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Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech” – FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION

By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: Since its debut at the Telluride Film Festival, “The King’s Speech” has collected numerous accolades for the film, its director Tom Hooper, and the filmmaker’s illustrious cast. Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter have been recognized by the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the Screen Actors Guild, and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, to name but a few.

Yet, there’s one nod Hooper has not received: A vote of confidence from the royal family.

“We still don’t even know if the Queen has watched ‘The Queen,’” Hooper told me during a recent one-on-one interview. “And that was five years ago, Sadly, I think it’s unlikely that I will get to find out whether she’s watched this or not. But if you or another member of the press ever do find out, please ring me up.”

As Hooper awaits Her Majesty’s review for “The King’s Speech,” he discussed his cast, his camera work, and the joy of being an audience member.

HollywoodNews.com: “The King’s Speech” led all films when the London Film Critics Circle announced its year-end nominees. It’s the latest in a long line of groups that have recognized the film now. Does your cell phone still ring off the hook as these nominations come in? Is it still exciting?

Tom Hooper: Well, with the London one, I’m only just finding out about it now. I was speaking with my mom and dad, and they tell me, “Do you realize that you have been nominated for this?” And I had to say, “No, no, not yet.” I’m in New York, but I just got in from Sydney last night, where I was attending the Australian premiere of the film and doing press. So I’ve just been catching up on the film’s progress. It’s fabulous.

HN: Is there a particular awards group whose recognition means more to you, for whatever reason?

TH: Actually, the Golden Globes nominations meant a lot to me because back when I did “Elizabeth I” for HBO with Hellen Mirren and Jeremy Irons, I won the Golden Globe for Best Miniseries or TV Movie, and Helen and Jeremy won for their performances. Then for three years in a row, I won that award for my TV work, first for “Longford” and then for “John Adams.”

So I do have a particular fondness for that group, and an appreciation of how they have shown me support right from the beginning of my career. Also because in TV, you can’t get nominated [for a Golden Globe] as a director, so it was a particular thrill to get a director nomination at the Globes. That definitely was a really exciting thing.

HN: Speaking of direction, tell me something that you learned while working on “The Damned United” that helped you on the set of “The King’s Speech.”

TH: Well, what’s interesting is that they are, at least in some ways, companion pieces because I went from one to the other without much of a gap between. And there are visual ideas I started to explore with “Damned” that I continued to explore on “The King’s Speech.”

For example, the use of a wide-angle lens and my framing. I’d put characters sort of hunkered down in the bottom corner of a frame, giving them lots of head room. I played with placing my characters at the edges of frames or in the corners of frames. That was something that I also played with in “The King’s Speech,” particularly in that scene where we framed [Colin Firth] against that wall in the consulting room where he’s in a corner, and lost in a frame with that crazy bastard wall behind him. So there was some compositional themes that I started exploring.

HN: And Colin and Geoffrey often are extreme left of frame and extreme right of frame when they verbally spar.

TH: Yes, exactly. And I also think that there is a similarity of theme in both movies. “The Damned United” is a story about hubris. Brian Clough (Michael Sheen) learns that he’s only great in collaboration with Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall), and he’s not great alone. Here, King George VI learns the power of collaboration, as well, not only with his wife, but also the speech therapist. … We live in quite selfish times where people are being told that the secret to success is in themselves. It’s “me, me, me” all of the time. And actually both films are about the importance of turning outwards to other people for help. And I suppose as a director, I feel that very strongly because you’re only good in collaboration. You stand on the shoulders of very talented people when you direct. And you must never lose sight of how key those collaborators are.

HN: And you have several powerful collaborators who help carry your film. Tell me what Mr. Firth and Mr. Rush bring to a production that we, as the audience, might not be able to see.

TH: One of the things I found interesting about working with them was that … you know the scene at the end of the film where Colin is making the big speech and Geoffrey is helping him by conducting. He’s mouthing “Fuck, fuck, fuck” to him. He’s helping him with the words. But then there comes a moment in the speech where Geoffrey’s hands just drop to his sides and he just stops to watch Colin. He becomes an audience member, a viewer. He’s just in awe of him.

I felt that that is a good analogy for being a director when you are working with really great actors. You do have this thing where you are working to build a performance in partnership with them. But with really great actors, there comes that point where you suddenly stop being a director and you just become a viewer. You become a member of the audience marveling at this astonishing performance. I kind of felt that, with both men, there were these times where the power of what they did forced me to stop being a director and just sit and be a viewer.

In some ways, I feel like I made a film about directing, in that there are many similar aspects about the relationships when it comes down to how to unlock someone’s best potential and searching for the way to do it, whether it’s through relaxing them or making jokes with them. But those memorable moments with Colin and Geoffrey were those moments where suddenly they flew, they took off, and they didn’t need me anymore.

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About Sean O'Connell

Sean O'Connell is a nationally recognized film critic. His reviews have been published in print ('The Washington Post,' 'USA Today') and online (AMC FilmCritic.com, MSN's Citysearch) since 1996. He's a weekly contributor to several national radio programs. He is a longstanding member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Southeastern Film Critics View all articles by Sean O'Connell Association (SEFCA).

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  • December 22, 2010 | Permalink |

    Sound an interesting one

  • December 22, 2010 | Permalink |

    Tom Hooper spoke to the crowd we were part of at The Telluride Film Festival, apologizing because he was the only one of the entourage attending with the film. Firth and Rush had left for Toronto. But no one in the audience felt deprived. Hooper is smart, articulate, humble and told a great story about his own battle with a lisp and what the Queen Mother made him promise.
    Telluride is proud to have helped launch this juggernaut.

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