Being “Forgiven”: An Interview with Playwright/Screen Writer Michael Ashton


Michael Ashton is a playwright and screenwriter from Dundee, Scotland. After serving in the British Army, he studied law and became a legal counselor specializing in human rights. In 2008, after battling drug and alcohol abuse, Ashton was convicted of fraud, which landed him in prison for 18 months. Determined to turn his life around and to redeem himself, Ashton took a screenwriting course in prison. He has since written over 30 plays including the award-winning ‘The Archbishop and the Antichrist,’ which has since been adapted into a screenplay, The Forgiven, which was released in select theaters, VOD, and Digital HD this past Friday.

World Film Geek had the chance to talk to Ashton about his first screenplay and the personal inspiration of both the film and his original stage play.


First of all Michael, thank you so much for talking about The Forgiven. I found this to be a very powerful and emotionally driven film.
Well, thank you very much! I didn’t go to South Africa for the filming. I’m quite high in the Asperger’s field that leaving my house can be difficult. So I didn’t go when they were filming. Instead, my ex-wife Kim, who is also my manager, went to the filming. When I saw the film for the first time at the London Film Festival, I thought the final courtroom scene involving Horné Visser (as Hansi Coetzee) and Thundi Makhubele (as Mrs. Morobe), I mean wow. If the film was just that three or four minutes alone, I’d have been happy with that.

I was quite surprised to learn that this was based on a play you wrote, The Archbishop and the Antichrist. What inspired you to write a stage play about post-Apartheid South Africa?
Well, you must know that I went to prison. While I was in prison, I wasn’t going to waste my time. I took a Master’s Degree in Research Methodology. My thesis was actually on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. For free, once a week, I attended a play writing course. The people who ran the course, Synergy, they wanted you to write something for the end of the course.

And unlike the other guys in the class, I didn’t want to write about cooking and bitches (laughs). I wanted to write about what brought people to prison. When I was sent to prison, I was an absolute wreck. And I was a wretched creature. I mean, what caused me to commit my offenses? Because I was a practicing lawyer. I was completely gone for years on alcohol and drugs. I had destroyed every relationship you can imagine. I mean nobody wanted to know me. When I went to prison, I didn’t get any letters, visitors, nothing.

When I started to think about what I was going to write about, I was racked by guilt, tormented by guilt. I started to wonder about forgiveness and redemption. How do you deal with these issues? And when you are sitting in a prison cell by yourself, you only got yourself. So, when I started to write, I wanted to write something meaningful. And I realized that Desmond Tutu, was overlooked. You have films about Nelson Mandela, but Desmond Tutu, the man who worked hard and was in the front line for many years, was overlooked. Hence my story.

And of course, I had to invent a protagonist for Tutu and that was the white supremacist Piet Blomfeld. And curiously, I must have done a good job because a lot of people think he’s real. And of course, he’s not (laughs).

I thought he was real. It was that convincing to me!
Well, I invented him. I don’t even know if I’m real (laughs).


Director and co-writer Roland Joffe, who helped Ashton with his first screenplay.

You got to work with a renowned director in Roland Joffé, who co-wrote the screenplay for the film. How did you two meet and what was it like collaborating with him on the film?
It was absolutely fantastic! I loved Roland and I think he reciprocates. He’s a very special human being. He liked the stage play and I was introduced to him by Tony Calder, who in the 60’s and 70’s had managed The Rolling Stones, The Small Faces, Peter Frampton, and others. He introduced me to Roland and we started working on the screenplay. It was mind-blowing working with Roland. He’s a very careful and cautious person. Despite the fact he had secured Forest Whitaker for the film in 2011, he didn’t really want to get into the nitty-gritty of shooting the film until he was absolutely ready.

I’ve written a lot of stage plays across the U.K. and won numerous awards. My last stage award was last May, so transitioning from the stage to the screen, was not easy. Roland is a very patient and kind man, so he was able to help and he overlooked some indiscretions. For instance, having Asperger’s, I tend to fire off and I sent e-mails to people and getting all riled up (laughs). I told them I was never speaking to any of them again, ever (laughs). The following day, I sent another e-mail apologizing and Roland tends to forgive all of that. He would point out what wasn’t cinematic so we cherry picked the dialogue scenes, which were quite long in the film from the stage play, but that was from Roland’s excellent, spaced-out, guidance.

When it comes to plays, I get introduced to the actors on day one and then after the read through, they don’t want me to come back (laughs) because of the fear that if they change the dialogue, I will get mad (laughs). Roland’s patience with me is boundless.

Were you involved in any casting of the film? I felt Forest Whitaker and Eric Bana (above left) gave such powerful performances in the film. Personally, I thought this was Eric Bana’s best role.
Kim, my ex-wife and manager, Roland, and Craig Baumgarten (producer) asked me who I wanted for the roles and they said, brilliant! (Laughs) Eric was right up there because I just loved his first film, Chopper. He played a chopper and his character was in prison for a while in the film. I actually have a couple of Chopper posters. Eric was right up there by choice but I suggested two actors.

