Sadie Frost on reasserting herself in the film industry

Buttercup Bill, starring Remy Bennet and Evan Louison and co-produced by Sadie Frost, is in cinemas from September 4. Picture: Contributed
Buttercup Bill, starring Remy Bennet and Evan Louison and co-produced by Sadie Frost, is in cinemas from September 4. Picture: Contributed
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Sadie Frost reveals why she had to go back to school to reassert herself in the film industry. By Alistair Harkness

SADIE Frost has been thinking a lot about the status of women in film recently. “I did an MA in film studies and interviewed lots of different women filmmakers and asked how it affected their careers: both being a woman, but also being a mother.” What did the actor, producer and fashion designer discover? “Some women who I interviewed said being a woman didn’t affect them at all, and being a mother had made no difference. Others – and they’re all equally successful – said absolutely it affected their career because they couldn’t go away for six months to do a project because they were raising a child. For me, I’ve had a big family – I consider four children a lot – and while I’ve always worked, my career definitely went through a quieter, drier stage when I was raising three young children and a slightly older one.”

If this has meant Frost has been flying a little under the radar since her 1990s/early 2000s heyday (when she worked with the likes of Francis Ford Coppola and was lumped in with the Cool Britannia brigade alongside then-husband Jude Law), she’s starting to reassert herself in the film industry as one half of the creative team behind new British production company Blonde to Black Pictures. Frost set up the company three years ago with her promo director friend Emma Comley, to make films with more of an arthouse sensibility. Their first film, Buttercup Bill, is released in the UK this week, they’ve finished their second and are about to go into production on a third this autumn. “It’s very difficult to raise money at the moment and make small independent films,” says Frost, “but with a lot of hard work we’ve managed it.”

Frost and Comley’s first production is a leftfield Southern Gothic American indie film, co-written and co-directed by debut filmmakers Émilie Richard-Froozan and Remy Bennett. “I met Émilie through some musician friends when she was having a screening in London of a short film called Rufur,” says Frost, picking up the story of how they all met. “Me and Emma fell in love with it and Émilie told us that her and Remy were working on the script for Buttercup Bill so we kept in contact.”

A psychosexual drama about doomed love, the film stars Bennett as a woman who reconnects with her soulmate after the suicide of a mutual friend. “It was very David Lynch,” says Frost of the film’s initial appeal. “And we wanted to keep it raw.” She also liked the fact that it was written and directed by two women. “A lot of the crew were female too, so it was an interesting experiment. We didn’t intentionally set out to do that, but that’s how it worked out.”

For Bennett, it helped having someone with Frost’s experience in her corner during the low-budget, 16-day shoot in New Orleans. “We were their first project,” says Bennett. “And I think knowing that a person really believes in what you’re doing for deeper reasons is definitely a good thing to have, especially someone who’s been there.”

Bennett grew up around the arts (singer Tony Bennett is her grandfather) and, like Frost before her, she has acted in some high profile movies (she had a role in The Wolf Of Wall Street). But like Frost, she’s establishing herself as a multi-hyphenate talent in the industry – a collective trait that has become more common among women filmmakers in recent years thanks to breakthroughs by the likes of Lena Dunham, Lake Bell and Desiree Akhavan. “That’s just the spirit of indie film,” says Bennett of her desire to wear multiple filmmaking hats. “In terms of diversity, because of the stupid infrastructure of the industry, you need people out there who do it for themselves. And it’s about giving yourself those skills and empowering yourself so your vision is not being diluted.”

That was important to Frost as well. When she started Blonde to Black she knew she wanted to be involved in all aspects of production. Hence the film studies MA. “I understood the development and shooting part of production, but there are whole areas of post-production, from editing to visual effects to sorting out sound and finding distribution, that are equally huge parts of a producer’s role. I really felt like I needed to be completely aware of that and understand all aspects of it.”

Frost’s determination to fine-tune her skills is admirable given her vast experience behind and in front of the camera. She was, after all, a founding member of Natural Nylon, the actor-driven production company that counted Law, Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller and Sean Pertwee among its roster of talent. Though the company didn’t live up to the hype, folding after producing McGregor’s pet project Nora, Frost is sanguine about the experience. “We were very young, naïve and impressionable and it was kind of hard to get taken seriously. But we did co-produce eXistenZ with David Cronenberg, and a few other films. But it also became quite difficult to manage. Ewan’s career exploded, and so did Jude’s, and so did Johnny’s and Sean’s, and my career was doing what it was doing – and I was having three babies. At the end, we just couldn’t maintain the consistency. But we set out to learn from it and make films. And then we went off and did our own films.”

Frost produced 2004’s Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow, an ahead-of-the-curve attempt to make a large-scale sci-fi blockbuster with more of an indie-movie approach to production. “That had amazing things about it, but also, because it was the first of its kind, it had a lot of faults,” she says. “But I was really proud of it. And to get the cast that we got: obviously Jude was in it, but we also had Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie and we got Stella McCartney to design the costumes… That was a big film.”

Given what she’s accomplished (she has a fashion business, FrostFrench, too), it’s tempting to wonder whether Frost would have been taken more seriously had she been starting out today. “It probably was more difficult to say you had different careers 20 years ago, but it didn’t stop me,” she says. “I just thought it was important that if I really wanted to do something and I believed in it and had a creative passion for it, then I just tried to get on and do it. If you care too much about what people think, you’re not going to do the things you want to do.”

Buttercup Bill is in UK cinemas and On Demand from 4 September and available on DVD from 12 October