'Genius': Colin Firth Lauds Restrained Literary Editor Max Perkins Amid Today's "Rampant Exhibitionism"
The cast and creatives of Michael Grandage's directorial debut also noted how Laura Linney helped Jude Law with his American accent and why the film doesn't include female authors of the 1920s.
Genius recounts the real-life relationship between literary giant Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law) and renowned editor Max Perkins (Colin Firth), who developed a tender, complex friendship that changed the lives of both men forever.
In other words, Colin Firth is once again playing "a rather straight man in a suit," he joked at the film's press conference at the Berlin Film Festival. "If someone wants me to wear a mankini, I'm available! If someone wants to free me of restraint…to burst out of a cake!"
Firth was drawn to playing Perkins because the literary editor of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Wolfe was "someone who is heroic in a way that is not dependent on being in the front line…and yet who did not want any credit whatsoever, whose instinct was to remain invisible, particularly in an era where we are all clamoring to be visible," he explained. "Facebook profiles, Instagram, there's a kind of rampant exhibitionism, which may have been in us [then] — and I'm an actor so I know what I'm talking about — but we now have instruments with which to do that, and there's a kind of frenzy to do so. I think Perkins is thrown into relief against that background."
Seasoned stage helmer Michael Grandage makes his film directorial debut from a long-developing script by John Logan, with whom he's collaborated on plays in London. Based on the biography Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, the film specifically zooms in on Perkins' and Wolfe's father-son dynamic because "Max Perkins had a lot of daughters and no sons," said Logan when asked about the film's lack of female authors. "It's a very particular trope we're exploring, and the reality, sadly, of 1929, is if you look at what was published, the publishing list, you will not see a lot of women writers. Thankfully, that has changed and we have representation of sexes and colors and creeds and ways of thinking that weren't being published at the time."
Researching their real-life roles, Firth "fell in love with Fitzgerald again," and Law read Wolfe's letters and expansive canon. "What impressed me the most was his desire to shake things up, his desire to try and find a voice, to leave the past in the past and push himself in a new direction," said Law of Wolfe. "He clearly had incredible writing skills, but it was almost as if that wasn't enough.… He was fighting to find honesty."
Law worked with a dialect coach to execute Wolfe's specific American accent, and consulted on set with Laura Linney, since her family is from the same area as Wolfe's. "This is a Southern accent with a hint of Appalachia in it," she said. "Hearing him speak, the rhythm felt very familiar to me."
Alongside Guy Pearce, Linney also called the film's one-word title "a nice reminder of the word that it does exist and that it's worth seeking out and worth appreciating in a world now where everything is given equal weight. It's nice to be reminded that things are not of equal weight. There is true genius, there is a standard that people can go beyond, there is evolution that happens within art, within humanity."