Sienna Miller and Ben Wheatley on High-Rise celebrity


A dystopian satire, set in the 1970s, High-Rise is the new film from British director Ben Wheatley (Kill List, Sightseers).

Adapted from the J G Ballard cult classic of the same name, it tells the story of Dr Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) who moves into a high-rise tower block in London.

The building is divided so the super-rich reside on the top floors, the rich – including Laing – live in the middle, and the well-off live on the lower floors.

With residents seduced by the insularity and glamour of the building and its co-habitants (Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, Luke Evans), chaos ensues as the high-rise, and its social strata, begin to crumble.

What was it about Ballard’s book that you thought would resonate with filmgoers and work as a big-screen film?

Ben Wheatley: It’s a book that was written in 1975 that can predict so much that is happening now and how pressing it is. Even if you flick through the morning paper there all sorts of enormous new developments being built in London that are seducing people away into them to escape from the dirt of living and dealing with the poor. That kind of division between rich and poor is something that everyone has to deal with in London and it becomes like a museum city with no-one actually living here any more – so that side of it was interesting. Also the idea of people becoming subsumed by technology and how, as the building starts to break down, they film each other and project it on the walls. I was like, oh God, this is the beginning of that reflex that becomes like YouTube.

So even though it’s a book from the Seventies, it feels incredibly relevant to today’s culture?

Wheatley: That’s the trick of picking a book that’s predictive fiction, because it’s not actually in that moment. He’s looking ahead all the time. But, it’s kind of depressing that he gets so much of it right. His later books are more worrying as they are much more apocalyptic and if he’s getting this stuff right then we’re in real trouble.
Image copyright Aidan Monaghan
Image caption Tom Hiddleston plays the movie’s lead, Dr Robert Laing

Is this a film for scholars of Ballard or a film for the masses?

Wheatley: On one level we wanted to make a big movie that was very sexy, kind of seductive, and filled with wonderful film stars. But then on the other side, we wanted it to be actually saying something about what was happening in the UK and in the world today. So I think you get it both ways. It feeds the mind and the eyes.

Is celebrity culture its own high-rise?

Sienna Miller: To a certain degree. The prophetic nature of what Ballard’s done – the self-promotion and the filming and the documenting of the demise of people – that’s really become a part of our culture. People used to celebrate celebrity and obviously it’s completely different now. It’s an examination of humanity and the way people behave if they’re given enough rein and I think that our culture is really heading towards that – it’s alarming.

What about as an actress within the Hollywood bubble – are there parallels to the high-rise there?

Miller: I just try to avoid as much of that as possible. It’s definitely its own world and it’s definitely weird – “Hollyweird”. When you dip in and out there is hierarchy, there are people who are more successful than others. Everybody’s ambitious and it can get strange and competitive and odd but at the same time most of the people I’ve worked with have been normal, nice, creative people.

Wheatley: Not so much dog-eating?

Miller: No dog-eating and no orgies unfortunately…

Did you leave the set feeling as disturbed and disorientated as I did when I left the cinema?

Miller: In moments.

Wheatley: Yeah.

Miller: You didn’t! Have you seen Ben’s films?

Wheatley: And I never saw you out of your wig either, you were always in character…

Miller: Off set in moments it got really dark. It was chaos and it was weird. Ben’s very good at creating a world that was really complete and odd and we were all there running around like lunatics within this environment and then all living together in a hotel.

Wheatley: I didn’t have anything to do with this hotel living thing. They were like The Young Ones.

Miller: We shared the odd scotch egg.

The film has received mixed reviews – the Telegraph gave it 4/5, and the Guardian 2/5. What do you think has been divisive about it?

Wheatley: I don’t know – it’s taste, isn’t it. I’d rather it was five star and one star than just straight-down-the-middle two and a half or three star.

Miller: Ballard is polarising as well. The subject matter is uncomfortable and weird and people aren’t used to watching films that are like Seventies movies that actually leave you with something that isn’t “popcorn”. I think this film will stay with you forever and it’s dark. You question yourself, you look at yourself, you can’t help but self-examine. Who am I in this environment? How would I behave? And some people don’t want to have that experience. But I think that’s what cinema should be. That’s the genius of Ben’s work. And to be in something that is polarising is absolutely everything I would rather be in.

Wheatley: I can only hear you say genius there!

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