‘Diana Dors screamed about George Best while rubbing herself against a young man’: how we made Deep End
Jerzy Skolimowski, director
I had problems in Poland with my film Hands Up! It had a strong anti-Stalinist message and the government withdrew it from the Venice film festival and banned it. I was told I couldn’t make that kind of film any more in Poland. So I took the first available project, just to make a living. This was an expensive comedy, The Adventures of Gerard, shooting in Rome with Claudia Cardinale and Peter McEnery. It was going terribly and it was my fault: I just didn’t know how to make a film like that.
The studio made us come to London for editing. While there, a Polish friend told me a story about something that had just happened: a diamond was lost for ever after being dropped in snow. I immediately thought: “You could grab all the snow, melt it, and eventually find the diamond.” I saw it as a great idea for a film. Then I worked backwards. Where could you melt snow? Ideally, a swimming pool. Where do you find this swimming pool? Finally, we arrived at a story about public bath attendants. A couple of weeks later, I had the first draft. The first producer I approached, Jack Bernard, said OK. Two months later, we started shooting.
I had just come out from behind the iron curtain. I didn’t know anything about British films, nor who to cast. So Jack gave me some pictures and the colour of Jane Asher’s hair caught my attention. She agreed to do the film and we met at Selfridges to look for possible costumes. I instantly spotted some yellow raincoats. When I put one on her shoulders, it was sensational.
The one person I did know was Diana Dors, a sex symbol whose films I had seen in Poland. Working with her brought back all my memories of being a very young man. Of course she looked different now, but she had one of the best scenes in the film, screaming about George Best while rubbing herself against a young attendant.
We did a lot of shooting in Munich. It was the first week of May and, of course, there was no sign of snow. We had artificial snow, but that would only cover a small part of the park where Jane was to drop the diamond. Then one morning, I woke up at five, looked out of the window – and it was snowing! That was incredible.
Jane Asher, played Susan
Jerzy had seen me in a TV show, part of a series called Wicked Women in which I played a very unpleasant Victorian murderess. He obviously thought: “She’s got a nasty side.” I was sent the script and thought it was really interesting, although the dialogue didn’t exactly flow. I mean, at that time, Jerzy spoke almost no English. But I thought, “This is a cracking part” and didn’t hesitate. I don’t think I’m very like Susan, the pool attendant who is engaged, having an affair with an older man, and also adored by a teenage colleague. But it’s always more interesting to play a character you have to act, rather than be.
Having done The Masque of the Red Death, with these awful nipple stickers that kept floating off, I knew to just go with the nudity
Susan is so interesting. She’s a girl using her power, enjoying her colleague’s desperate longing. She’s playing with him, being very cruel in a way that young people can be. They haven’t experienced enough life to totally understand other people’s sensitivities. She is also furious at the way older men felt they could use her, having a bit of fun on the side and all that. She won’t give in to them.
When we started, every night my teen co-star John Moulder-Brown and I would pretty much rewrite our next scene. Rewrite is maybe too strong, but we certainly improved the English, making it more colloquial. That’s partly what gives the film its strange quality. The language is all a little different. But then it was written by a Pole and acted by a largely German cast who all got dubbed.
One or two scenes were improvised, such as the one with the pregnant-man poster. I think you can tell. I came up with a joke I was very proud of. I ripped the man’s face off and said: “Defacing government property!” I remember thinking: “That was very clever, Jane!”
Related: Nice ass: Jerzy Skolimowski on his donkey film that wowed Cannes
Doing nudity is never easy. But having done The Masque of the Red Death in the 60s, with these awful nipple stickers that kept floating off, I knew to just go with it. People get bored looking at you. It was needed for the final scene, where John’s character embraces Susan in the water. Jerzy was such a good director, I knew he’d cut it to look interesting rather than prurient. I was more worried about being able to hold my breath underwater long enough to get the shots.
Deep End screens BFI Southbank, London, as part of the BFI and Kinoteka’s Jerzy Skolimowski season, which runs until 29 April, and is available on BFI Player