We interview writer-director Luna Carmoon and stars Saura Lightfoot Leon & Joseph Quinn on Hoard, a film about love, trauma, and motherhood.
It doesn’t happen very often to come across a film that’s so unapologetically original, both narratively and visually, that you know, from the very first scenes, that it’s going to be unlike anything you’ve seen before. Hoard, starring Saura Lightfoot Leon & Joseph Quinn, is that film, and it’s astonishing to think that it’s writer-director Luna Carmoon ‘s feature debut.
Hoard is about a girl named Maria whom we first meet as a child (Lily-Beau Leach), in 1984, living with a mother (Hayley Squires) who loves her but who has a severe hoarding problem that’s having an impact on both their lives. One day, mother and daughter are separated, and we next see Maria (now played by Saura Lightfoot Leon) in 1994. As a young woman, she still lives with her foster parent Michelle (Samantha Spiro), whom she calls “mum,” and she’s a teenager like any other. Or at least she would be, if it weren’t for the “smells” of her past that are starting to resurface, leaving her with an urge to remember and reconnect with her mother.
When a stranger named Michael (Joseph Quinn), a former foster child of Michelle’s, comes to stay with them for a little while, our protagonist embarks on an adventure, determined to recover the “catalogue of love” she shared with her mother — a kind of love marked by trauma and neglect, but that was still love nonetheless. Because there is no good and evil in Luna Carmoon ‘s movie, but just flawed people who are doing their best, and whom she treats with compassion at all times. And as we really get to know them, we also realise that the director has more than one surprise in store for us.
Hoard had its world premiere at the 2023 Venice Film Festival, and we spoke with writer-director Luna Carmoon about the themes of the movie, her inspirations, the casting process, her next projects, and more. Saura Lightfoot Leon and Joseph Quinn also popped by for a chat about their characters and experience. Read our interview below and don’t forget to check out our review of Hoard!
The Origins of Hoard and the Venice Premiere
What does it feel like to have Hoard premiere at the Venice Film Festival?
Luna Carmoon: It’s really special! This is my favourite festival. I love the programme. A lot of my favourite films from the past couple years come from this festival, like Alice Diop’s Saint Omer, which was one of my favourite films from last year. It just feels silly: I can’t believe I’m here! But it’s really special to be experiencing it with our cast.
What you show us in Hoard feels like such a specific kind of trauma. Where does this story come from?
L.C.: It’s an amalgamation of things, a lot of memories: I think it’s no coincidence that I wrote the film in the spring of 2020, during lockdown. None of us knew our future, or what was happening. I was very isolated in my shed in the garden [smiles], and my brain just started to, you know, run back to the past, and run back to the vaults.
I lost my sense of smell, which was really important when I was writing the story. There are a lot of smells that I feel pulsate throughout the film: you almost want to smell it when you’re watching it on the screen.
I think it was just trying to exorcise the past and escape the present, and these characters helped me survive. I enjoyed writing it as much as I enjoyed experiencing it, because I was living it in my head.
Luna Carmoon on the Casting Process
How did you find your actors?
Luna Carmoon: I’ve done a lot of work with actors and non actors, and I do a lot of open castings. Casting director Heather Basten has worked with me on all my shorts: she’s wonderful. I found “mother” first: Hayley [Squires] was always going to be “mother”: when I wrote the script, it could only be her. She’s wonderful, and so present, and such a special human. And then I found Saura, and I knew straight away that she was going to be Maria. My sister has read the script more than anyone, and she knew as well! She watched it and just went, “That’s Maria.” She just understood the rhythm.
And then, Baby Maria [Lily-Beau Leach]. I found her almost in the same week. She was in an open casting, and she had never done anything before. We looked at Lily-Beau and Saura’s baby pictures, and even their own mums were just shocked at how similar they looked. I knew it was her. Lily is just is so in touch with animals, and… You know, I’ve seen a lot of children that feel very much of this time, but Lily-Beau Leach has been reincarnated straight from the Edwardian times! [laughs]. She loves everything: worms, snails, … Most kids probably would have been scared doing the things she was doing, but she was just fascinated with all of it. All of the textures were strange to her, but she was in awe of it all.
