To write an exceptional screenplay, source the perfect cast and raise finance for a film that you want to make is the dream of every filmmaker and British-Nigerian director Thomas Ikimi made his vision become a reality with the release of Legacy, starring award-winning actor Idris Elba.
Legacy is about Black Ops soldier Malcolm Gray, who having barely survived a botched mission in Eastern Europe, takes sanctuary in a Brooklyn motel room where he mentally unravels and goes through a process of self reflection feeling guilty about the legacy of his past actions as he struggles to seek revenge on those he feels betrayed him.
As he recaps events in his mind he becomes obsessed with the rise of his smooth-talking brother Darnell (Eamonn Walker), a ruthlessly ambitious, fear-mongering senator with his sights firmly set on the White House.
With the majority of this film shot in one single room without seeing the film you’d be lead to believe that it wouldn’t capture your attention. However, with the brilliance of Idris Elba married with spin tingling original music and fantastic directing, editing and screenplay you will be hooked from the opening sequence. ‘The film feels much bigger and more expansive than its confines and budget would suggest,’ says Ikimi.
Since the release of the film the 31-year-old director has resided in LA. With a degree in literature and writing from Columbia University, New York, the US isn’t unfamiliar territory for him. Here he talks to Flavour about working with Idris Elba, what his next move is and why Superman changed his life.
How did you get the job of directing the film?
I actually raised the financing for the film. As a result, it was my company, via the Nigerian investors I found, that hired everyone and paid everyone who was involved. As such, I never had to be hired. I put the film together with myself as director. Its just a classic tale of hustling to find the money to make your film because no one would finance it. It’s typical really these days.
What can you tell us about Idris Elba? What was it like working with him?
He’s a very committed actor, and he’s talented as well. Considering his rising stature as a star, he was accommodating and respectful of the film and my position at the helm. I think it’s his best work to date.
This is a very different role for Idris how do you think his fans will react?
It really depends on the kind of fan. Some don’t want him to grow or change and just take the same roles he’s become famous doing. For those that want to be surprised, this is the film to see him stretch himself. I think it’s a magnificent performance based on how difficult it is for one actor to be the focus of a single room feature film. It’s a psychological character study. As such he had to grab you through his performance and he did just that. If you’re an Idris fan, you simply have to see the film.
What’s your favourite scene from Legacy?
When Malcolm Gray is trying to reason with Valentina to come out of the bathroom. So demented… and hilarious.
What do you love about the movie?
The fact that we managed to make a psychological thriller in one room with hardly any money and audiences rarely ever feel as if it was that way.
What was the biggest challenge of the film?
The budget and the resulting crunch on time. We had three hundred grand and four weeks to shoot the thing. That’s crazy, but we did it. I owe a lot to my fantastic Glasgow crew up in Scotland. Great technicians and deserve a lot of praise for what they accomplished.
Which was the most difficult character to cast?
What was your first ever job in film?
Directing my student feature when I was in my second year in Uni.
Which film changed your life?
Superman 1, 1978. It’s my favourite film of all time tied joint with The Empire Strikes Back. Those films really affected me.
What is your favourite part of the process?
The pre production and planning. However, I am sure the reason why directing and post has not been my fave is because I’ve never made a film with a good budget. Therefore it’s always been a hellish time to make what I have.
Have you ever had a crisis of confidence?
In film, yeah but too controversial to get into here!
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Video games. I go on gaming binges sometimes, and I generally always have a few systems around. I’ve been gaming since the mid 80’s. I consider myself a veteran.
Do awards mean anything to you?
Yes and no. I make movies for audiences not awards. However, film is a business as well, and if I’m to have a career, you need awards to highlight your work and give people the belief that you’ve attained a certain level of quality. Awards are sort of like marketing tools these days. They raise your stock and value.
Which actors should we be looking out for in the future?
Jeremy Renner is a future star. From Legacy, Lara Pulver is an undiscovered star and so is Joe Holt. If either get a shot, they could be big.
Which film do you wish you had of directed and why?
Memento, Seven, The Prestige. Simply brilliant, intelligent and affecting films.
Where do you want to go from here?
More films, bigger budgets, more time, entertain more people. I really feel sad I had to leave the UK but with the lack of opportunities for me, I didn’t really have much of a choice. It’s the same story with many Brit actors and filmmakers.
Has living in London, Nigeria and America influenced your work?
Very much so. I don’t consider myself really from any one country as I think from different perspectives. As such, my worldview is far more expansive and it allows me to create stories and work that encapsulates more dynamic points of view.
What do you think of the Bollywood industry?
Amazing. I’ve been saying it for decades that these guys are coming for Hollywood. It finally started happening. Bollywood films were big in Nigeria when I was young and they still are. What impresses me is the production value and their adherence to their own culture while still having western elements.
Do you have any exciting up and coming projects?
Yeah, I’m currently working on a sci-fi action film and have a heist movie as well that I will be working on in the future.
Please give 5 tips for aspiring directors.
1. Clear idea. Define exactly what it is you want to make.
2. Focus. Don’t deviate from your goal. Everything you do is geared to the plan.
3. Self confidence. Don’t let the doubters sway you. There will be a lot of them.
4. Be realistic. Not everyone is a gifted filmmaker. If you realise you can’t cut it at your initial plan, then relax the goals and aim for something you can do.
5. Never ever do this for money or fame. That’s a road to failure most of the time. Make sure you have some love for the art or you’re likely to quit.