Interview! We talk to model and latter-day film star Keeley Hazell
It’s been a couple of months since we first heard about Venus and the Sun, a short film which stars glamour girl turned actress Keeley Hazell as an exaggerated version of herself who unwittingly emulates the tragic Greek myth of Aphrodite and Adonis. We weren’t sure what to make of it as a concept – Ovid’s Metamorphoses are pretty heavy going, and the combination of classic legend, untested actress and heavy contextual baggage was enough to make us a little bit dizzy with anticipation and concern.
We needn’t have worried – Venus and the Sun, which premières tonight at the superb Rich Mix cinema in Shoreditch, is a charming short which wears its cultural responsibility lightly and reinvents Aphrodite’s trauma for a new audience. We caught up with Keeley a few days before the film’s unique release – online, on DVD and as an iPhone app – to talk about revisiting old stories and becoming a literal screen goddess as well as her ambitious plans for the future.
Obviously, this is your first bona fide starring role, so congratulations on that and on the film. How did it come about?
[Writer] Reuben Grove approached me through my agent having written the script for me, and I was so impressed with how he’d modernised the story that I jumped straight onboard. It actually turned out that I’d met the producer at a BFI screening of The Interview some time before, but I didn’t realise until he told me at the wrap party. I was incredibly flattered to have had a film written around me, it’s a huge compliment to be able to step into a role like that.
Quite. Keeley the character is obviously quite an exaggerated version of RL Keeley, even before you factor in her habit of casting spells in Latin and so on – what sort of preparation went into the role?
I worked with a teacher to learn the Latin, but apart from that the hardest thing was trying to establishing the Keeley from the film as a separate character – it wasn’t as if I was playing myself, so I had to work quite hard at building her character from the ground up so I stayed true to the script and got what I wanted to across in each scene.
It’s clear you’re keen to leave your past as a Page 3 girl behind – did the risk of perpetuating your old persona as a glamour model and It Girl make taking the job a difficult decision?
It was definitely something that I had to consider, but in some respects it was a natural progression from my modelling work – there’s a public idea of me which I’m very different from, but I’ve always thought of modelling in terms of playing a fantasy character. I had to find some way of separating myself from my persona, so that exaggerated version of me has been present all along. I think making the film was definitely a good decision, though, I’m very pleased to have been involved with it.
Marvellous – you’ve been acting for years, then! Have you always wanted to?
Absolutely, but the opportunity was never really there – I grew up on a South London council estate and left school at sixteen, so there was never really a chance to get into the industry. The modelling started when I was eighteen and it took over my life for a good few years, and then I almost never tried to make the transition into acting because I was too worried about all the negativity which would come my way. But I eventually thought “fuck it” and enrolled in drama school – I was still there when we were shooting Venus and the Sun, in fact.
Was this during your stint in LA?
Yes – I moved there for a year, gave up the modelling altogether and studied full-time. I’m still having lessons one day a week, but it’s been fantastic to be involved with Venus and Like Crazy [this year’s Grand Jury Prize winner at the Sundance Film Festival]. I still haven’t seen either finished film!
So what’s the next step for you? The jump from popular model to serious actress is a long one, but Kelly Brook’s made it recently with her first Hollywood blockbuster. Are you going to follow in her footsteps?
I just want to track down interesting projects – I’m a real supporter of independent film, and I want to get involved wherever I can. I admire Kelly for her success but don’t necessarily want to emulate her, my focus isn’t on getting into huge films. There’s inevitably going to be a lot of negativity – I’ve been up for roles already which I haven’t got because the producers are too concerned about the potential backlash from my involvement, they’d rather find someone with no baggage.
Gosh. It must have been very odd to going from being so hugely successful to –
– to being a student? Absolutely, it’s been quite a weird shift. I know I haven’t done things in the traditional order, but I think the opportunity to study and learn at any age is a hugely important one so I’m just glad to be able to go back to school.
As short film lovers, we’re fascinated by the amount of publicity the film’s got. How much of that do you think is down to the way it’s being ‘screened’?
Well, short films simply do not get this much attention as a rule. For a long time nobody knew how Venus and the Sun was actually going to be released, so we’re really pleased that so many people will be able to see it. Personally, I hope that releasing the film as a iPhone app as well as online will be something that other independent film makers will be able to get onboard with – there are so many talented people working in the industry in Britain but it’s incredibly difficult to make films without huge financial support, so this could be a great new way to get people watching less prominent UK films and shorts!
Keeley Hazell, thank you very much.
You can buy Venus and the Sun as a digital download, on DVD or from the iPhone App Store – more details here and a BFF review very soon!