the boy who harnessed the wind trailer

Tell me about showing the film to William for the first time. What was his reaction? What was going through your head while he was watching it?

Chiwetel: It was before Sundance. I showed it to him in New York beforehand. I was very nervous and excited to show him the film. And his reaction was interesting. He loved the film, but it also takes him back to these very complicated moments.

He went through an actual trauma in those months.

Chiwetel: Yeah, and he’s reminded of those times, and he didn’t know how things were going to work out [at the time], and he’s taken back to that time of uncertainty and that desperation to build this windmill and the reasons why he built it. So reliving that is obviously complex for him, but then also he celebrates all of it—what was achieved and the optimism and hopefulness. So it’s a kind of mixture for him, and it was wonderful to gauge that and be with him and get his reaction in that very honest way.

I’m curious about the search for your William and finding Maxwell, who is first-time actor. How extensive was the search, and why was Maxwell the right young man for the job?

Chiwetel: Loads of young people. Alexa Fogel, the casting director, had contacts on the continent, as well as Europe and the states, so we were going into schools in Malawi and South Africa and Kenya, trying to find someone who captured the quality—a young person’s vulnerability but a certain strength and determination—all of the elements that make up William. Maxwell rose out of that process in a really extraordinary way. The first time I saw him, I couldn’t quite believe he was doing what he was doing. He had that capacity to play those deep emotions but with a minimalism. It takes a lot of confidence to to that; it took me years to figure out how to have that kind of emotional intelligence to play scenes in a minimal way but knowing that you can convey very rich emotions through that. He had that understanding of what the camera could convey. So I went to workshop with in Nairobi and through his second and third auditions, and play scenes, improvise and see if there were any limits to that, but there weren’t. He is a gifted and intelligent young man, who reminded me very much of the real William. It became clear that he was our guy.

I love that both with Maxwell and the real William at that age, you compare them to you and realize you weren’t like that.

Chiwetel: That is exactly true [laughs].

The shorts you made and this film, you wrote. I’m wondering if, down the road, you’d ever consider directing a film that you didn’t self-generate. Could you be as passionate about something that you weren’t a part of from the ground up?

Chiwetel: I’m not sure. I’m open to that, definitely. There’s something about this film and the [short films], because they’re so specific to me in their own way, they capture my imagination, so I feel like that I could generate the energy necessary to start the process. And because they match my sensibilities very closely, that feels very exciting, and I can take that energy into all aspects of production.

Do you have that kind of connection as well with the next film you’ve already started writing?

Chiwetel: One hundred percent. I think that’s a necessary part of the process for me.

Will you find a role for yourself in that one as well?

Chiwetel: Who knows? [laughs]

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