Two years after her film The Souvenir debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, writer-director Joanna Hogg delivers the second part of the story of her signature character Julie, played by Honor Swinton Byrne. This chapter focuses more on Julie’s independent growth and particularly her work as a filmmaker, which was inspired by Hogg’s own experiences.
I had the chance to speak with Honor when The Souvenir Part II made its North American premiere at the New York Film Festival last month. We discussed coming back to the character, working with her real-life mother, Tilda Swinton, and how important it is for audiences to have seen part one. Beware mention of significant plot details from the first film in our interview.
Q: You made this sequel shortly after the first film premiered in 2019. How do you think you’ve changed as an actress between these two projects?
Honor Swinton Byrne: Quite a lot. I went to Africa, I was a teacher for a year, pretty much straight away after we finished filming in 2019. I think when I came back, I had grown. I mean, I hope so! I’d like to think that I had grown so much as an adult. I came back and I had evolved. I was a very direct, confident, independent person who really liked to have vibrant conversations about how things could be adjusted. I had some power when I came back, and it really worked so well because Julie has changed. It was such a big difference. The second one starts two days after the festival ends, in storyline, and you don’t know what happens in those two days. Something snaps, and it worked really well. But the second one was much more fun to do because it was about growth, taking life by the balls and just getting up. And also going through grief, the seven stages of grief, and really taking that into consideration, the phoenix rising from the ashes.
Q: You have a great scene partner in the first film in Tom Burke, and you get some great new costars in this project, including Charlie Heaton and Joe Alwyn, who are warmer in some ways but also still distant and out of reach. Is that something exciting, or is it frustrating to know that, even if you’re close, you still have to act as if you’re far apart?
HSB: Ah, it was so sad that I couldn’t work with Tom again because he’s a genius. It was nice to work with these boys. I think the relationship between Pete, played by Harris Dickinson, and Julie was so moving. I wasn’t prepared, and I don’t think Joanna was either. I don’t want to speak for her. The vulnerability those two characters would share, Julie being quite attracted to him because he’s playing her late boyfriend, and him being drawn to her being very vulnerable, really understanding what she was going through. It’s really moving for these new characters, these new men, some nice and some not so nice, moving through her life and her bouncing off of them and being like, oh, shit, not seeing you again, and oh, I might actually like you. I can really relate to it as a young person dealing with these men in your life. You do pick and choose. It was nice to do that, because it was a very normal part. It was nice to experience Julie as a single young person.
Q: How much of your performance is guided by director Joanna Hogg and her own experiences as a filmmaker?
HSB: It’s all her. I just can’t take any credit for it. It’s all Joanna. Both films were completely improvised. I was the puppet. Joanna was this spark, and she would just sit me down and be like, let’s remember that Julie’s been at home, she’s spending a lot of time with her parents, and she’s feeling so guilty trying to distract herself from the death of Anthony. Just remember that in this next scene. She would give me the tools for the next scene, and put me into it. You’re just at home, you’re going to have a conversation with your mom, whatever comes to you. She would really trust me with using my instincts and my initiative and my intuition. Just going forward and seeing what would come. She would give no instruction on the first take, then she would cut and be like, okay, I think you were too feisty in that one, let’s try another one where maybe you do apologize for that. It was such a collaboration between the two of us, and I really appreciate that because I know it’s very rare, a director really allowing a performer to have a say like that.
Q: After playing a filmmaker, do you have any interest in making your own movies as a director?
HSB: Honestly, it’s become so apparent after all these interviews. Yeah, actually, I really do. if you had asked me before I spoke to anyone else, I wouldn’t have said yes. Talking about it, I’m remembering the power I felt, the real fire I felt when I did that. We shot the scene where Julie’s making her graduation film, and she’s directing people and trying to describe the relationship she had with Anthony to these two actors. It was moving for me because it was an opportunity for Julie to really be in control and tell the cinematographer that she actually doesn’t want the camera there, she wants it there. I can’t explain it, I was really lost and it was really moving. I think everyone got swept along with that, all the other actors. They were like, yeah, we really love to see Julie grow like this and have an opportunity where she’s really being the captain of the ship. But, yeah, one hundred percent, I’d love to direct. I’m not sure I’d be very good at it. It would be a lot of apologizing, a lot of changing my mind. That’s fun, and that’s how a person should be. Make mistakes.
