Director Jason Connery on the set of TOMMY'S HONOUR | © 2017 Neil Davidson

Director Jason Connery on the set of TOMMY’S HONOUR | © 2017 Neil Davidson

In Part 2 of Assignment X’s exclusive interview with TOMMY’S HONOUR director Jason Connery, the filmmaker talks about class differences, making present-day Scotland look as it did in the 1800s, and how the movie reflects his relationships with his own father and son.

ASSIGNMENT X: How did you find all of your locations in present-day Scotland that you could make to look like late 1800s Scotland?

JASON CONNERY: Well, there are a number of things. We shot the film in thirty-three days, and we had fifty locations. So the opening shot, where you’re flying along over the sea and then you head out to the side of the cliff, and that piece of castle that’s there, that’s actually along the coast of St. Andrews. It’s right there, in fact, right before you get to the cemetery where Tom [played by Peter Mullan] and Tommy [played by Jack Lowden] are buried. We did a cast of Tommy’s gravestone and moved it, because otherwise we would have been standing on Tom’s grave [to shoot it]. But that [opening] was the drone shot, and also the pullback at the very end of the film is a drone shot. That’s actually the cemetery where they’re standing. I literally pulled back from where they were.

The R & A, the Royal and Ancient [clubhouse], which is where all the upper-class guys and the eighteenth green and the teeing-off area or first fairway – that was a field that we found, because it became very obvious that the real R & A building is infinitely bigger, it’s been built onto and there are cars, and also, all the golf courses are way too over-manicured. We built half of the R & A practically. The other half was digital. And Links Road, which is the road that runs up the side of the R & A, was also digital. We built it in the middle of a field, we built up the earth and put the building on, and then tried to make the green look similar to how it did [in the 1800s]. We didn’t worry too much about the grass, because at that time, the way they were keeping the grass short was with sheep. So it wasn’t very well-manicured at all. So any of the golf courses that I would go to, I would ask them not to cut their courses if possible, and at specific holes, because I had to be very specific about the holes we were going to shoot on. And then I would pretend that the fairway was the green, and the rough was the fairway.

AX: Are there things that, if you know golf, you’ll understand that Tom is proposing something new with the course, because there were times when he would say, “Well, we could do this or we could do that”?

CONNERY: Tommy was not interested in designing courses. Tommy was, as he says, only interested in conquering them. But Tom designed over seventy courses, and in the one you’re seeing, where he says, “We’ll put a bunker over there and they’ll take two shots and blah, blah, blah,” all of that is him – I wanted to show him where he’s out designing courses, or extending courses. And what was lovely about the way he designed courses, and in fact, how courses were designed for a long time, was that they ran parallel with the nature of the land. So he didn’t build great mounds and stuff, he looked at the way the land was and then he fit the holes to the land. Whereas nowadays, there’s a tendency to have a piece of land and then just create what you want to because you have all of this ability, diggers and all that kind of thing, and you can move huge amounts of earth and create huge bunkers and all of this kind of thing. Whereas a lot of the courses he designed are all natural.

When they’re in the workshop, Tommy says, “Why do we have everybody tee off on the green? Why don’t we have a tee-off area, which is separate, on every hole?” Because back in that time, they were literally hitting the ball off what was considered the green, which meant they were hacking up all the greens. So what Tommy was saying was, which is what it is now, “Why don’t we have a tee-off area, which is separate for every hole?” It’s quite funny – it’s not mentioned in the film, but I found out that the only reason that Scotland was the one that started this, that there are eighteen holes in a golf course, was because there were eighteen nips in a bottle of whiskey. So you would have a nip before each tee-off, so they decided to have eighteen holes because of that.

That was the other thing that was interesting to me about the film. It’s very different from the sort of prosaic wandering around behind ropes and clapping politely. These guys were what were considered almost pugilistic or gunslingers of their day. For instance, in the day that you see at the end of the movie, in North Berwick, seven thousand people came to that game. That’s why I put that little bit of [real-life historical] footage at the end of the film – that was later [in the early 1900s], but it was a huge following. By that stage, they had to put ropes up, but in the time that I’m showing, as you can see, they were drinking and shouting and fighting. In fact, the fight that you see in the film, that actually happened in that bunker where we shot it. I don’t think that the players often fought, because the players didn’t drink when they played. It was very much the crowd getting over-exuberant.

AX: It’s interesting that the upper classes trusted Tom to design their courses, but wouldn’t socialize with him …

CONNERY: Yes. That was the thing about Tom. Tom knew his place, and so he was very deferential, but he also knew his job. And so he was well-paid, fifty pounds a year, and they gave him a house, and he basically was the keeper of the green for fifty years. And he was the first person to throw sand and the grass grew better, and he was forever pulling up gorse. And they very much respected his ability to do that. He would have to go to them and say, “This is what I’m going to do.”

That was why I wrote the scene about Tommy going into the R & A. Tom was never allowed in the building, which is ironic, because there’s a massive plaque on the side of the building with Tom Morris’ face on it. But he was never allowed in, because he was of the wrong class, and he was okay with that, whereas Tommy was like, “Why? You’re a better golfer than all of them.” So they were happy to let him design golf courses, but he was never thought of as anything more than his station.

AX: You personally are a very passionate golfer. What for you distinguishes golf as a sport from other sports?

