Q&A: Stephen Daldry
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Twice-Oscar-nominated director Stephen Daldry doesn't rush into film projects and, in fact, refers to himself as a theater director who "moonlights" in film. Daldry talks to The Hollywood Reporter's U.K. bureau chief Stuart Kemp about directing Kate Winslet in what could prove to be an Oscar-winning turn, why sex scenes leave no room for improvisation and how he feels about bringing to Berlin a movie that refers to the fallout from the Holocaust.
The Hollywood Reporter: "The Reader" is based on the 1995 novel by Bernhard Schlink and features sex and the Holocaust in a script by David Hare. How did you approach it from an emotional perspective?
Stephen Daldry: It isn't about sex, it's about a relationship. It's a generational conflict that Mr. Schlink is discussing, and it's about his generation coming to terms with the sins of a previous generation. It could have been a book about his parents, or teachers or church elders. The question is how do you love someone from a generation involved in a genocide so hideous.
THR: How do you feel about bringing the film to Berlin?
Daldry: Berlin is on one of the fault lines of 20th century history. It is very different to other cities in Germany, and the scars of the past are on every street corner. I have always been fascinated by postwar Germany and its contradictions and complications. It's a truly fantastic place. I'm excited.
THR: You originally cast Nicole Kidman as the lead actress but then had to wait two months for her to finish Baz Luhrmann's " Australia" after which she became pregnant and you recast with Kate Winslet. How tricky did that make the process for you as a director?
Daldry: It was a long process making the film. I had originally asked Kate and she wasn't available, then Nicole joined us and then she fell pregnant. There were a number of enforced hiatuses on it but to be frank those challenges became opportunities. The time delays meant we could really work on how to do the film.
THR: You also had to wait for German actor David Kross to turn 18 because of the sexual content. How difficult or easy is it to direct someone that age in such scenes?
Daldry: We always knew we'd do the (sex) scenes at the end of the shoot. Kate is very experienced and helped David, who was inevitably very nervous through them. I simply said it'll take two days and it's the last thing you should worry about. It was very mechanical and frankly choreographed and there was no room for improvisation, so it was not a particularly difficult part of the shoot. (Kross) is an astonishing young actor and an absolute megastar.
THR: Winslet's performance is attracting plaudits and awards already. Did you know as you were directing that her turn was something special?
Daldry: There are no rules to it. We started the shoot with the trial and it was pretty much straight away that we realized she was doing something extraordinary.
THR: You really have had to work tirelessly on the movie while also directing and co-producing the Broadway outing of "Billy Elliot," which you helped turn into a successful musical. How hard has that been to juggle?
Daldry: It was really rather a privilege to direct a major Broadway musical and do a film. I love doing the show because it's extraordinarily challenging because of the children and extraordinarily rewarding, too. Both disciplines are very different.
THR: Will "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" be your next movie outing behind the lens or are you going to be doing something else?
Daldry: I hope so. I would always want to make it, and I know the material would sustain my love affair.
THR: You found yourself caught in a feud between producers Scott Rudin and Harvey Weinstein over "The Reader's" release date. Working Title also wanted to ensure that you spent your time on the "Billy Elliot" musical, not in the editing room. How tricky a situation was that for you as the director?
Daldry: The agreement that we all came to in terms of delaying the release was a great one for me and allowed me to do what I needed to in the editing room and with the film. Subsequent to that, Harvey and Scott couldn't get along in terms of finishing the film but that had nothing to do with me and I was left out of it.