Q: One of the most similar things between part one and part two is that you get to share scenes with your mother, Tilda Swinton. How has that changed your real-life relationship, playing mother and daughter on-screen?
HSB: It’s strengthened us. It doesn’t matter whether we were working together in film or doing a weekly shot together. It would strengthen us. It didn’t feel remotely professional or strange or out of the ordinary to work with her. She’s my mom. It was like a game, so fun to come in every day with her. We were staying together in the cottage and sleeping in the same bed, and we had the dogs in with us. We’d go to work together and get ready separately, and come together. I would laugh at how old she looked and she would laugh at how bad my hair was. We would go on set and be like, okay, today we’re going to do this, and, ah, really? Sort of joking. We would do the scene, and it would just be so smooth and easy. It was lovely. We’re best pals. It wouldn’t be difficult to find a groove. I would love to do more of that. She’s just an icon.
Q: This film’s title has part two in it, but I’m sure there are many people who might stumble upon it without having seen part one. Do you think that’s a necessary element to the experience, or is it possible that it could enhance someone’s view, not only living through the memories that you see in part one?
HSB: This is such a good question. No one’s asked me that before. I love that question. That’s so moving. I was thinking about this. I think one of my friends had asked, can I watch the second one without seeing the first one? And I said, um, and I originally said no, I think you should see the first one. And she said, really, I don’t know where to find it. Then I said, no, actually, watch the second one, because you’ve never met Anthony, so you don’t have this preconceived idea of what she is after him. It might be really moving to watching it without seeing the first one. I met someone who had seen the second one and then seen the first one, so you can do it without depending on the other one, which is just a whole meta thing.
Q: I do see sequels sometimes without seeing the first one, and it can be better in some cases, but you’re also trying to fill in some gaps that can’t quite be replicated.
HSB: Yeah, exactly. I think you wouldn’t necessarily know who Patrick is, you wouldn’t really recognize Anthony’s voice, you wouldn’t know that they were Anthony’s parents. You wouldn’t know that he had died, that she had been stuck in grief. I’d be so interested to talk to someone who had just seen the second one.
Q: Do you think there could be a Souvenir Part III, and is that something you would be interested in doing?
HSB: Yeah, one hundred percent. I would LOVE to do a Souvenir Part III. I don’t know what it would be, but I would be so keen on it. The story never ends because she’s here now, and she still has so far to go. There’s always the possibility of there being a third part.
Q: You premiered this film at Cannes after premiering the first film at Sundance. Did you find those two experiences very different, with the first film already having been received positively?
HSB: Yeah, they were very different experiences. I wasn’t even that young in the first one, at Sundance I had just turned twenty-one. I wasn’t even that young, but I felt very young, so I just sort of turned up and was like, wait, am I meant to stand up? Am I meant to clap? I was so lost. It really was a baptism of fire, in the best way, a baptism of snow, rather, at Sundance. It was really quite challenging to be launched into that. In Cannes, I had more excitement for it because I had confidence in it, and I had built up confidence in myself in interviews and speaking about it with Joanna. I felt like we had really evolved in our relationship. I felt like a proper adult. In Cannes, I felt like I was equipped.
Q: These two films make up pretty much the entirety of your acting resume. Even if there’s no part three yet, do you have plans to act again?
HSB: Not at the moment, but I would love to. I really want to. No one’s coming forward. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But I’m really keen to do some more. I did a short film with my friend Hazel which I think she’s going to submit to Sundance. I did that a couple months ago, which was great. I really loved doing it. It was an all-female crew. She’s American, she’s fantastic. It was completely scripted, which was such a different experience to The Souvenir. I felt really weird. It was a great thing because it was very organized and very structured, and there was no risk of getting it wrong. But that’s what I like, the risk of getting it wrong, and the trial and error, just exploring it. I’d like to do more of that if possible. I want to do more acting.
Here’s the trailer for the film:
The Souvenir Part II debuts in theaters this Friday.