Anatomy of a Contender: Making of 'The King's Speech'
How a script from an unknown screenwriter (in his 60s!) led to a period drama with a shot at gold.
At the time, Hooper had 30 scripts on his desk. But during the ensuing four months, his mother nagged him relentlessly until he agreed to read it. He was astonished.
As the son of a British father and an Australian mother, Hooper felt he could tell the story of an Australian who helps a Brit during a time of post-colonial prejudice. He also could cast a subversive light on the abdication of King Edward VIII (played by Guy Pearce), George's elder brother, who preceded him on the throne.
Most Americans admire Edward for relinquishing his duties to marry a widowed woman from Baltimore, but Hooper was attracted to a story that presents this as a selfish act made without consideration for his brother, the man who would replace him.
Thrilled, "I called my mom and said, 'You are absolutely right!' " Hooper recalls.
Through his agents, he expressed interest and was led to Rush. Now he and Rush, who had met at an Emmy Awards ceremony, began e-mailing each other, exchanging notes as Seidler polished his screenplay. Soon, Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter joined the cast as the king and his wife. The creative elements were starting to come together, but there was still the matter of financing.
At See Saw, Canning took the lead. "It wasn't easy," he says. "The collapse of Lehman Brothers had just happened. There was a huge nervousness around everything, and we were trying to put together a film that was deemed to be, excuse the dirty words, a 'British period film.' "
Most studios passed, but the producers managed to raise about $1 million from the U.K. Film Council then got more funding from Momentum Pictures and Molinare Studios. The U.S. and other territories were sold to the Weinstein Co., which provided gap funding via an arrangement with the Aegis Group. Altogether, the film raised and was made for $13 million. Production commenced in mid-November 2009.
It was a tight shoot, made even more difficult by the need to complete scheduling in time to release Rush for a stage production and Bonham Carter for the final installments of Harry Potter.
The film was shot in London in November and December -- a 39-day shoot amid one of the biggest snowfalls in some time that caused other local productions to shutter, but not Speech.There just wasn't time to postpone it.
Firth joined Rush and Hooper in London and spent nearly a month rehearsing from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. each day in a hotel conference room. But he admits he had doubts about the man he was playing and whether he was too self-pitying.
Then, just weeks before cameras rolled, a production designer scouting locations stumbled upon Logue's grandson, who now possessed the diaries Seidler had heard about 20 years earlier but hadn't been able to access. With the Queen Mother dead, he had no problem showing the cast and crew Logue's writings.
The treasure became the source of the film's funniest line -- when the king tells Logue he deliberately stammered on the letter "W" during his culminating speech to let listeners know it actually was him.
"It's clear that [King George] was self-aware, witty and highly conscious about his role," Firth says. "I started to be drawn to him as an individual and his struggle with communications."
Firth had a struggle of his own thanks to Hooper's decision to use wide-angle lenses throughout filming, with numerous close-ups of his lead's face. The technique meant Firth had to keep ferocious control of his expressions and gestures, which were magnified by the lens. The camera would pick up everything, and he knew it.
How successfully he pulled it off was clear when the movie received the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, instantly becoming an Oscar front-runner.
Seidler himself became a mini-sensation there, stopped on the street by those who wanted to congratulate him. Within a week, at age 73, he was signed by UTA, the oldest fresh face in the Oscar game. A fresh face, by the way, whose cancer is now in remission.