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Richard Eyre, a knight of the realm, is one of the leading lights in British theater and also has helmed several movies. The list of actors who have fallen under his direction reads like a who’s who of acting and he loves both the discipline of theater and film. Eyre talks to The Hollywood Reporter’s U.K. Bureau Chief Stuart Kemp about directing two of the most talented and feted actresses — Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett — in the world today and plans to shoot his next film in Germany.
The Hollywood Reporter: Who called who for “Notes On A Scandal?”
Eyre: I had read the novel. Scott Rudin, one of the producers on (one of my previous films) “Iris” called me and said he had bought the rights (to the book). He said he thought the part of Barbara was perfect for Judi (Dench). He then said he’d commissioned Patrick Marber to write the script and I knew Patrick well. He (Rudin) was very much the godfather and the midwife for the project and was very closely involved in the making of the film.
THR: It’s an impressive cast. Did you choose?
Eyre: I followed up Scott’s (Rudin) wishlist with a couple of telephone calls to Judi and Cate to talk about making the film with me.
THR: How different is it directing fine actors such as Dench on stage as to celluloid?
Eyre: There is a huge difference in process. There is a difference in the way an actor behaves on stage than how they behave on film but in the end it is a similar sort of relationship with the director. As a director, you are always talking about how a character moves, thinks and feels and behaves. The ways of demonstrating the difference is the difference between stage and screen. In film the obligation is to give a performance in that single moment the film is running through the camera. That’s the hope.
THR: The book is set in London. How challenging is it filming there?
Eyre: It is quite hard. It is not a desperately film friendly city. It is difficult getting permissions although I think it is getting better. London is certainly not like New York say, where people are more showbiz aware and film friendly. With the increasing legal anxiety you can’t just walk into a street and get your characters to wander around. If you are filming on the street you have to put up signs and tell people they are being filmed. The great British tradition of the drama documentary style is very hard to achieve.
THR: It’s a story about female obsession and warped love. What approach did you take to portraying such emotion?
Eyre: We had two weeks rehearsal time with Judi, Cate and Patrick to get it right. We sat and talked at great length about the script and read through scenes, all the time with Patrick re-writing bits to make sure it rang true.
THR: How did Dench and Blanchett compare in terms of your role as a director?
Eyre: In some ways their approach is very similar. They are both theater animals and there is not a lot of mystique around them and the way they practice their craft. The don’t make an obscure cult of their craft and are both very thoughtful, hard-working and well-prepared actors. They’re also both very down to earth.
THR: You have made films and are a famous theater name. Where does your heart lie — the boards or celluloid?
Eyre: I suppose it is a bit inadequate to say both? I do love doing films but the thing I love about theater is in the end it is quite a private preparation before you come on stage. For several weeks, it is private and intimate and then you suddenly go out in front of a large audience. With a film it is all incredibly public. You are in front of a crew, producers, executives, bond people, financiers — everyone is scrutinizing you as you work. And yet no one really knows what you are doing in the moment whether you are right or wrong. I think it is probably more difficult to make a good film.
THR: Can you talk a little about what the biggest difference is between getting a stage performance out of an actor compared to a performance for film?
Eyre: As a director you are in control of the relationship between the audience and the performer on stage. But on film, you’re not really in control of the way the experience between the actor and the audience is mediated between the screen and those watching.
THR: How do you feel about having an out of competition slot in Berlin?
Eyre: I can’t go (to Berlin). It is terrible because it is even nicer going to a film festival with an out of competition slot. For me it always seems to be at odds in any artistic venture to be in competition with others because you are never comparing like with like. It makes judging weird and idiosyncratic. And I am disappointed because festivals always treat directors so well. I haven’t been to the film festival (in Berlin) before but I love the city and wish I could go. It’s just impossible. I am opening a new play (at the National Theater) and will be in technical rehearsals so I would get arrested if I went (to Berlin).
THR: Are you planning to direct more movie projects?
Eyre: I hope to make a film later this year from a script I have written based on a short story called “The Other Man,” by German author Bernard Schlink. It’s about a man who learns posthumously who his wife was. It’ll be shot partly here (in the U.K.) and partly Germany and is backed by HBO.
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