Originally published in Philadelphia Weekly, October 27, 2010
Stephen Frears left his MacBook charger in Chicago. The Oscar-nominated director of Dangerous Liaisons and The Queen is promoting his new film Tamara Drewe, a mildly amusing sex farce adapted from Posy Simmonds comic. A crack team of interns was dispatched to fetch a new power supply, but the laptop crisis has left the gruff Englishman agitated. “I cannot wait,” he harrumphs, “to begin charging.”
What follows is an edited transcript of our spectacularly awkward conversation.
PW: So what, pardon the pun, Drewe you to the material?
Stephen Frears: (Crickets. Eventually he shrugs.) I just thought it was lovely.
And how did you get involved with the project?
I was sent a script.
Were you familiar with the graphic novel?
I’d read the comic when it was serialized in the newspaper, and I’d known the artist. But it didn’t ever cross my mind to make a film out of it.
Simmonds’ comic is itself a reworking of Thomas Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd. Are you a big Hardy fan?
Not particularly. No.
So you didn’t re-read the novel before making the film?
No. I did not want to make the film for Thomas Hardy fans.
How many of those are out there buying tickets?
You’ve provided star-making roles for Gary Oldman, Uma Thurman, Annette Bening, the list goes on. Are you always on the lookout for undiscovered talent?
No. I’m just generally not in a position to afford famous people.
Did you sense Gemma Arterton was poised for a similar breakout when you cast her as Tamara Drewe?
No. I thought she would be very good in the part. I never thought about anything beyond that.
Could you do us a favor and put her co-star Roger Allam in a Christopher Hitchens biopic?
I’d better do it quickly.
The resemblance is striking.
Everybody says that.
You worked very briefly for Hollywood studios before returning to independent film. I take it you prefer the latter?
I got into trouble when I worked for the studios. I found there were things I did not understand properly. The relationship of the audience to these big stars, I found that very confusing.
It seems like you tried to address that in your film Hero, critiquing the public’s infatuation with celebrity culture.
Is that right? How interesting. (Silence.)
They thought Hero was going to be a huge success. And it was a disaster. I’ve never met anybody who disliked it. I don’t know what went wrong. Everybody I meet says how much they liked the film. It was a flop.
I was going to say, you’re the first filmmaker I’ve interviewed who has been nominated for two Oscars and a Razzie in between.
Well, you just make films. People react to them.
You’ve certainly made quite a few. 18 features in the past 26 years, and that’s not even taking into account your television work. Is it hard to keep working at that pace?
My father was a doctor. He went to work 50 weeks a year. Why would I think myself better than him?
Tamara Drewe premiered at the Cannes Film Festival; what do you make of that whole publicity dog-and-pony show?
You mean doing what I’m doing now?
It’s not the part I like.
I couldn’t tell.
Worse things happen at sea.
That’s one way of looking at it.
We’re very philosophical, we English. Our country is bankrupt.
I think we’re almost out of time.
Don’t forget your umbrella.
“Tamara Drewe” opens in Philadelphia on October 29th, 2010.