The Valentine’s Day release of Winter’s Tale marks the end of a long journey for writer-director Akiva Goldsman, who spent years trying to turn the nearly 800-page book into a movie.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter at the film’s New York premiere Tuesday night, Goldsman admitted that he sometimes lost hope that the movie would come to fruition, particularly after he experienced a deep personal tragedy.
“This movie is kind of an exercise in faith,” he told THR. “I was trying to write it, and my wife passed away while I was writing the screenplay, and I didn’t think I’d do much of anything after that. This became kind of a Hail Mary to the idea that there’s a peacefulness behind random acts of love.”
Goldsman’s own experience with loss also made the script that much richer, star Colin Farrell said.
“He had imbued the script with a lot of his experience of love and loss. He wrote the script at a time when he was mourning the loss of someone he loved deeply, so it took on a whole new level of significance that mightn’t have been there if it was just a piece of fiction,” Farrell explained.
Indeed it was the script and its tone that made Farrell sign on for the love story, something he’d never done before.
“It was something, more than anything I’ve ever read, that lacked guile and lacked edge and was completely without any cynical ambitions,” the actor said of the script. “It was just completely filled with hope and sweetness and sentimentality. And I’d never read anything like that.”
The film marks Goldsman’s directorial debut after writing movies like A Beautiful Mind, I, Robot and The Da Vinci Code, and he told THR he was surprised by how personal the experience of helming a movie was.
“I didn’t anticipate quite how remarkably personal directing is. I’ve been calling all my director friends and saying, ‘I’m sorry, I never understood’ because it is very different,” Goldsman said. “No matter what you do in the other jobs, you’re a little bit rescuing, and here there’s no one to rescue but yourself.”
But according to the cast, Goldsman didn’t need any help in the director’s chair.
“[He] knew exactly what he wanted out of each scene and at the same time, he was always curious to see what the actors would bring,” Farrell explained. “He would never direct you before the first take, allow you a couple of takes to get into it and then you’d confab together. But he was really really wonderful and…he set a really really lovely vibe on the set.”
His personal connection to the story also helped him know the material, Farrell said, and bolstered the crew.
Castmember Eva Marie Saint, who’s worked with legendary directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Elia Kazan, added that Goldsman was “wonderful with actors.”
“I’m married to a director, so I know the sense when a director really loves actors and respects actors,” Saint added.
Fellow castmember William Hurt said he appreciated Goldsman’s down-to-earth nature.
When asked what Goldsman was like to work with, Hurt said, “A guy, thank God. Some people think that they’re some thing. They’re in a box. They’re in a package. They’re in a hat. But he’s the guy. He’s there.”
Perhaps it’s that persona that made Goldsman’s famous former stars Russell Crowe and Will Smith willing to appear in Winter’s Tale. Smith has a cameo and Crowe has a larger role, but Goldsman said both were the result of “20 years of favors.”
Another famous former colleague of Goldsman’s, Ron Howard, was spotted walking past reporters on the black carpet wearing a baseball cap and not stopping to talk to the press.
THR also quizzed Winter’s Tale‘s star-studded cast about a few upcoming projects.
Hurt, who recently signed on to play Gregg Allman in a biopic, seemed uneasy about the part.
Of that role, he said, “I’m going to try. I don’t know if I’m gonna pull it off…I’m scared.”
Meanwhile, Farrell squashed any speculation that his memorable Horrible Bosses character could be resurrected in the forthcoming sequel.
“I was hoping that I could put the fat suit on and the comb-over again, but no, didn’t get the call,” he said. “I stared at the phone, eyeballed it for weeks.”