Frears, Stephen (4 of 11). The legacy of the English Stage Company.
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2008-08-27, 2008-09-02, 2008-09-30, 2008-10-14, 2008-11-10, 2009-02-20, 2009-04-07
Frears, Stephen, 1941- (speaker, male)
Devine, Harriet (speaker, female)
Part 4: [Session 3: 23 September 2008] SF’s house in Dorset; his wife Annie [AF]’s garden. SF breakfast. SF’s film ‘Accidental Hero’. SF approached in 1991 to make film; recalls producers coming to Beverley Hills Hotel; reading script; SF’s dislike of ‘third act’; accepting job after rewrite. SF’s habit, from RCT days, of making film even when not yet cast. Producers’ London visit, 1994, idea of Dustin Hoffman [DH] mooted; suggestion of Billy Crystal, SF having to tell him he wasn’t in it. SF approaching DH before DH had been made an offer. Filming began shooting in Chicago, autumn 1994, day summer ended. Rows with DH over his non-preparation; DH trying out different ways of playing role; SF threatening to walk out; studio only concerned with keeping DH happy. Film came out on day of election, a critical disaster; world turned against DH. Rest of casting: Geena Davis, who had pulled out of ‘Grifters’; difficulty casting other part. John Travolta, in bad part of career, visiting at Chateau Marmont; not cast, a mistake. SF sorry about not using Travolta, not happy with Andy Garcia, who was not witty enough in film. Film as Brechtian mockery of capitalism; DH and other actors saw it was Brecht, all kept quiet. Original title, ‘A Hero and a Half’; SF wonders why studio changed title. Ambiguity of plot contributing to lack of success; SF’s attraction to such plots, legacy of RCT. SF’s return to UK, Columbia praised film before UK opening; film failed in UK. Writer thought it was because SF refused to make Garcia character a bad guy [15.00]. SF’s view that you can’t make subversive films and win; ‘Accidental Hero’ on higher financial scale than earlier films: $40 million, as opposed to ‘Dangerous Liasons’ $15 million, ‘Grifters’ $8 million, ‘My Beautiful Launderette’ $1 million. Higher cost owing to studio overheads. SF’s preference for making films economically; his inablity to deal with high costs. Similar experience with ‘Mary Reilly’ [MR]. DH fifteen times more expensive than anyone SF had worked with earlier. MR taken from a novel; ending never properly worked out. LA leaving money on his death; SF’s suggestion to add money to George Devine Award. Radio programme on BBC, SF’s contribution. SF’s work with LA: a projected play on Dylan Thomas, with Richard Harris, early 1966; Richard Harris failed to turn up; collapse of project. SF goes to Cheltenham to work as LA’s assistant on If… Sacking of designer, Jocelyn Herbert taken on. Material of film; screenplay written by David Sherwin [and John Howlett], admirers of Sergio Leone; written for director Seth Holt; LA made many changes. Story set in public school, ends in uprising; coincided with student uprising in Paris. Original title, ‘Crusaders’; then ‘Come the Revolution’. Final title echoes Kipling poem. Malcolm McDowell [MM] discovered for film; was playing in ‘Twelfth Night’ at RCT. LA as film director; cameraman Miroslav Ondrícek [MO], from Prague, brought back to UK by LA. Jack Clayton’s advice to SF after making of ‘Gumshoe’: ‘Don’t be like us, don’t wait five years for another film’. SF’s learning about film-making by making films; hiring young people because they advance the language, SF not capable of this. LA’s old-fashioned familiarity with film language; LA very well educated in European cinema, but his technique not fluent because of not making enough films. LA perplexed by MO’s practice of using long lenses; LA’s film ‘This Sporting Life’ absolutely traditional in making, though matter was radical; Roman Polanski’s comment on seeing British films, with radical content but traditionally filmed. ‘Tom Jones’ more radically filmed because of cameraman Walter Lassaly. LA a brilliant critic; ‘If’ a well-written script; SF and others urging LA to film a scene on wide-shot; LA not familiar with the language [30.02] but a very clever man, knew history of cinema, but very straightforward. Chris Menges, about to shoot ‘Kes’, a whole generation ahead of him. Next generation working in TV, SF not in TV for several years. Most progressive director at the time Ken Loach, shooting on hand-held cameras; using non-actors, or actors from working men’s clubs; shooting from corner of room, filming people’s inarticulacy. ‘If..’ a piece of successful theatrical writing. ‘Tom Jones’ shot with hand-held camera; gives immediacy. LA’s techniques learned from being a critic and from making short documentaries. LA’s Free Cinema documentary, ‘O Dreamland’  a surrealist film; an attack on working classes for being duped by large-scale entertainment; learned from continental art films. LA on surrealism; LA’s wish to make [Evelyn Waugh’s] ‘Vile Bodies’; failed surrealist sequence in ‘If…’; surrealism works in LA’s early films; ideas, not technique; learned from Bunuel. LA’s appearance in surrealist film ‘The Pleasure Garden’ . Badness of Tony Richardson’s and Karel Reicz’s Free Cinema documentaries. Humphrey Jennings also bad, though SF brought up to worship him. All SF’s views now with hindsight, knowing enough to deconstruct; questioning what he was taught. SF’s relationship with LA during making of ‘If…’; LA would sometimes go for you; not as frightening as Bill Gaskill, or as hysterical as Antony Page. ‘If…’ made at LA’s old school, Cheltenham College; story of duping headmaster with false script. Also shot at schools near London and in studio, Cheap film; bit in black and white through lack of money; aesthetic of economic necessity (LA’s phrase); SF’s view that poverty a source of strength. After filming, SF to Yorkshire TV to make children’s films [44.25]. ‘If..’ a huge box office success; SF always knew it would be. SF to Yorkshire, summer 1968; met his first wife [Mary-Kay Wilmers, MKW] in 1966; married 1968, lived together before that, going between both their flats; SF subsequently moved to MKW’s flat. Wedding in February 1968; SF went to Paris 3 days later to cover street riots for BBC TV programme; filmed with Paris BBC crew. Marriage in Belzize Park Registry Office, invited parents night before; SF’s mother impressed by presence of Alan Bennett; lunch at White Tower Restaurant; MKW’s father a financier from Zurich, English Jewish; MKW’s mother a white Russian, left Russia for New York at revolution; very rich family. SF’s relationship with MKW’s parents deteriorated when he lost interest in the marriage. Children of marriage: Sam, born Feb 1972, just after death of SF’s mother and opening of ‘Gumshoe’. Sam disabled, with rare neurological defect, familial autonomia; problems getting a diagnosis. SF left MKW for AF in 1974; same year, MKW’s aunt, a pediatrician, discovered diagnosis of disease, mainly found in Ashkenazy Jews; SF and MKW both carriers of defective gene; only 3 cases in UK, but a doctor in New York was treating children. SF’s father’s prognosis that Sam would be dead at 20. Sam an eccentric and interesting child; a very complex and interesting adult. After diagnosis, many occasions where his tubes had to be suctioned out; physiotherapy. Sam’s attendance at local primary school; SF’s visit to Swiss Cottage School for Disabled Children, not sending Sam there; his various schools, including one for partially sighted; SF’s attempt to enrol Sam at William Ellis School [in Kentish Town], school’s refusal to take him; his eventual attendance at Dalton’s School in Kent. Sam’s present residence with his mother; his inependence; MKW’s arrangement for lodgers living free, looking after Sam.
Life story interview with Stephen Frears, film and television director.