With Hope Springs on DVD this week, the director chats about working with Meryl Streep and finding the recipe for rom-com success.
Director David Frankel is an established name in the rom-com scene, having helmed several episodes of Sex And The City as well as the likes of The Devil Wears Prada, Marley & Me and last year's Hope Springs. LWLies caught up with Frankel recently to talk about working with Meryl Streep and his future plans for a feel-good drama based around a Britain's Got Talent contestant.LWLies: The script for Hope Springs was on the Black List before it went into production. How did you become involved with the project and what was it that drew you to the material?
Frankel: I got a script and my agent told me Meryl Streep wanted to do it and I said yes. I would do anything with her and as it turned out I loved the screenplay also. Meryl was already involved when I got involved and an idea like this normally might be quite difficult to get made when it’s just on the page but when she is involved it makes all the difference.
Her chemistry with Tommy Lee Jones is fantastic. You get a sense of their whole lives and the long history of their marriage coming through in their performances.
I sat with Meryl and we went through a list of movie stars who could play her husband who she hadn't worked with before and it was really important that who ever it was was very smart and very talented and the list got shorter and shorter until it was just Tommy. Fortunately he was very eager to work with her and it turned out to be a very happy marriage!
Watching the scenes when Kay and Arnold are in their therapy sessions I found myself wanting to take sides in their arguments and my sympathies changed so many times.
I think that’s the full weight of the actors' performances that they are cracking open these characters' shells and you understand them a lot better as the movie goes on. I think Tommy's performance will be surprising to people because he is showing a lot of vulnerability. You go along to see him in a movie knowing he’s going to be great and thinking he’ll make you laugh or he’ll move you but it was thrilling for us on set to see that happening.
It’s great to see Steve Carell in a dramatic performance, too.
Yeah, well a lot of his performance in The Office had that dramatic and moving dimension to it. One thing we really talked about in his performance was the silences and awkward moments in therapy so we tried to let those moments happen...
The moments where he didn’t let Kay and Arnold bluster through their problems and try to gloss over them are enjoyable...
Exactly. We had to shoot those therapy scenes so many times just because of the demands of making a movie that we tried to avoid rehearsing them before production so that things would happen organically and so that the actors could find those moments as we were shooting. What was amazing was how well prepared the actors were. For us on set it was like watching a one act play. We would just be sitting there silent, holding our breath and we wanted to break into applause when they were done! But we had to do it again and again so there was such a range of performances for me as a director to choose from. The hardest thing for me to decide was which version of those scenes to put in the movie because the actors gave me so much choice.
This is a story about how hard it is to make a long-term relationship work which is not something you often see explored in a romantic comedy.
It’s looking at why it can be so hard to be with one person for your entire life and remain passionate and in love. Sometimes in a relationship a distance can build up and this movie is about people stopping to ask, 'How did we get here?' It can be hard to be intimate and connect with the person you are closet to because you can’t relate to them on a superficial level. And if you are honest with each other, then what can of worms are you going to open? Often in a marriage people prefer not to raise these big issues for fear that it will lead to uncomfortable questions. A lot of the tension in the movie comes from these characters facing the question of whether or not they should be married. When you initiate these questions where do they lead and what damage will this honesty do?
You’re working with James Corden on your next project, is that right?
Yes, he’s playing Paul Potts, the opera singer who won Britain’s Got Talent. It’s a straight dramatic role for James so it’s a chance for him to show that side of his range. It’s a sweet, moving story that’s also very funny so hopefully the audience will enjoy it.