David Seidler, 'The King’s Speech'
Having stuttered as a child growing up in England, first-time nominee David Seidler had little trouble connecting to the emotional turmoil suffered by King George VI and his private struggle to overcome a debilitating stammer. Bringing the little-known true story of a very public figure to the big screen, however, was another matter.
The Hollywood Reporter: Which of this year’s other Oscar-nominated films would you like to have written?
First, I have to say if you take the nine other nominees, there isn’t one script that I wouldn’t have been proud to put my name to: all exemplary work. The one that I would probably say I personally would like best to have written was Toy Story 3, simply because I’m a sucker for that script. It’s very moving script, which is quite a marvelous accomplishment for animation. Harkening back to the first animated film I ever saw as a kid, which traumatized me for life, was Bambi. Bambi’s mother dies. That’s heartbreaking.
THR: Many of this year’s Oscar-nominated scripts were written by more than one person. Did you feel pressure as the sole writer on King’s Speech?
Yes. I was the only writer ever on the project. There was never even a whisper or a discussion of my being replaced or anybody else: I was the writer. To do that, of course, I had to deliver. In some of the stages, it was like back in college — I was doing all-nighters, working till 2, 3, 4 in the morning, e-mailing my stuff off to [director] Tom [Hooper] so he could read it when he woke up. Then he’d think about it, do his notes; I grabbed a little bit of sleep, and then he’d come over, we’d have a long session, he’d go off, and I’d start writing again. I knew if I stumbled there, good justification might call somebody else in, but I said, “Well, I just got to do this.”
THR: What were some of the biggest challenges you encountered during the writing process?
One of the things Tom Hooper and I worked on for a very long period was when I adapted the play version back into a screenplay version. Everybody was absolutely thrilled and delighted, and I got kudos. It made everything happen. I thought, “I’ve done my job; I’ve done the adaptation.” I was wrong. I hadn’t realized how deeply that process goes, that the two mediums – stage and screen – are so vastly different. Tom pointed out again and again elements in the screenplay that had a stage-y feel to them. What we both wanted to avoid at all costs was the sense of a filmed stage play because that never works out. Tom Stoppard directed his own version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, which is a brilliant play. He’s not a bad director, visually, but I thought the movie sucked because it looked like a filmed stage play; it filmed like it.
THR: Did the story undergo major metamorphoses from your early drafts to the final cut?
In my original version, Willie —the little boy who’s sent out by Logue to tell the Johnsons that they can come in — has a huge B-plot. Willie and Willie’s mother become an interwoven linking story. Obviously, Willie was based on myself; it was a way of writing my story. It really diffused the story badly. I had to get rid of it. That was the biggest major change. I had to kill myself. Almost. It was the right thing to do, no question.
THR: At what point do you consider your job “done” as screenwriter?
One of the most crucial times for a writer to be involved — and I’ve proved this over the years again and again by saving producers a lot of money – is during preproduction. That’s when you change your script. That’s when all the department heads report in and say, “Hey, you can’t do the ice-skating scene now because it’s the middle of August.” If the writer isn’t there, and if the director — or, God forbid, a producer starts making changes — they really don’t understand the ripple effect. They haven’t threaded all the threads and woven a tapestry, so when they pull on one string, they don’t realize it’s bunching up everything else. And the rehearsal, if you’re fortunate enough to have them — we had three weeks – and the first couple of weeks of filming. It’s good to be there just to give the actors a point of reference, somebody to ask questions about their character and their story if they’re unsure. You get a sense when the ship sails: They stop coming to you, they’re really just confabbing with the director, and the leads form a little clique; you’re not invited, and it’s time to go home.
THR: How would you describe the Oscar-nominee experience?
It’s a roller-coaster ride. It’s nonstop. It’s terrific, it’s great fun. Let’s put it this way: I’d much prefer to be doing it than not doing it. I sometimes feel like President Bush about the presidency when he said, “Being president is hard work.” Well, being a nominee is hard work.