As if being a 5-time champion global triathlete wasn’t enough, Lesley Paterson had to up the ante.
“What can I say? I love a challenge,” laughs the muti-award-winning athlete – and now, a multi-award-winning screenwriter and producer (All Quiet on the Western Front, Netflix, 2022.)
“I have always been a bit obsessive about my interests,” smiles the 42-year-old native of Stirling, Scotland. “When I am passionate about something – whether it be athletics or the arts – I go all the way.”
Paterson’s feats are all the more impressive, given her humble hometown beginnings.
“I believe most of my family are Scottish, but I haven’t done a deep dive into it. I may have some French ancestry also, but my roots are mainly Scottish. I currently live in Los Angeles, and I have been living here for about a year, however I have been in Southern California for 20 years. I do go home a lot though.”
She jokes that she has been “sporty since I came out of the womb.”
“I played rugby in an all-boys team from the ages of 7 to 12 and then, the next thing I know, I was named to the National Triathlon team, and I have been running over hills since. I suppose that it has been in my heart from the minute I was born.”
Interestingly, the transition from sports to the big screen, she shares, was fairly smooth and seamless.
“I was already in the arts – I was a dancer when I was younger: ballet, and then contemporary dance. I did both my undergraduate and graduate studies in drama, theatre, and film. I was doing them simultaneously and one always helped the other.
Filmmaking was always my dream and goal, though. I was acting and making short films the entire time that I was a professional triathlete.
“So, without my art, my sport wouldn’t have thrived. And without my sport, my art wouldn’t have thrived.”
The challenges of a career in cinema, concedes Paterson, are endless.
“Dealing with failure, rejection, the constant up and downs. Unlike sport – where crossing the line first is the definitive marker of victory – filmmaking is a very subjective craft: what you might think is amazing, other people might not.”
The rewards, however, are worth the risk – especially when it comes to collaboration.
“I love working with other artists and seeing other people’s process. Drawing upon their expertise to help build on what I already have, and then coming up with something I never could have imagined, has been amazing.”
The results for All Quiet on the Western Front – an array of nominations and honours, including 7 Baftas and 4 Oscars (Best International Feature Film, Best Original Score, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography) – speak for themselves.
“I had read the book in high school, and then I reread it again a few years later, and I was simply blown away by the essence of that portrayal of a youthful generation. And being Scottish, I could really relate that underdog mentality – fighting the upper brass just kind of made sense to me. It took 16 years to get this project off the ground. So, to have so much acclaim for it has been a dream come true, beyond my wildest dreams. I suppose that it is all downhill from here.”
Creatively, Paterson says that she continues to be “inspired by everything.”
“Conversations, meeting people, watching things, reading things, being out in the landscape, exercising…my ideas come from everywhere. The challenge then becomes turning those ideas into a good film – something that has a message or something at the heart, a thematic essence that audiences can relate to.”
She admits that she is not as familiar with the Scottish film sector as she would like to be.
“We don’t see as many Scottish films, you know, being over here, we don’t have access to them to the same extent. And, for better or for worse, I am simply caught up with life in Los Angeles. However, I hope to start shooting my next film – a psychological thriller – in the Highlands this coming November. It will be very exciting to be home.”
As with most champions, she is happy to share her experience, strength, and hope with young people.
“Just do it. Make films on your phone, read books, practice writing, whatever it is that you want to get into. Find ways of doing it. These days you can take classes online, you can get your friends together, you can do anything.”