Sunday, September 26, 2010

Interview with Stephen Frears - May 5th, 2009

Promoting: Cheri
Venue: Premier PR offices, Berwick St
Interview type: One-on-one

ViewLondon (VL): How did the film come about?

Stephen Frears (SF): I read Christopher [Hampton]'s script.

VL: As simple as that?

SF: Well, kind of. We share an agent and I said, 'Perhaps I should read it' and then said, 'Well, this is rather good'.

VL: At what point did Michelle Pfeiffer come on board?

SF: Well, people started talking about Michelle and eventually I rang her up and said, 'You'd better read this'. She got it on the Friday and accepted on the Monday.

VL: So what was it like working with Christopher and Michelle again, 20 years after you all worked on Dangerous Liaisons?

SF: You know, these are clever people. It's just always a pleasure. People are clever.

VL: I don't know if you've read the press notes for the film, but the press notes have you giving a very sort of glowing comment on why Michelle was so great for this part.

SF: What did I say?

VL: You said, “Pfeiffer upsets you. She was upsetting in Dangerous Liaisons – I knew that as soon as I met her – and she's upsetting in this. She's unnerving, as though being that beautiful contains its own tragic quality”. Is that something you said? And if so, could you say a version of it for me?

SF: Well, that sounds good. Well, I could see that – well, you know what it's like. Talented footballers contain their own tragedy, don't they – it's somehow being separated from other people. Yes, no, it's a wise thing to say. Go on, you can take the quote from the press notes.

VL: Obviously the film isn't technically a sequel to Dangerous Liaisons, but did it ever feel like one, in that you were working with the same people?

SF: Well, only that Christopher had written it and Michelle was standing there. John Malkovich isn't in it.

VL: No. Did you try and get him in it?

SF: John? (laughs) No. There's a limit to the trouble I can cause.

VL: How did you come to cast Rupert Friend?

SF: Well, we couldn't find an American boy. One of the things I knew about Michelle was that she could play a European woman. I know concede that that was sort of inside knowledge I had. And we tried to find an American boy for, you know, reasons of consistency and the American boys just couldn't make sense of this character. So we came back to England and Rupert auditioned better than anybody else. And didn't apologise for it all, didn't have any self-pity in him. He just was...a spoilt brat. And was dazzling-looking. And upsetting – again, he sort of moved you. You know, when it starts to come out about how dreadful his childhood was.

VL: Had you seen him in anything else before that?

SF: No.

VL: Because I think he's a very good actor.

SF: Yes, he's a lovely fellow.

VL: How did you come to cast Felicity Jones?

SF: My casting director brought her in. The truth is, everybody knows who's good and coming up and she was on that list.

VL: Who else is on that list?

SF: I'm not telling you. Talent is easy, it's rightness that's difficult. They just say, 'The next person who comes in is talented'. Right, fine. Whether the person is right or not is the more interesting question.

VL: And Kathy Bates?

SF: Kathy someone suggested and I said, 'Oh, that's a wonderful idea'. She's...she should be on Mount Rushmore. She's fantastic.

VL: You mentioned the list of talented people. I noticed that Toby Kebell has a small part in the film.

SF: Oh, he's wonderful. He came to see me and I said, 'Oh, you look fantastic. I'm going to write you a part.' We wrote him in, really.

VL: I was going to say, he has such a small part in it that I was sorry he didn't have more to do.

SF: I'm sorry he didn't reappear. He's a smashing chap. He's very, very good.

VL: Did you have to cut out anything that you hated to lose?

SF: I think I had to cut stuff out that Christopher hated to lose, but not that I hated to lose, no. There was one scene cut, but if I think about it, I'd been gunning for it since the film was in script form. I said, 'Why is there two scenes here when you only need one?' You know, and it didn't have enough narrative in. I think he was rather upset. What you're trying to do is assess within the scene, well, is there enough narrative to keep it going, as well as all the diversions and entertainments.

VL: What was it about the script that appealed to you?

SF: Well, it's hard to answer. I mean, I liked the script. It made me laugh and then, at the right moment, it made me sad. That was all I needed really.

VL: Is that really all you look for?

SF: I like the writing very much. The writing is very, very important.

VL: And Christopher, obviously, with Dangerous Liaisons and so on – would you pretty much make anything Christopher wrote?

SF: Nope.

VL: So what does he have to do to make it past your approval threshold?

SF: Well, I have to like it. It's as simple as that.

VL: What's your next project?

SF: Dunno. I've got two films. There are two films at the moment, which has never happened before in my life. And it's causing havoc. You'd think that having two films would make life a lot easier but actually it makes life a lot harder.

VL: So they're at similar stages, are they?

SF: Ish.

VL: So it's whichever one gets out of the gate first, so to speak?

SF: They're very complicated things to make, films. And you have to get a lot of balls in the right holes, or whatever you call it. And if you get something wrong right over there, it affects you over here and it drives you crazy.

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