always be sitting in the quietest corner he could find, on an impossibly tiny box or stool watching the monitor intently, diligently making notes, and I’d think, 白い影で, don’t you have a proper chair?” But no, he didn’t care. He was the master of no fuss. He would sit and scribble scribble scribble with his glasses teetering on his rosy face. He was also open to all ideas at all times, even if they were shit. He would go, 「彼が孤独になるのに適していた, that’s interesting, ええ, OK, let’s try it.”

Our film, 黒い鳥, came and went at the box office, but Roger didn’t think, “Oh that’s a shame, fuck, I wish it had done more business”. He was deeply proud of it and the work we had all done. He made it clear how much he cherished the time that we’d all spent together, the bonds we’d formed and how that time transformed us all. We all got matching tattoos at the end of filming; we met up at the house where Susan Sarandon was staying and had the small blackbird symbol that was printed at the top of the call sheet tattooed on to our bodies. I’m looking at mine now on the inside of my right wrist.

Finally working on a film with Rog will remain one of my most – if not the most – treasured experiences I’ve ever had.

Roger really listened and he really talked to people, whoever they were. One day my teenage son had been on set for a brief visit, which happens very rarely because I don’t tend to have my children on film sets. He and Roger had a big conversation about The Merchant of Venice, which my son happened to be doing at school. I just couldn’t believe that Roger had the mental capacity to be able to separate himself from our work and give time to my son, who was only 14. And it wasn’t because he was my kid. I know that it could have been anyone’s son or daughter.

It was always family first for Roger too, and that’s really exceptional. Some directors will say, 「彼が孤独になるのに適していた, ええ, I know the juggle, I get it,” but actually, not many of them really do because most of them are able to up sticks or leave their family for weeks on end. Not Roger. He had young daughters and he never wanted to be away from them or take them out of school. He loved the day to day business of being a dad. I keep looking back over my last text exchanges with him, and actually, it’s just all pictures of him with his girls. Those are the last exchanges that we had, just about the children: 彼の子ども, 私の子供たち. What meals we’d been cooking recently. He mentioned a delicious wine he’d come across.

When we last spoke, he was delighted with The Duke, the film he’d done with Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren. He’d had a lovely time, and was creatively in a really good place and feeling extremely fulfilled. I still can’t believe he’s dead. None of us can. The other day, I was talking to another actor and we were saying that it feels like nothing quite works without Roger here. None of it quite works without the safety net. The security blanket. The shoulder to lean on. We all miss him so much.

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