Sunday, July 24, 2011

Interview with Joel Hopkins, director of Last Chance Harvey - May 26th, 2009

Promoting: Last Chance Harvey
Venue: BAFTA, Piccadilly
Interview type: One-on-one

ViewLondon: It's been six years since your wonderful debut feature, Jump Tomorrow. What have you been doing in the meantime?

Joel Hopkins (JH): I've been trying to get films made, really. Jump Tomorrow did quite well in terms of getting me out there and if anything it did too well in that I got quite a lot of attention and was sent scripts and didn't know what I wanted to do. And then a couple of projects I was attached to, the financing didn't come together, so just in development on projects that didn't quite happen and before you know it, six years have gone by! But I also write, so my bread and butter is that – I've been doing an adaptation of a children's book (The Big Bazoohley, by Peter Carey) for someone and also script work, drafts and rewrites. But all the while, on two levels, one, trying to present myself as a director on someone else's script and two, just trying to write my own thing. And then finally it sort of gelled.

VL: What's Last Chance Harvey about?

JH: Well, the pat answer is that it's never too late to find love. It's a character driven piece and it's these two characters who are very different in some ways but they both, for whatever reason, are at a particular place in their lives where they're kind of stuck and they can't connect with people. And they accidentally collide one weekend and unwittingly provide what the other person needs, in a way.

VL: Where did the idea for the film come from?

JH: It's character driven, so it's basically about finding the characters. When you're creating these things it's very unromantic, the way you construct it. I had an “in” with Emma – I went up for the job of directing Nanny McPhee, which I didn't get, I came second, apparently. But Emma saw Jump Tomorrow and really liked it, so she took a meeting with me and said, you know, 'I'd love us to work together' and I sort of went away thinking, you know, that doesn't happen every day, I should do something with that. So I literally sat down and thought, okay, Emma Thompson, a character that she could play, boom. So I came up with the Kate character and then, okay, love story. And initially, I'd been working on another script with a Japanese character in it, so I thought, 'Okay, I'll just take him from that script and use him here', but it very quickly became about not being able to understand each other and it was a different sort of movie. And I'd been living in America for 12 years, so the whole American thing was a big part of my life and I thought, no, what am I doing, he should be an American. And then suddenly, with the shared language but these lovely nuances, these differences we have, you could have fun with that, so that was the next big key to the puzzle.

VL: At what point did Dustin Hoffman get involved?

JH: Pretty early on. I wrote a ten-page treatment and what I'm very proud of is that the structure of the film from the ten-page treatment is there in the final film. I write treatments that are quite sophisticated. I'm not one of these writers who can start writing and then see where it goes, you know? I have to know exactly what happens, because when I do get stuck on a scene, like I said, I can just write through it, hop over it onto the scene that I'm excited about writing, but I can keep going. Anyway, I wrote a ten-page treatment that I sent to Emma and I think I was hoping that she was going to turn around and say “Joel, I love it, let's write it together”, but she didn't, she said, “This sounds really interesting, I can't wait to read the first draft.” So I then went away and a couple of years went past for whatever reason, other projects, blah blah blah and then I finally saw Emma and Dustin in Stranger Than Fiction and I emailed Emma the next day saying “Remember me, I've still got that project” and she was like, “Yes, of course”, but I knew from the tone of her email, like, okay, I've got to deliver something this time. Anyway, in that email, I said, “What about Dustin for Harvey?” and she said “Brilliant idea, I know him” and so I then wrote the first draft and I sent it to Emma and she sent it on to Dustin so they got on board pretty immediately. So from the actual idea there was a big sort of gap but then when I actually wrote the first draft it all happened quite quickly.

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

JH: Yes. We had a more elongated third act that I had to cut down, basically, the classic sort of 'Okay, let's wrap this up' note. And there were a couple of lovely scenes there that added detail that I would have loved to have kept but in the bigger picture they didn't work.

