One of the most gratifying experiences for a movie reviewer is to screen a film, sit breathless as the end credits roll, knowing that this film is my number one movie of the more than 276 I’ve screened for 2010. Realizing that even though I have a personal experience that releates to the stammer of King George VI because of a head injury in 2007 resulting in speech therapy, I can say that the biased factor isn’t an issue, ‘The King’s Speech’ is a very moving film and my top movie of 2010.
The highlight is having the opportunity of chatting with director Tom Hooper. The insight includes did he find the film or did it find him, shooting in the middle of busy London, working with star Colin Firth on the finer points of the personification of a true life historical person, and capturing the essence of characters while staying true to the events of the late 1930s as England prepared to enter World War II.
Its an interesting revelation as Tom asked me how authentic did the speech therepy sessions portrayed in ‘The King’s Speech’ between Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush as the therapist came across to the viewer, and discussed the extraordinary production schedule for ‘The King’s Speech’!
Stan:Tom, you have presented a very moving, inspiring, informative, and a dramatic story! Did you seek it out or did it find you?
Tom:You’re very kind! It’s a great story, I only came upon this project because I happen to be half Australian half English, my Australian mother was invited in late 2007 to a fringe theater play reading of an unproduced play called ‘The King’s Speech’. She had never been invited to a play reading in her life before, she almost didn’t go because it didn’t sound hugely promising, and thank God she did, she heard the play read, came home, rang me up and said ‘Tom, I think I found your next film!’
Stan:That is incredible Tom!
Tom:(With a chuckle!) The moral of that story is, ‘Listen to your mother!’
Stan:That is very good advice, moms always know best! Tom, I don’t want to forget, absolutely loved your film ‘The Damned United’! Sports, theater, and live jazz are my escape from the rigors of film production day in and day out for 22 years. It gave an interesting perspective on the UK’s counterpart to our own NFL league and the fervor of the ownership-fan relationship!
Once you settled on ‘The King’s Speech’ after the suggestion by your mom, did you go after trying to get talent attached, or did you pursue it from the production aspect?
Tom:The other great thing as far as chance playing a role and another great story is how Geoffrey Rush came to hear about the movie! The very same play script that my mother had heard read was delivered to Geoffrey Rush’s Melbourne doorstep one Christmas morning also in 2007, it just so happened that the British Theater Company in London happened to have a runner who was Australian and he had once delivered something to Geoffrey Rush’s house and so when he went over Christmas he delivered this play/script to Geoffrey on the doorstep with a note saying ‘Dear Mr. Rush, you don’t know us, would you read our play/script’. And amazingly, Geoffrey did not throw it in the bin, he read it and loved it, rang his agent and said ‘I see it as a movie and would love to do it’, so by the time I was talking to the screenplay writer David Seidler, Geoffrey was already for it.
Stan: That’s a huge amount of luck for principal talent interest! What about Colin Firth as the lead, how did his involvement come about?
Tom: I thought about Colin from the beginning. The only thing that gave me slight pause is Colin’s a little physically different from the real king, Colin’s a big strapping lad of 6 foot 2 and the real king was smaller and slight of build. I thought about a lot and I thought in the end while researching King George VI, the king is nice, a gentle man, and has tremendous humility. I thought that Colin also abounds with those same qualities with tremendous grace and I felt that spiritual connection between the two men (King VI & Colin Firth) and felt that similarity was the most important thing, the similarities in personalities.
Stan: An exceptionally fine performance by Colin as King George, as a viewer, one feels the essence of the character and the monumental task that’s been placed on his shoulders both publicly as an actor and historically presenting a real person.
(Stan with a chuckle) You know Tom, as a production person, I have to ask, which sequence was the most challenging to capture on film, and I know it a loaded question!