The other actor I wanted was actually Joaquin Phoenix (above center). So I wanted Joaquin and Eric. It was brilliant when Eric took the part. Vince Vaughn (above right) wanted to play Blomfeld, but I couldn’t see him in that role. I do love him to death. He was brilliant in Get Cool, the sequel to Get Shorty, but I just couldn’t picture him in this role. So, when Eric took over, I was so pleased. I think either Eric or Joaquin could have played the role.

I could see Joaquin but I felt Eric had a slightly better advantage with the role. Again, this was one of his best roles in my opinion.
I actually spoke to Eric after one of the performances at the London Film Festival and when you’ve actually written something and you see it come to life in film or on the stage, it is hard for the writer to appreciate an actor of Eric Bana’s stature to where you tell them that this was the kind of role actors would kill each other to play.

This is your first feature film as a screenwriter and this was based on your stage play. Are there any more of your plays that you would consider adapting into film or do you have any new projects in the works?
Yes, for KS Productions, we are developing a six-part mini-series called Billy Wild, about the rise and fall of a 60’s pop star. This will be a joint US-UK production. We also have a feature film called The Gates of Sleep, which we have a director lined up and that’s pretty advanced as well.

The Forgiven comes to theaters, VOD, and Digital HD on March 9. This is a powerful and emotional film that should be watched, especially for its theme and performances by Forest Whitaker and Eric Bana. Michael, you did a great job with the material and I thank you again for talking about the film.
Thank you so much!

A special Thank You goes to Katrina Wan PR and Michael Ashton for making this interview possible. For more on Michael, check out the KS Productions website for more information.


A Tribute to Sam Shepard (1943-2017)

Sam Shepard, Q&A

Hollywood has been rocked by the death of legendary actor, writer, playwright, and filmmaker Sam Shepard.

Shepard passed away after a lengthy battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, on July 27 at the age of 73. His passing was just announced today via outlets.

Born on November 5, 1943 in Fort Sheridan, Illinois, Shepard was the son of a teacher and a former WWII pilot turned teacher and farmer. In high school, the acting bug bit Shepard while working as a ranch hand after the family settled down in California. In 1962, Shepard joined a theater troupe and never looked back.

Shepard got his start on the stage in the Off-Off Broadway circuit as a playwright. While he focused writing for the stage, he did write the occasion film as well. In 1975, he became the core playwright for the Magic Theater in California. A mere three years later, Shepard transitioned into acting when he made his debut in front of the cameras in Days of Heaven for director Terrance Malick. One of his most iconic acting roles was that of astronaut Chuck Yeager in 1983’s The Right Stuff.

Shepard would go on to have a successful career in both the stage and film. In addition, he even has done some writings which have been published. He would direct only two films, 1988’s Far North and 1993’s Silent Tongue.

Shepard is survived by his sisters and three children. World Film Geek sends its condolences to the family of Sam Shepard.

Rest in Peace, Sam Shepard.

A Tribute to Carrie Fisher (1956-2016)


May the Force be Forever with Carrie Fisher, who sadly passed away this morning just days after suffering a heart attack at the age of 60.

Born on October 21, 1956, Fisher was the only daughter of legendary actress Debbie Reynolds and the eldest child of 50’s pop icon Eddie Fisher. Being raised in a entertainment family had somewhat been a blessing and at times, not so much for Fisher. In 1973, after dropping out of high school, she went to London to study at the Central School of Speech and Drama. After a year and a half, Fisher relocated to New York to attend Sarah Lawrence College to continue her studies of the arts.

All that would change in 1976, when a year after making her film debit opposite Warren Beatty and Julie Christie in Shampoo, Fisher would make sci-fi history when she played Princess Leia Organa in Star Wars, which was released in 1977 and is now officially known as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. This would become Fisher’s most well-known role as she would go on to reprise the role in The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, Return of the Jedi in 1983, and most recently, The Force Awakens in 2015. She will be seen in one of her final film appearances in the yet untitled Star Wars Episode VIII due for release in 2017.

Aside from playing Princess Leia, Fisher has prominently appeared in other roles that allowed her to break from her sci-fi alter ego. She would appear in The Blues BrothersHannah and Her SistersWhen Harry Met SallyThe Burbs, and Drop Dead Fred amongst others in either lead or major supporting roles. She even published a few novels and unbeknownst to some, she delved in the world of script polishing, in which she made tweaks to scripts of films. This was a career that would last 15 years and some of her tweaks would appear in major Hollywood films such as Sister ActHookLethal Weapon 3, and even, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace among others. She ended that phase of her prolific career in 2004.

Aside from films and television, Fisher was also involved in stage productions, both on the stage and behind the scenes. Her one-woman play Wishful Drinking performed massively well nationwide from 2006 to 2010, with the final performances at the building where the legendary disco Studio 54 was once located in New York City.

Carrie is survived by her mother, her brother Todd, sisters Joely and Tricia Leigh, and daughter Billie Lourd.

World Film Geek sends its condolences to the family of Carrie Fisher. As a final tribute, here is Carrie Fisher in her iconic role as Princess Leia when she first meets Wicket the Ewok in Return of the Jedi.

Rest in Peace, Carrie Fisher. May the Force Forever Be with You.