VL: Do you have a next project lined up?

JH: I don't yet, no. I'm reading scripts as a director and then I'm writing something but it's in the very early stages.

VL: How did you come to use [musicians] Kitty, Daisy and Lewis?

JH: Oh, my music supervisor turned me on to them and they're fantastic. And they drive around in this family hearse they've got with their gear in the back and everything. They're wonderful.

VL: What's Tunde Adebimpe [star of Jump Tomorrow] up to?

JH: Well, on the acting front, he was recently the groom in Rachel Getting Married. But his music career has really taken off - he's in this band called TV On The Radio and they're on their third album, they're huge in the States. David Bowie did backing vocals on one of their songs, he loves them. And I went to a gig here in London and I thought I'd better go and support my friend Tunde, you know, his little band sort of thing and I got there and it was packed to the rafters and they were all shouting “TUNDE! TUNDE!” and I got really possessive and was like, “You don't know him like I do!”

VL: Dustin and Emma have really great chemistry. Were you surprised at how strong the chemistry was between them?

JH: No, I mean, I got an inkling of it in Stranger Than Fiction, I thought they had a nice feel together. I always felt, you know they're obviously physically very different and that for me was part of the attraction but also, in terms of their type, like when they do comedy, I always feel there's a slight tinge of sadness in their comedy and when they do serious stuff or pathos, I always feel there's a bit of playfulness in there, so for me they share this duality or whatever. On paper you think they're very different but actually, if you imagine the marquee, you think, 'Oh yeah, Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, that's interesting' and that's been the response I've had when pitching it to people.

VL: It's quite unusual to see a romantic comedy about middle-aged people. Was that part of the appeal of making it?

JH: I think so. I mean, as I said, the genesis or whatever was very mundane, I've got a connection with Emma, let's find something for Emma and Emma is the age she is. But I never sat down and thought, 'Okay, I want to do the romantic comedy for older people' sort of thing. I mean, to be honest, as a writer, older people are so much more interesting to write and they're also a lot easier to write. They've got literally more baggage, they've seen more, they've put up more defences. If the story's about two people coming together and peeling back those layers then older people are just more interesting. I keep getting sent scripts right now, because I've made a romance, I'm getting sent a load of romantic comedy scripts from L.A. and they're all about 20-something girls who are panicking, they're not married yet and they're having this sort of crisis and there's all these people in their late 20s having mid-life crises and I just can't bring myself to sort of worry and care about them. I mean, you know, come on, you're in your late 20s, relax!

VL: Film reviewers often complain about London continuity errors, such as characters walking over Embankment bridge and then there's a cut to them walking towards Embankment bridge on the South Bank. There's a lot of this in your film, so would you like this opportunity to defend that?

JL: (laughs) Well, I'm not making this film just for Londoners and that's the least of my offences in this movie. The one I'm going to get called on and the one I'll defend – the montage of them walking where they start off in Paddington and they end up on the South Bank, I did have a shot where they get on the tube and they come up at Piccadilly Circus, so that was the rationale in my head – they get off at Piccadilly, walk through Trafalgar Square, go down to Embankment and cross over. But I'm not doing my job on other levels if people are complaining about that. I'm asking people to go on a bit of a journey and if they are sitting there going, 'They're going the wrong way!' then something else is not working. The film is riddled with things like that and I'm sure it will distract some people and I'll lose them.

VL: Have you seen any films recently that have inspired you in any way?

JH: I have to say, the last film I saw was Anvil, the documentary. I saw it on the plane and it had me in absolute tears, I was completely moved by it. So I would say Anvil.

VL: Have you considered making documentaries?

JH: I'd love to, yeah. I made one at college as a second year project, we had to make a documentary. There's nothing more emotional than the truth, in a way.

VL: A documentary about Kitty, Daisy and Lewis, may I suggest?

JH: (laughs) There you go. Maybe. They're such an extraordinary group.



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