Cannes: 'Mr. Turner' Star Timothy Spall Gives the Press a Big 'Harrumph!'

AP Photo/Thibault Camus
"Mr. Turner" cast

Director Mike Leigh claimed he doesn't share any similarities with the British artist J.M.W. Turner, who is the subject of his new biopic.

CANNES – Grunts, snorts, groans and harrumphs could be heard in the wake of Thursday’s first press screening of Mike Leigh’s new feature, the competition entry Mr. Turner, starring Timothy Spall. But they weren’t snorts of derision. In fact, when the British director’s long-gestating dramatization of the life and work of British painter J.M.W. Turner concluded, it was greeted with a round of applause.


All those vocal exclamations came at the press conference that followed when Spall was asked to explain the unique guttural tricks he uses in the movie whenever Turner tries to express himself. Both the actor and the director were more than happy to demonstrate.

“I think the grunting grew in this organically out of this incredible, instinctive, and emotional man who had a zillion things to say but never said it," Spall explained.

“So he captured it all in an imploded grunt,” he continued. “He's got this burning thing inside him, so rather than say it, it's just ghrrm, ghrrm.”

Spall, animated and enthusiastic, spoke eloquently about the role, which he thought suited him well because, like Turner, he said, he is a “funny-looking fat little man.” To get even further into the role, he described how he had learned to paint two years before he began rehearsing with Leigh for the film.

But back to the impact of the grunt. 

Spall said that it represented Turner’s frustrations and pent-up emotions that he discovered during his months of research about the famed artist.

“The people who sneeze and decorate the room are having a wonderful time,” Spall mused. “The people who keep it in and are controlled are more likely to be interesting.”

Leigh, asked whether or not there were similarities between himself as a filmmaker and the tortured artist in his film, simply said no, then paused before leaning forward, adding “or to put it another way, ghrmm.”