Tom: My god that’s an interesting question! Let’s see, I have to say the most challenging was the end of the movie when he’s in the palace when he’s about to make the radio broadcast and the rooms he walks through to get to the balcony where the broadcast is to take place. We were at the location in this building called Lancaster House, which is the nearest building to Buckingham Palace and the big situation looming was we only had it for one day! We had so much to cover with the greeting sequence as he walked toward the balcony at the distant end. There so much to cover and we were doing it all at such break neck speed, including the visual effect scene of the outside crowd in the distance at the end of the walk for the balcony sequence!
Stan:You completed that entire sequence in one day of shooting, that’s incredible Tom!
Tom: Oh the crew and actors were wonderful! You know, one sequence I didn’t realize was going to be tough was the scene on Harley Street when Helena Bonham Carter (Queen Elizabeth) arrives in a car! We had it well scheduled and enough time to do it. We were shooting on a Sunday morning, we’ve closed the road, we’ve got police in place, we fill the street with smoke, we call ‘Action’, and we hear a fire truck! (Stan: Oh no!) Every fire truck in Central London descended upon us! There was that 4 to 5 minute wait from the first siren until they all arrived. There 8 to 10 fire trucks from every direction deciding upon us. The street has hospitals and medical stuff on it with super sensitive fire alarms and by the fact that we using smoke to fill the street, they were all triggered! The fire department shut us down and said we can’t shoot. They said basically that there’s a hospital with intensive care patients and they are legally obliged to evacuate their intensive care patients if their alarm sounds, even if they know it’s you and not them. So we had to go about the taping up the outside walls on the street to stop the smoke from getting in from the outside where we were shooting. With the help of some very pretty runners with our crew who seem to make friends with the firemen, and the taping up of the windows, we manage to get the shot!
Stan:I’ve found those expected occurrences on shoots show challenging and rewarding, but only after we survived them! (with a chuckle!) How many shoot days were initially scheduled?
Tom:We had 39 shooting day scheduled and it was closer to 37 so we did rather well in the face of it all!
Stan:A glance at the clock tells me we’re close to our end time, its that AD (assistant director) side of me coming through with one eye on the clock, pitch ‘The King’s Speech’ to my thousands of readers on why see your latest film!
Tom: I think I would say ‘The King’s Speech’ is surprisingly funny, in fact the audiences in London, Toronto, LA, New York commented there’s more laughter in this film than in most comedies, while it is also a moving tear-jerker with an uplifting ending! It’s a fascinating story that no one knows and a great film to go out and see in the cinema with a big crowd because there’s nothing like being in a room when laughter takes hold; it truly lifts one’s spirit with the triumph of the characters!
Stan:Tom, thank you so very much for sharing the production aspects with me for this chat. ‘The King’s Speech’ moved me from a production and stimulating presentation, I love period films as time-portals to history, and on a personal level, and the character of King George mirrors my own recovery from my injury and the journey of physical rehabilitation and speech therapy… (Tom cuts in…)
Tom:Thank you Stan for sharing your story with me on your injury and letting me know that the speech therapy sessions between Colin and Geoffrey set well with you as someone who has first hand experience. Your exuberant acceptance of ‘The King’s Speech’ is indeed gratifying! You’ve made an amazing recovery, I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to talk with you!
# # #
As you know ‘The King’s Speech’ is on a firm ‘awards path’ with multiple nominations and wins from the various film critics associations and motion picture industry craft associations as we head to the Oscars® in February 2011. The Golden Globe nominations where recently announced, and I was elated as was Tom Hooper for ‘The King’s Speech’ and seven nominations:
“I am absolutely thrilled with all the nominations for The King Speech and hugely grateful to the Hollywood Foreign Press. I am so delighted for our entire cast, composer, Alexandre and for David Seidler whose journey towards making this film started as a small boy listening to King George VI on the radio. I am so grateful to my extraordinary cast and crew for helping to bring this unlikely story of friendship to life. Thank you to the Hollywood Foreign Press for supporting our film and making me very happy at 2:00 in the morning in Melbourne, Australia!”
-Tom Hooper, ‘THE KING’S SPEECH’ Director