View London by Matthew Turner
We caught up with director Mark Herman and leading man Colin Firth in the run up to the release of their latest offering—Hope Springs…cue too much talking about Heather Graham's nudity contract.
Q: Mark, I believe the townsfolk of the town you filmed in weren't exactly enamoured of having a film crew on their doorsteps. Can you tell us about that?
Mark: I think they'd had a bad experience with film crews before and there was a split camp about whether we were allowed to film there or not. There were one or two surprises—I remember they were supposed to close the roads for shooting, but then, suddenly at 3 o'clock in the afternoon there was traffic rumbling by.
So we had to find out own methods. There's a scene where Colin is unfortunately carrying Heather Graham, which he'd done far too much of already, and we had to basically get a gang of old age pensioners to actually walk across the street slowly and hold up traffic.
Q: Was the weather as awful as we don't see on screen?
Mark: Yeah. Out of 45 days shooting we had 4 dry days. The most depressing aspect of that was that on the sunny days, because we were continuing a scene, we had to create our own rain. It was soul destroying, really.
Q: Colin, how did you come across the novel?
Colin: Well, there was never any question that it wasn't going to be made into a film, partly for the prosaic reason that it's written almost entirely in dialogue form.
It just came recommended—I was having dinner with a friend who'd seen a preview of the galleys of it and he gave me a nod and said 'This has got your name on it, literally'. And by a strange coincidence, the rights to the novel belonged to the producer I was working with, so I was in a very strong position of being able to make a pest of myself and lobby for the job.
Q: Colin, do you accept that there's a sort of Colin Firth part or type?
Colin: Well, I think it's far more easily identified by others than by me. I usually find when I get asked questions that it's some assumption about the type I'm playing. I got a new one recently—someone said 'You're always playing someone who's attracted to a woman'.
It used to be that I was always paranoid or a loser or something so there's usually something that you seem to associate yourself with at one time or another.
Q: Is that an actor thing, because all parts are essentially autobiographical?
Colin: I think so, I mean essentially you are drawing on aspects of yourself. I think that acting is particular in that there's an emphasis in people's minds on changeability and versatility because acting is perceived to be the art of transforming yourself.
I actually don't see it like that…I find it far more interesting taking whatever it is that I might bring to a situation and applying it to the problems presented by a story. How do I deal with this? How can I make it truthful? But I think the nuances and details are the challenge.
In this case it appealed to me partly because it felt close to me in some ways. This is about a confused, bewildered middle class Englishman adrift in smalltown America and that has definitely been me.
Q: What's been your own experience with America?
Colin: I have a very long relationship with America. My mother grew up there and I felt to some extent that I partly belong there. I was schooled there briefly for about a year. We've always been involved with America—I have a son who lives there and it's a big part of my life.
Q: This is the second time you've played an artist. Do you have any artistic talent?
Colin: None whatsoever. I have the level of talent where if I had a lifetime of lessons, I would never aspire to the kind of drawings you see in this film and I've actually just played Vermeer, so you can imagine how far I was from that, really. Basically hours of lessons just so I can look like someone who wouldn't drop his paintbrush.
Q: Can I ask you about the undressing scenes? I thought the bouncing on the bed dance sequence was very discreetly filmed and I wondered whether that was in order to get a specific rating or whether it was at the actress's request?
Mark: The latter. In [Heather Graham]'s last two or three films she didn't seem to have any problems with that part of the contract but suddenly on ours she did. It actually caused a nightmare to shoot and she turned up on set with nipple plasters and so on.
But at the end of the day, if she had taken everything off, we still would have had to cut it out—it just meant that the filming of the scene took much longer.
Colin: You know, you do find though that actresses spend half their lives with people lobbying to take their clothes off and then they finally do it and they get crap for it for years. I mean people still hit Glenda Jackson with it now, still. I do think that if you do it once, no-one lets you forget it.
Mark: One of the ironies of the whole thing was that because of the way we had to shoot it, it meant that we had to do a re-shoot over here with a stand-in actress who basically had to sit in Colin's lap with her clothes off the entire afternoon.
Colin: I'm over it now. Well, the reason we had to re-shoot that scene was because the studio thought it was too naughty. This is a scene where we'd managed to get absolutely no nudity and no sexual activity whatsoever and the studio came through and said 'No, this is too dirty—you're going to have to make a less dirty moment there'.
Q: How about the scene where you had to carry Heather Graham? What was that like?
Colin: Well, it was funny for other people. I was wearing appliances by the time we finished that. I mean, that's no slight on Heather—I could have been carrying a gerbil, the amount she put me through, and I'd have needed an osteopath.
Q: Was the running smoking/non-smoking gag in the novel or did you elaborate a bit?
Mark: Well, it is in the novel, but I elaborated because I was trying to stop smoking as I was writing it.
Colin: America does have that effect on smokers though. The golf course really is the only place you can smoke!
Q: What are you doing next? Are you going to do Bridget Jones 2?
Colin: I'll do Bridget Jones 2 if it's a good script. I won't be doing the Colin Firth bit though—they'll probably drop that. I'm just about to start something called Trauma, a psychological thriller by Marc Evans, who did My Little Eye.
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