And then, Joe. Weirdly, I’d watched him in a lot of British TV years before, and again, it was my sister. She was like, “Remember that guy in Howards End? I think he would be great for it.” Heather also recommended him, and then I had a Zoom with him. We spoke about British films from the 60s and 70s, and I was like, “That’s my guy! He just gets the absurd.”
I love that you cast Joe! I feel that some of his most recent fans, who know him for his most famous role, have no idea of what they’re about to see!
L.C.: Yeah, I kind of love that all of the emo girlies who love him in Stranger Things are just not going to expect the rawness and the the ugly of his performance in this film. They’re completely worlds apart, you know? It’s gonna be a surprise, but hopefully a good one!
Saura Lightfoot Leon & Joseph Quinn on Luna Carmoon and What Drew them to Hoard
What does it feel like to be here in Venice?
Joseph Quinn: It’s surreal! And exciting. I’m so excited for Luna, especially because she deserves this.
Saura Lightfoot Leon: The world is gonna meet Luna Carmoon, and my God, that’s a birth.
What was it like to work with Luna?
Joseph Quinn: Hell! [laughs] She puts you in these extraordinary situations, you know, and she trusts you. She’s such a talent, and I can’t wait to hopefully make another film with her one day.
Saura Lightfoot Leon: Anyone who goes to work with Luna is going to get a bit of the “real” her, and that is invaluable. It’s important when you meet someone who’s making art, who cares about it, and is giving themselves to it…
J.Q.: …and to you!
S.L.L.: …and gets you to, you know, peer through a little window. It’s brave.
What drew you to the film?
J.Q.: Initially, I think, it was the material: I remember reading the script and thinking, “This is feral, and brave, and mad! I can’t wait to meet the person who wrote it.” I had lovely Zoom with Luna, and Luna isn’t the kind of person you forget very quickly. And then we went into a series of chemistry tests. I met Saura, and I was totally enamoured with her talent and her spirit. And unfortunately, we got the job! [laughs] I just remember thinking, “This is such a brave endeavour,” and kind of really wanting to be there for the ride.
S.L.L.: A year before I got the audition for the film, I lost my grandmother. She was one of the most important people in my life, and I hadn’t really experienced grief to that extent [until that moment], with someone who felt like they were a part of my body. And then I read the script. And I was surprised to say that it was pretty immediate.
It must have been so hard to really find and embody this combination of trauma and love that your character, Maria, experiences in the film.
S.L.L.: It’s a funny one: when I was in it [in the character, while filming], I felt like I kind of was in it in it. And then I’d come home, late at night, and I’d go back in the next day. So I was living the world for a while. I use music a lot. I like things that aren’t very logical, and things that make me feel who I am. And so, if I could kind of create that atmosphere for myself around me on set, that was the best way, because that made me feel free. And then, I could kind of explore that with some partners, maybe – what is the scene is about, and what’s at the bottom of it.
You’ve both done a lot of theatre work in the past, right?
J.Q.: I’ve paid my dues? Yeah, I’ve done my time. [laughs] I mean, some people say that theatre requires more discipline, because we’re doing it every night, but the film work is equally disciplined. We were both fortunate enough to go to drama school, but I think that the physical world out there is really invaluable. Also, Saura comes from a family of incredible movers, and dancers. So we already had the foundations of letting – God, It sounds so wonky! [laughs] – letting our bodies speak to each other.
S.L.L.: I also think it’s important to not throw yourself out completely. That’s the fascinating thing about actors, you know: it’s an art form, and you can let go of it, hopefully. You put it on, you breathe it, you live it, you take it off, because it can be damaged to take back with you. And that requires technique. Our trainings helped us with this: you can feel, and you can throw yourself in it, but you find ways to also step out of it. And some movements are technical, too.
J.Q.: Yeah, it’s probably the emotion within the technical stuff. It’s great fun!
Luna Carmoon on Maria & Michael, and Working with Saura & Joseph
Note: some spoilers in the two questions below.
What do you think Maria and Michael mean to one another?
