One man. One phone. One car.
Movies don't get much more minimal than the Brit film Locke. It stars Tom Hardy as Ivan Locke, an accomplished construction expert whose carefully assembled life comes tumbling down around his ears on a road trip from Birmingham to London in his valiant attempt to do the right thing after a single episode of marital infidelity.
The low-budget drama was written and directed by Steven Knight, a man of startlingly diverse talents, if you care to take a peek at his resumé. He is an Oscar-nominated screenwriter (Dirty Pretty Things), a co-creator of the hit game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and -- going way back on his Internet Movie Database profile -- a writer for the great double-entendre-spewing comic Frankie Howerd.
Knight himself allows he has one strange work history.
"Even when I see it written down, I think: That's weird," Knight says with a laugh during a phone interview from Toronto, where he is promoting the film.
"I sort of know how it happened. It's all related, I suppose, because I was working in television in London and the company that I was working with did comedy, some drama, and they also did game shows.
"You just had to walk up one flight of stairs to talk with someone who was in charge of game shows and it encouraged one to think about things like that," he says. "We just got very lucky with Millionaire.
"But I've always thought of myself as a writer first of all -- a writer of whatever needs to be written."
In the case of Locke, what needed to be written was an extraordinary role for an extraordinary actor capable of transfixing audiences to a screen, single-handedly, for the film's 85-minute running time.
On top of rising to that particular challenge, Tom Hardy had to perform while driving a car on the highways between Birmingham and London over eight nights, twice nightly, with all his co-stars speaking to him over the phone and off-camera from a distant conference room.
"It was pretty intense, because of the way we shot it, from beginning to end, in sequence, with me cueing the callers from a conference room," Knight says. "They're on a real phone line, so the calls you see are real. We shoot, get to the end, take a break and shoot it again and keep doing that. We always shot the whole thing, all the way through, without retaking anything."
If it sounds exhausting, Knight suggests it was exhilarating for all the actors.
"When you know the shoot is short, everybody gives everything all the time so there's a real buzz around the place, and even though you know everything will be over soon, you just keep at it."
Adding to his considerable challenges, Hardy worked under conditions that would have required bed rest for anyone else.
"On Day 1, when Tom turned up, he had a bad cold," Knight says. "So rather than using makeup and drugs to dry him up, we decided that, OK, Ivan Locke has got a cold and went with it.
"And I think it worked well," he says. "We wanted to use whatever really happened to make it as real as possible."
Under the dire circumstances, Knight was impressed Hardy seemed to enjoy the process as much as he did.
"The craft of acting is what he's obsessed with. The business of celebrity, he's not so fond of," Knight says. "So when you're working hard doing the thing you want to do, it's enjoyable."
With Hardy's contribution, Knight says he is pleased that the film offers a sympathetic view of masculinity rarely seen on screen.
"It's a character I'm familiar with because he has a similar background to me," he says. "He's a working-class man who grew up in a tough environment and who then chooses to be ultra-responsible, to work hard because he wants a change.
"I know a lot of people like him, so I find his character quite accessible," Knight says.
"He's not Jason Bourne or James Bond. He's just an ordinary man ... but no less interesting for that."
Locke opens Friday, May 30, at Grant Park. It is classified 14A.