Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal on diving into the great gay sadness of All of Us Strangers

Two of our finest actors have come together for Andrew Haigh's haunting new film.

Two of our finest actors have come together for Andrew Haigh's haunting new film

Andrew Scott (left) and Paul Mescal in All of Us Strangers.
Andrew Scott (left) and Paul Mescal in All of Us Strangers. (Searchlight)

Queeries is a column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens. 

There's arguably no filmmaker who has examined the sadness of contemporary gay men as thoroughly as Andrew Haigh. This work began with his deeply romantic 2011 breakout, Weekend, continued with his underappreciated HBO series, Looking, which ran from 2014 to 2016, and is now completing what feels like a trilogy of sorts (the great gay sadness trilogy?) in his staggering new film, All of Us Strangers.

Even more so than Weekend or Looking, All of Us Strangers offers a pretty profound cinematic expression of gay devastation. It also offers very little by way of its plot that should be spoiled before one sees it (I strongly recommend going in as blindly as possible). But what I will say is that Haigh has given us an achingly beautiful meditation on memory, grief, death and the trauma bestowed on different generations of gay men through their relationships to both the AIDS epidemic and their own inherited families. And a large reason why it all works so well is the deeply felt performances of Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal as two particularly sad gay men who find each other in the otherwise empty London high-rise they both live in. 

Scott and Mescal both came into the project as fans of Haigh's work. 

"In second-year drama school, I saw 45 Years," Mescal tells me over a joint Zoom call with Scott. "A friend recommended it to me, and then I absolutely was shattered by that film: Charlotte [Rampling]'s performance, the visual language that Andrew used and the ending in particular. And then I very quickly watched Lean on Pete and loved that. But I didn't see Weekend until I was given the script for All of Us Strangers. So that was weirdly the last film I saw of his. I mean, all of those films are absolutely phenomenal, and to be asked to be in one of his films was a pinch-yourself moment for me, for sure."

"I watched Weekend years and years ago, and I remember just how authentic it was," says Scott. "And then his HBO series Looking, I mean, I absolutely ate that up. I just think it was such a brilliant and truthful depiction of modern gay men. I loved it, just loved it. And everything he does is slightly different. He's a bit of a genre-buster."

Mescal is quick to note that even though the projects are all slightly different, they are also all in 

conversation with each other. Which is certainly clear in All of Us Strangers, which is very different from both Weekend or Looking in tone and structure still feels like their older, bleaker brother. Scott's character in particular seems representative of many gay men who have faced internal struggles after coming of age during the worst years of the AIDS crisis.

Andrew Scott (center frame) and Paul Mescal in All of Us Strangers.
Andrew Scott (center frame) and Paul Mescal in All of Us Strangers. (Searchlight)

For Scott, himself an out gay man, being in a film that is so unafraid to explore the dark side of his own sexuality was "a great privilege." 

"There's a great expression that someone said the other day that I loved, which is, 'Beware of toxic positivity,'" Scott says. "Because there is a kind of toxic positivity about queer stories sometimes."

Scott explains that there was something of a backlash against gay stories being "miserablist."

"So now we kind of go into this place where it's really just, to my mind, a little one note, because everything is just really positive. And of course, like all great art, both those things can exist. And I think what [Haigh's] able to do is that he's absolutely able to understand that the difficulty that a gay person can go through is distinct. But, in some ways, it's also not that distinct from any other human experience. And so the cruelty that the family bestow on my character of Adam is cruel, but it's accidental cruelty, like a lot of gay experiences. Of course, we can have depictions of people who are fully accepted by absolute dream parents, but then you can [also] have stories that are really, really brutal. And I think for a lot of people, their experience lies somewhere between the two."

Scott argues that this doesn't just apply to gay people either.

"Your family has this unique power where they're able to say things with great intention that absolutely sear you, and you think, 'That really hurts me,'" he says. "But they do it accidentally. And I think that's in the film. There's a sort of compassion about how we all hurt each other unintentionally."

"It's not abouta singular experience being mirrored and that's the reason the film works," adds Mescal. "It's actually a film that expands. You can relate to it regardless of your sexuality, through your relationship with your parents or a loved one."

Despite the darkness of their characters, both Mescal and Scott had nothing but lovely things to say about their experience making the film. 

"You can have a wonderful time working on something and it not be the greatest film," Scott says. "And you can make something that's really beautiful and it can be really tough. But this was both a wonderful time and a beautiful film. There was just something about the nature of who Andrew [Haigh] is and his talent, and also who the people that he selected to be in his crew were. And then there was being able to work with Paul on these incredibly intimate scenes and to make something special that people really love."

Andrew Scott (left) and Paul Mescal in All of Us Strangers.
Andrew Scott (left) and Paul Mescal in All of Us Strangers. (Searchlight)

"It's rare that you get to make a film with so few people too," Mescal says. "A lot of the time, I felt like it was just Andrew [Haigh] directing me and Andrew [Scott] and then there's Jamie [Ramsay, the film's cinematographer] with the camera. It's almost like a black box, Actors Studio–esque setup. Except the material is so moving."

Ultimately, both Scott and Mescal's experiences boiled down to just how much they appreciated their director.

"I just feel so happy to be in one of his films," Scott says. "He's such a glorious person. Like a lot of artists who are able to explore quite dark territory, he's a very light, light person. He really wears everything so lightly, and he's a really kind, lovely human." 

You can see that kind, lovely human's collaboration with Scott and Mescal when All of Us Strangers (finally!) hits theatres on December 22nd.


Peter Knegt (he/him) is a writer, producer and host for CBC Arts. He writes the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and hosts and produces the talk series Here & Queer. He's also spearheaded the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag, variety special Queer Pride Inside, and interactive projects Superqueeroes and The 2010s: The Decade Canadian Artists Stopped Saying Sorry. Collectively, these projects have won Knegt four Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films, the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights and the host of the monthly film series Queer Cinema Club at Toronto's Paradise Theatre. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.

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