CONNERY: Well, without getting overly esoteric, I feel that if you’re playing tennis against someone, and they hit a very good shot, then you can say to yourself, “Well, they gave this wonderful shot, it may have just hit the line, and it may have been slightly lucky. I don’t know that I ever could have got that, or that anyone I know could have got that.” Whereas golf is a very different game, because it’s a sport where the pole doesn’t move, and neither does the ball. So you’re really playing against yourself. Yes, you’re playing against the person you’re playing against, I suppose, but him hitting a good shot, although it psychologically might muck with you, it’s not like he hits a good shot and it gets past you because you can’t hit it back. You’re playing your ball and trying to get it in the hole. And so because of that, psychologically, I think it’s a very different animal. It’s enormously frustrating, but I feel like it has a lot of different layers. I can walk with my dad and we can have a conversation, and then we get to our ball, and then I look at how far it is, and I try to get it near the hole, and then he walks up and tries to get his near the hole, and you can have a whole round where you have conversations about enormous elements of your life, and yet you’re still playing the game and the sport as such.

It lends itself to being competitive, but not in the same way as something like tennis or squash or football. As I say, there’s a lot of psychological warfare that can go on. I mean, there are people who rise to the occasion when they’re put under pressure, and there are people who collapse, and there are people who collapse sometimes and rise sometimes. Tiger Woods is probably the most talked-about golfer ever. A lot of things happened in his life, and basically he’s now in what you could say is sort of sporting no-man’s-land. And a lot of that is psychological.

AX: So it’s physical, but you could just play by yourself, you don’t actually need an opponent.

CONNERY: That’s right. Depending on the game [and who you’re playing against, that can make] it more about the other person, but in essence, in golf, you’re never really playing against the other person. You’re playing against the course, and against yourself.

AX: Is there any personal aspect of the father/son relationship, either with your father or your son, that you’ve explored in any way through the film?

CONNERY: All of it. In the context of, for me, I have a son [Dashiell], and my son is going out into the world now, and is trying to make his way, and I am of course the son of my father [actor Sean Connery]. And I certainly was doing that – ironically, like Tom and Tommy, I was in the same profession.

AX: But your father wasn’t urging you to take up his profession do it the way Tom was urging Tommy …

CONNERY: Yeah, but Tom wasn’t urging Tommy to do it. Tom was urging Tommy to behave in a certain way, as in guidance, which I think any father does with his son. [Tom is] saying, “You need to do it this way,” and [Tommy is] saying, “Well, I don’t want to do it that way,” and I think that’s a universal theme. There are times when I say things to Dashiell and he wants to do it his way, or he thinks he knows better. And of course, I think he doesn’t, and he thinks he does. And I think that’s a normal part of the journey, especially of a father and son, and also probably a daughter and a mother, or a daughter and a father, or a son and a mother. But in this case, I don’t think [Tom] is telling him that [Tommy] needs to do it, because I think the passion that he has for it, he wants to do it. I think what he’s doing is trying to give him guidance, and he’s saying, “Yeah, but I don’t want to do it that way.” Which I think happens so often because things change. The world changes all the time. I watched a program the other day, and there was a woman who was absolutely and completely outraged – it was in 1965 – because these kids had a club, they were drinking Coca-Cola, playing pool, and listening to Elvis Presley, and she said, “They didn’t leave the place until 9:30 at night.” And she seriously thought the world was coming to an end, that it was so outrageous.

And of course, you go to today, and it goes back to, “Every new idea starts with a blasphemy.” Tom was very worried about his son. In fact, Sam Neill’s character Boothby says, “Back in your father’s day, you’d take a lashing for what you’re saying.” [What Tommy is saying] is basically, “This is what I want.” And that’s the change. All the way through the movie, there’s change.

It’s like what happens in the church, where basically, the church was saying that this woman [Tommy’s wife Meg, played by Ophelia Lovibond] was looking above her station, that she was trying to grab money and influence. And they got up and left. And ironically, and this was something that I wanted, it was Nancy [Tommy’s mother, played by Therese Bradley] who said, “Let’s go.” Again, the relationship between Meg and Tommy is very different, as opposed to the relationship between Tom and Nancy. I think Tom loved Nancy and I think Nancy loved Tom, but I don’t think they talked about their situation anything like Meg and Tommy, and I think Tom and Nancy married for economic reasons. The only time Tom mentions anything about family is when he says, “Tommy loves Meg, and so must we.” It’s the only time he steps in that arena, because as a man of that time, you didn’t. All of those things are very unsettling for a father, because a father sees the world through his time. And I think that my father certainly, I’m sure, over the years would say things about how he thought I should do things. And certainly I do that with Dashiell. Whether he listens or not is as the world turns.

AX: The “honour” of the title literally means, “It’s your turn,” right?

CONNERY: Yes. When you got on the tee, it’s a play on that, TOMMY’S HONOUR. Basically, when it’s your honour, it means it’s your hole, that you’ve won the hole before. So it’s TOMMY’S HONOUR in the context of Tommy’s honour, but also it’s in the context of, he’s the first, he’s Number One. Because in all honesty, he was the greatest golfer certainly of the nineteenth century, and I wonder what more he could have done, because he was just blazing a trail. So yes, TOMMY’S HONOUR means he is first, because he won the last hole.

AX: And what would you most like people to know about TOMMY’S HONOUR?

CONNERY: I’ve been to various film festivals, Palm Springs and Haifa and London Film Festival and so on, and what’s been lovely is that people have come out of the film very moved by the film, and many women have really enjoyed the film, which was important to me, that you should come out of the film not feeling like, “Oh, I have to have known a lot more about golf, and then I would have enjoyed it more.” For me, it’s a very human story, and what I would like, as they come out of it, having been moved – for me, when I think of the film, I think of what could have been. Tommy was an extraordinary man, and I would love to have known what could have been for him.

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ArticleExclusive Interview with TOMMY’S HONOUR director Jason Connery – Part 2

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