Alec Secareanu plays Gheorghe Ionescu in God’s Own Country, the award-winning debut feature film by writer/director Francis Lee, which tells the story of a young Yorkshire farmer who finds himself caught up in a love story with a Romanian farm worker. A powerful film, bracingly different from mainstream LGBT cinema, it’s also unwittingly reflective of the current political climate.
How did you initially decide to involve yourself with acting?
Alec Secareanu: I think I decided I wanted to be an actor when I was in high school. I went to a very technical high school, where I had to learn a lot of maths, physics, and things like that. I realised in tenth grade, that I’m not into maths that much, and found that my high school has an actor’s circle. I discovered that I could also skip classes to attend the actor’s circle, so that is basically how I got into theatre – I was in love with the idea of being an actor since I was a kid to be honest, but only in high school did I realise that I really wanted to do this.
The film subtly does so much more than other LGBT films. This isn’t a coming out story, or a story about family hardships, etc. How would you define God’s Own Country?
AS: It wasn’t our intention to place the film within an LGBT category. I think it’s a love story. Period. It just happens to be between two men. Two men who come from very different backgrounds, and very different worlds. It’s a clash between cultures and between the way that you approach farming, and you approach life – it’s a clash between these different territories. It begins very slowly, with a left foot, but with time the characters manage to make things work. It’s not an LGBT story, but a human story and a general love story.
How do you interpret the film’s message of hope? Would it differ between Romanian and British audiences?
AS: The film has been shown in Romania at the Transylvania International Film Festival, where it was very well received. When we filmed God’s Own Country and when I talked to Francis about it, I couldn’t even imagine that the film will have a distribution at home, because of the subject. In Romania, it’s very tricky and the film became so much more political, than we intended it to be. When we shot the film, Brexit was only being discussed at the time, and in Romania it’s a very strange situation regarding the LGBT community, and I’m very proud that film is going to be shown there. I really hope that this film will give a sense of normality to the LGBT community. There is an NGO in Romania that is supported by the Church, trying to change the Constitution with a referendum back to defining marriage as the union between a man and a woman. Every country is going forward, and unfortunately, they are trying to get us to go backwards.
Can audiences in the UK see the film without linking it with a reflection on Brexit?
AS: No. I remember talking to Francis when he was in the middle of editing the film and then Brexit happened. He said that from that point on he watched the film in another way. You can’t ignore that Brexit happened and that in this film there is an outsider that comes to save a farm, having a different approach and teach Johnny (Josh O’Connor). Farming in Romania attempts to use every single aspect of an animal – milk for cheese, wool for clothes, etc. – which is not the case here. We didn’t intend to, but it became a period film.
Gheorghe brings new ways of appreciating the land and the work on the farm. Did you personally gain anything in return from the Yorkshire landscape?
AS: When I arrived in Yorkshire it was the end of February, supposedly the beginning of spring. I am used to the spring in Romania, where the weather gets warmer and nature gets greener, but that was not the case in Yorkshire. The weather was insane. We sometimes experienced four seasons in one day – snowing, hailing, then the sun came out for five minutes, and then it was snowing again. It was really intense regarding the weather, especially because we had to film a lot of the scenes outside during this period. To be honest, in the first two weeks it was very damp, wet, and cold – that got me a bit depressed, but I tried to use that in creating my character, because I imagined that Gheorghe would have gone through the same stages that I went through when I arrived. I later returned to Yorkshire in the summer, and that was a whole other story – it was very different and I love that place, I love the farm, I love the landscape, and I think it has a well-deserved name being ‘God’s Own Country’, because proud Yorkshire locals refer to their land in that way, and this is why the film’s name is also ‘God’s Own Country’. I gained a lot of things from Yorkshire, so I would love to keep returning.
Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country can be seen at cinemas all over London from September 1 2017. For further details, please click on the image below.