'Imitation Game' Director: "It's a Tribute to Being Different"

Norwegian filmmaker Morten Tyldum's World War  II drama is one of the most hotly anticipated films at Toronto

For decades, Alan Turing remained an obscure figure in the annals of World War II. But the British mathematician, scholar and genius code-breaker played a crucial role in ensuring an Allied victory by deciphering intercepted Nazi communiques before key battles. Instead of being celebrated, he was tried and convicted by the British government for being gay and took his own life in 1954. Fast-forward 60 years, and Turing’s remarkable story finally is getting the cinematic treatment it deserves thanks to Norwegian director Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, the film — which at one point was set up at Warner Bros. with Leonardo DiCaprio attached to star — is being positioned as The Weinstein Co.’s main awards-season contender. (In February, TWC plunked down $7 million for U.S. rights to the film based on footage.) THR caught up with the 44-year-old married father of two during a break from production of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon II: The Green Destiny (he is producing the TWC film) to talk about how a Ben Affleck project that fell apart opened the door for Imitation Game, his new in-demand status, and how he got his way with Harvey Weinstein.

The Imitation Game had to be one of the most hotly contested director jobs. How did you land it?

My agent [WME’s Cliff Roberts] sent the script to me because he just wanted to give me an example of beautiful writing. I had just moved to Hollywood. He said, “This is one of my favorite scripts. Unfortunately, somebody else [J Blakeson] is attached. It’s just for your enjoyment.” I loved it. And then I was attached to another project [Ben Affleck’s Bastille Day], and that fell apart, because Argo exploded with an Oscar campaign and it became a huge conflict timing-wise [for Affleck]. But that same week, this one became available. It was fate. 

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How long did it take to get the job?

It all happened in four days. I had a meeting with the writer [Graham Moore]. I came with my notes. I immediately brought up Benedict because from the first time I read it, I thought about him. I was a big fan of his work in Sherlock, and he hadn’t really become a name in Hollywood yet. And Benedict had been pursuing the part, so it all just jelled. On the budget side, it’s a small project [$15 million]. But we were able to catch a lot of great talent on the acting side and behind the camera.

How did Imitation Game end up going from Warner Bros. to The Weinstein Co.?

Warners was great, but they weren’t able to produce it themselves. They handed it back to the producers, and Teddy Schwarzman at Black Bear Pictures bought the rights for it. 

Why do you suppose Turing’s 
story never has been told for the 
big screen before?

First of all, it was kept in secret for more than 30 years after the war. Everything was burned down. All the papers. MI6 kept it under lock. It was a top-secret project. The government had so much [incentive] to keep quiet. But he’s really one of the unsung heroes [of World War II]. He actually saved millions and millions of lives. It’s really mind-boggling that his story isn’t one of the most well-known and celebrated.

What were you hoping to achieve with this film?

To me, it’s a tribute to how important it is to have people who are not thinking “normally.” In many ways, it’s a tribute to being different. 

Harvey Weinstein has been criticized by European filmmakers like Olivier Dahan and Luc Besson for exerting his will too much over the final cut. What was your experience?

Actually, I had a great experience with Harvey. He had his notes, which he felt strongly about. His solution was a little bit more than I was willing to agree on. So I showed him a way around where I addressed some of his notes but in a different way than he said. And he loved that. After that, everything was fine. He’s been very supportive and very positive. You hear the rumors so you’re almost expecting it’s going to be a tough fight. But actually, it’s been really nice. He’s been very respectful to my vision and to the way I wanted to tell the story.

Your 2011 film Headhunters was a blockbuster in Norway. Will it be made into an English-language film?

We had discussions. Studios were interested. But I said, “I don’t want to have anything to do with it.” I’ve told the story. I got it out of my system. If someone [else] does a remake, that’s fantastic. But I could never see myself remaking a movie I’ve already done. 

Thanks to the buzz around Imitation Game, your name is now being dropped in connection with every hot project in town, like Fox’s Cascade and New Regency’s Pattern Recognition. What’s true?

I had a project [with Bastille Day] that I was sure was going 
to happen, and it fell apart. So now I’m attaching myself to a
 few projects because you never know in this industry. There’s a million ways for a movie not to happen. At the moment, I’m developing [Pattern Recognition]. There’s also Chain of Events with Warners [about a cryptologist who discovers a link between terrorism and a person’s DNA]. Mark L. Smith is writing [the screenplay]. He promised to have a new draft in a week or two. I’m feeling blessed at the moment to get these very interesting projects. 

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