Luna Carmoon: I think Maria is a way of him accessing a childhood and teenagehood that he never experienced. He believes that they are on this pilgrimage together, and that this is what love is, and you often do confuse the two sometimes, if you have such an intense emotional connection – a soul bond – with someone. But not all trauma is the same: it doesn’t smell the same.
And Maria doesn’t love him at all. He’s simply a tool for her navigating the past, and he’s not important at all. To Maria, he’s simply background noise: that’s a painful thing when love is not required. But this story is about womanhood: the men just happened to be catalysts for Maria.
I love that line Michael says at some point – something like, “Please love me!” It’s just so relevant, and so indicative of our experience as women.
L.C.: That’s your experience, isn’t it, when you’re a woman? But that line actually wasn’t written! It was one of the unscripted lines: Michael just pulled out of Joe, as I think he really felt what Michael was feeling in that moment.
I don’t like Michael. I don’t like the man. But Joe brought a humility to him that, at least on a level of trying to understand him, I could withdraw. It doesn’t mean I condone him at all: I think he’s a terrible man. But you do see him, and you see that he’s three-dimensional. And, you know, he’s going through it too.
How did you work on the chemistry with Saura and Joe, especially in the most disturbing and/or intimate scenes?
L.C.: I don’t really like to rehearse. In terms of the sort of technical scenes, I like to choreograph the blocking, like the bullfight: we definitely choreographed that. We worked with an amazing intimacy coach: Louise Kempton. She’s the reason why they could do those intimate scenes. Louise helps create an atmosphere where you ground your body, and they got to know each other and be able to communicate how they wanted to do it together and build the scenes together. I can’t imagine a world without intimacy coordinators: I just don’t know how it worked in the past. It’s a terrifying thought!
And I just love people: I love spending time with them and getting to know them on a deeper level. If I wouldn’t want you around my house for dinner, I don’t want to work with you. And Saura and Joe are both so charming! Everyone on this set was just such a full human, so full of multitudes: they just got it. They got the atmosphere and the essence of the film, and we love each other deeply. We all fell in love with each other, we really did: even the crew! We all had lunch, dinner, and breakfast together. I think everyone felt like we just had such a special time on that set.
I feel that the sound design really helped convey so many feelings, both in terms of Maria and Michael’s relationship and also the film as a whole.
L.C.: Steve Single and Andy Neil were our sound designers: they did the sound in Nitram as well. The sounds were written into the story and the script. Steve and Andy are beautiful humans, and they really gave their all. Nowadays, it often feels like sound isn’t part of the story, but it is in Hoard. It was written there from the beginning: these sounds are used to induce feelings, like déjà vu. Sometimes there’d be sounds from the future that haven’t happened yet, playing in the past, so when you “meet” them in the future, there’s a weird sense of déjà vu that I hope is a bit subconscious: you know you’re meeting things that you’ve seen or heard before, but it feels disconnected. I love sound design: I think it should feel like it’s part of the story.
Luna Carmoon’s Inspirations and Future Projects
What would you say are your main inspirations?
Luna Carmoon: The fear of the absurd! I love hysteria and absurdity: directors like Ken Russell and Andrzej Żuławski… One of my favourite films is My Nights Are More Beautiful Than Your Days (1989), a Żuławski film that I love: the rhythm of the dialogue is absurd. It’s like Women in Love, by Ken Russell: there’s a rhythm to it that I really love. I love early Verhoeven: I’m sure you can see parts of Spetters (1980) and Turkish Delight (1973) in Hoard. I also love a lot of British films from the 70s and 60s, like from directors Joseph Losey and Nick Rogue.
Are you working on anything at the moment?
L.C.: I’ve adapted a period book set in the 1930s: it was one of the inspirations for “Carrie”. It’s quite unearthly and disturbing: it’s about not having control over your body and how often it feels like that as a woman in general, but in a really fantastical way. I’m also writing a bloody tale of three women set from the mid 60s to the 80s, in London. I love it: I can’t wait to write it. The women are whispering to me, and they’re like, “Write us!” So I have to come to their call. And yeah, I think there are more strange things to come.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Hoard premiered at the 2023 Venice Film Festival on September 2, 2023, as part of International Critics’ Week, and will be released in cinemas in the UK & Ireland on May 10, 2024. Read our review of Hoard!