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Amazon.co.uk Interview with Stephen Poliakoff

Playwright, novelist, filmmaker and all-round Renaissance man Stephen Poliakoff reminisces with Amazon.co.uk about family history, inspiration and favourite films in the wake of his latest BBC drama, Perfect Strangers.

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Amazon.co.uk: 'Shooting the Past' made many people think of their family snap shots in a completely new way. Do you have any photographic image which sticks out in your mind and why?

Stephen Poliakoff: There is a picture of my Russian grandparents sitting under an apple tree in late 19th-century Russia, which particularly haunts me. My grandfather is in military uniform but he is staring out with a humorous expression as befits somebody who was one of the first people in the world to record sound on film, one of the inventors of the talkies. My grandmother, a young girl of 18, is by his side, staring out with steely calm, as befits somebody whom a few years later had to organise their escape from Russia when Stalin began his purges.

Amazon.co.uk: Have you or do you feel you would like to compile your own family tree?

Poliakoff: No, I have never compiled my own family tree. It takes me hours to read a tree and actually understand it. I'm very bad at picking up how people are related. I was determined when writing Perfect Strangers to make sure those sort of connections were as easy to grasp as possible.

I get ideas travelling on the No. 38 bus, staring down voyeuristically from the top of the bus onto the pavements below

Amazon.co.uk: What film or which filmmaker inspires your work the most and why?

Poliakoff: François Truffant. His humanism and poetic sensibility were a real inspiration when I started writing for film. Also he made many films where the world is seen through the eyes of children which is something I've done a lot of as well. One of my favourite films of all time is his The Wild Child, which influences a sequence in the second part of Perfect Strangers.

Amazon.co.uk: Where do you gain inspiration for your work?

Poliakoff: Walking through London, especially in the more forgotten corners of the city and round Smithfield, the old meat market which I wrote about in a short film that accompanied Shooting the Past. Also I get ideas travelling on the No. 38 bus on the way to my office in the West End, staring down voyeuristically from the top of the bus onto the pavements below.

Amazon.co.uk: Did anything go wrong during the filming of Perfect Strangers?

Poliakoff: I committed the cardinal error of shooting the end of Perfect Strangers on the last day I had with the actors together so I left myself absolutely no room for error, no chance of catching up with anything I failed to complete. It is the big scene in the marquee at the end of Part 3 and it was the most tense time I've ever had on a film set. We made it with 40 seconds to spare.

Amazon.co.uk: If you were able to award an Oscar or similar award what would it be for and to whom would you award it?

Poliakoff: It would be a Bafta, or some such word, to composer Adrian Johnston who has written the most fantastic scores to a lot of my work including The Tribe, Shooting the Past and Perfect Strangers. His contribution to the success of Shooting the Past was inexplicably overlooked.

Amazon.co.uk: Many directors seem to have favourite actors and actresses they like to work with. Do you?

Poliakoff: The cast of Perfect Strangers was sensational to work with and I would happily work with any of the leads again. But Lindsay Duncan, Timothy Spall, Clive Owen and Saskia Reeves have all given brilliant performances in two works of mine, so they would all have to count as favourites.

Amazon.co.uk: Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with?

His books are peppered with the most ghastly philistine opinions on some of the greatest movies ever made

Poliakoff: I think Leslie Halliwell, the compiler of film reference books. His Film Guide is a truly dismal reminder of why we never had a true film culture in Britain. His books are peppered with the most ghastly philistine opinions on some of the greatest movies ever made.

Amazon.co.uk: Name the one person you'd like to be stranded with on a desert island?

Poliakoff: Orson Welles. He would be a fund of endless great stories, maybe underpinned with melancholy and somehow he would arrange for an eight-course meal to be delivered on the island every night, given his addiction to gourmet living.

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