Fish Tank (2009): How Director Andrea Arnold Cast Michael Fassbinder and Katie Jarvis

Fish Tank, written and directed by Oscar-winner Andrea Arnold, stars Katie Jarvis.

The film is being distributed by IFC Films.


Katie Jarvis as Mia

Even though Katie had no dance experience, which was crucial for the role, Arnold was convinced that she was right for the role.

“She had never done any acting or dancing before,” explains Arnold. “She didn’t dance at all; in fact, she didn’t even like dancing. The first time I asked her to dance she was too shy and so we left the room and left the camera on so she could dance alone. When I watched the tape I saw that even though she was not a dancer in any way, she was totally herself when she was dancing. There was no mask, no show. She was able to be herself totally, even though she didn’t like doing it. I thought I would take the risk. I wasn’t sure if it was going to work, Katie had never done any acting but whatever happened I knew she would be herself and I wanted that the most.”

Jarvis adds “The dancing was hard work as I had to do it over and over again. It wore me out, but it kept me fit.”

“She was really brave in so many ways; there was so much for her to get used to. She was in every scene and it was tough for her sometimes,” says Arnold. “I think she really grew over the course of the filming, changed in some way. She did beautifully. I think she wants to do more acting. She has an agent now.”

“I learned a lot doing the film,” says Jarvis. “Whereas before I was doing nothing all the time, it made me learn that I could do things if I wanted to. It was hard, but it was fun and rewarding. Now I want to make the most of it. It shows you, you don’t have to go to drama school to get into it, but I think I was one of a kind, I don’t think anyone else will get picked off a train station!”

MIchael Fassbender as Connor

Michael Fassbender was not immediately thought of for Connor. Arnold initially had a very different idea. “I originally wanted real people for everyone in FISH TANK and I had my eye on a man who works in my local park, a man who empties the bins. He was a perfect Connor. I wonder what he made of me watching him so intently every time I saw him. But then I began to think it would be interesting to have someone with experience, mixed in with Katie’s innocence, as that would echo the relationship in the film and could work well.” Fassbender had just appeared in HUNGER to great critical acclaim, but Arnold hadn’t seen the film.

“I saw Michael for the first time in a clip from WEDDING BELLES, an Irvine Welsh film. I hadn’t seen HUNGER or even knew about it at that point, though I became aware of it later. I thought he was very charismatic in WEDDING BELLES and that was an important quality for Connor. I made a decision without meeting him on the strength of that clip really because he felt right and I trust my instincts in that way. I don’t like to question myself when it feels right so I just went for it.”

Fassbender boarded the film without having read the script as Arnold didn’t allow any of the actors to read it beforehand. They were given their scenes only a few days before filming. “Not having a script is kind of worrying and most of the time you wouldn’t commit to something under those circumstances, but I’d seen RED ROAD and I really respected Andrea and wanted to work with her. I find her storytelling very interesting because it’s in the grey area. She deals with human beings who have flaws, with good qualities and negative qualities and are basically just trying to figure their way through life.”

“It was brave of him to do this film really because I didn’t show him or anyone in the film the script beforehand so he didn’t know what he was letting himself in for. I wanted to shoot in order so that the story would reveal itself to everyone as we went along,” explains Arnold. “I felt this was especially important for Katie, as I wanted her to feel she knew where she was all the time. I also didn’t want anyone to add anything significant to what they were doing. Not knowing the future meant that every moment had to be explored for just what it was and nothing more. A bit like life, I guess. We never know what will happen to us in the next hour, the next day. I wanted each moment to have that innocence. Michael very much took this on board and went through the filming taking every day in his stride. We didn’t rehearse, talk much about anything; we just worked on every day as it came.”

“It was a very different way of working,” comments Fassbender. “I usually like to digest the script and let it rot and then play with it when to the day of filming comes so in this instance I tried to be as loose and relaxed as possible. That was the main note I gave myself. Andrea is very quick and off the cuff and works with whatever happens that day to organically feed her story and creates a very comfortable space for the actors to work in.”

Fassbender enjoyed working with Jarvis. “Katie is a very expressive person and very easy to play with as she’s not really acting. In Andrea’s hand you can get a very powerful performance in that it’s very raw, it comes from the gut, it hasn’t been over thought, it’s very intuitive.” Jarvis, in turn, found Fassbender easy to work with. “He gave me advice about certain things and was really helpful,” she says. “It felt a bit weird acting some scenes with him, but because I knew what he was like off-camera, it made it much easier.”