John McKay and producer Lee Thomas met while both were attending the National Film and Television School, where they made several short films together. Doom and Gloom, their intermediate film was selected for competition in Cannes 1998 and won the prestigious Arte Prize at the Brest Film Festival for Best Film. Following the success of another short, Wet And Dry, made for the Channel 4 and BBC 2 Brief Encounters strand, McKay and Thomas were invited by FilmFour to pitch ideas for their first feature film.
Previously McKay wrote a play about a headmistress, close with her girlfriends and who had an affair with a former pupil. Says McKay, "Most plays have such a limited life span, seen by a few hundred people at the theatre over a number of weeks, I decided to revisit the story. As I began to develop the screenplay I found myself more interested in the relationship between the friends - what if the friends had a way of coping with their lives; meeting up to eat, drink and smoke too much; what if one of them embarks on an exciting affair - how do the others react. " In the finished screenplay there are three forty-something professionally successful, single women with, as Thomas describes, a complex pattern of relationships between them.
McKay deliberately set CRUSH in the quaint English Cotswolds known for its gentle rolling
hills and charming villages filled with mellow stone cottages. "Part of the trap the women are in
is that they live somewhere very beautiful, but very dull. I come from a small community in
Scotland so I understand that life better than life in a city, even though I've lived in London for
fifteen years. A small community may be very supportive, but can also be extremely
claustrophobic," says McKay. "Also, in a large city these women might never have found each
other. The village is a very conservative society, and they feel trapped, so their weekly ritual is
very important to each of them. "
Casting CRUSH was a convoluted process, balancing the group of women and finding the two
very different men to play the opposing suitors of Kate. For the role of Kate, the schoolmistress
who is a pillar of the community but also ready for something more exciting, the producers
looked in both Britain and America. Andie MacDowell's manager sent her a script. Two days
after hearing that Andie was enthusiastic about the role, McKay and Thomas flew to Los
Angeles to meet with her and McKay recalls "Andie was in tune with the character and felt it
was the right role for her at the right time. "
"It's a script beautifully written by a man about women, which I always find interesting," says MacDowell. "This is the most complex character I've played since sex, lies and videotape, and I feel like it's the role I've been waiting for. Kate has a lot of dimensions and the writing is so strong that we have an opportunity to be more creative and develop that complexity. After all, at a length of around ninety minutes, most films don't give you a lot to work with. This is comedy and drama with a lot of depth. Life is full of comedy; no matter how hard things get, there is usually an element of comedy in there somewhere. " Says McKay, "We needed an actress who could portray a woman who had behaved in a conservative way all her life, but suddenly decides to throw it all off and enjoy herself. Andie is one of the few actors who can seem good and virtuous, and yet you enjoy watching her behave in a naughty way. She has often been cast in films as a wife or girlfriend, and she does that very well, but she relished the chance to give us a fully rounded character. "
On working with McKay, MacDowell comments, "I've had good luck with writer/ directors (sex, lies and videotape; Green Card). Of course John knows the material really well and although he is precise about what he wants, he does respect actors and will listen to other ideas. At the same time you feel safe because he is in charge, he's the leader. "
Imelda Staunton plays the role of Janine, the police chief with a teenage son, and was an early and easy casting decision according to John McKay. "Imelda was able to deliver a performance which is sparky, feisty and funny, but at the same time, she is sincere. She's a great comedy actress - a one woman show entertaining cast and crew off screen -but her character has to be the one with a conscience, and behave a bit better than the other two. " Imelda Staunton accepted the role of Janine as soon as it was offered and then waited patiently for CRUSH to happen.
Staunton says, "I think it was very generous of John McKay, a man in his thirties, to write a script for three women in their forties. As well as writing a very clever script, John is a wonderful director to work with. He's very sensitive to actors as well as being charming and funny. He knows what he wants, and hopefully we've given it to him. " For his part McKay thinks it is easier to write for women than men, as he finds women much more interesting.
When Anna Chancellor met with McKay and Thomas about playing Molly, the sexy doctor who drastically tries proving to Kate that her new young boyfriend is unsuitable, she namely spoke of the difficulties she foresaw in the character. "Molly is the antagonist who propels the story. It's hard to pitch a character whom no-one likes, but still have the audience want to watch her. It's not a case of trying to make her likeable but the audience has to feel for Molly as she's trying so desperately to control the situation. " Chancellor thinks that the kind of three-way friendship between the women portrayed in CRUSH is very difficult to sustain in real life. "Women can share an incredible intimacy, which men can't understand, but it can lead in turn to incredible destruction. All friends have very clear ideas about who their friends should and shouldn't be going out with, and Molly has to prove that she is right about how unsuitable Jed is for Kate. Molly's been married three times herself, so she is carrying the pathos of making three major mistakes in her own life. " Says McKay, "Anna plays Molly as the bad side of your nature - she says and does things you wish you could, but hold back from. " Adds Thomas, "Anna embraces the cruel aspects of Molly's behavior but she delivers them in a sensitive way. It's a very enjoyable performance. " Chancellor describes the role of director as the head of the family, "filming is pretty primitive in terms of relationships, so the director's demeanor affects everybody. John treats everyone on set equally and looks happy in his work. You trust him because he trusts you. "
Finding a young actor to play the role of Jed, Kate's young lover took a long time. "But," says McKay, "we knew as soon as we saw Kenny Doughty that he has the right energy - sensitive rather than macho, attractive but strong and still. While the women do all the fussing, he just carries on. He looks like trouble but the kind of trouble you'd like to get into - he's very sexy. " Lee Thomas describes the character of Jed: "If this was a western, he'd be Clint Eastwood, the cool stranger who rides into town. " To Doughty, one of the attractions of the role was to play a young man who had none of the laddishness an audience might anticipate. "He's a bit of a traveler, and rarely does what you would expect. He is serious about his music and about Kate. It is only when he feels judged that he decides to act up, but even then he declares his love for her. " Doughty regards Jed as a very mature twenty five year old. "He has a wonderful sense of timing. He knows when to hold back, which I personally can't do. In a funny way, I'm learning from Jed how to weigh things before speaking and acting. "
Bill Paterson plays Gerald Farquhar Marsden, the vicar who should be Kate's perfect match. "Gerald's a good guy. He's not a trendy vicar, but he enjoys the outdoor life, and helps pull the community together, as Kate does. If she wants an uncomplicated life, based on mutual respect, she should settle down with Gerald. He sees her as a decent woman, a bit isolated, and he imagines a much stronger connection between them than she does. " Paterson worked with Andie MacDowell ten years ago on the BBC film The Object of Beauty and both he and director John McKay were familiar with each other's work. For the role, Paterson researched the Scottish Episcopalian church.
Summing up the appeal of CRUSH, Thomas and McKay agree that CRUSH will appeal initially to women, but, says Thomas, "It also explores the question of what we do at a certain age to wrestle back our lives for ourselves when society tells you that you should be behaving in a certain way. That's a universal question and can happen to both sexes, at any age. "