Q&A: Tom Hooper


Englishman Tom Hooper might seem like an ironic choice to have directed HBO's quintessentially American seven-part Revolutionary War epic "John Adams." But Hooper was the right fit in every other way, having helmed the HBO period projects "Elizabeth I" and "Longford" as well as PBS' "Prime Suspect 6." He spoke to The Hollywood Reporter's Ray Richmond about the unique challenges of pulling together the $100 million-plus adaptation of David McCullough's rich biography.

The Hollywood Reporter:
What's a nice Brit like you doing directing a project like this?

Tom Hooper: I actually discovered this very exciting sense of commonality and purpose with the characters. These men in the story didn't see themselves as American. The Revolutionary War wasn't about separation and independence so much as rights -- rights as Englishmen. Besides that, I'm the son of an Aussie mother who always was complaining about the British. So I always had that sense of life lived on the other side.

THR: Was this as logistically daunting a shoot as it appeared to be onscreen?

Hooper: Yes and no. It was an incredible amount of work, obviously, but doing it start to finish in 16 months actually was quite fast. All told, the shoot was 108 days. And yes, it felt like a monumental undertaking. It was like my 18th-century "Lord of the Rings."

THR: What was your relationship like with McCullough?

Hooper: Most of it took place at the end of a telephone, but it was terrific. He was expert at describing the contemporary tie-ins of Adams' story. And he was gifted at inspiring me with his excitement at our being able to essentially tell this story of the American Revolution in a complete and contextual way for the first time.

THR: What pressure did you feel working on a project that carried such weight?

Hooper: Fortunately, I was able to convert whatever anxiety I felt into genuine excitement. I was absolutely determined to make "John Adams" in a way that felt emotional and vivid and real and didn't give viewers the sense of attending a history lesson. But I think my biggest job was using my directorial energy to craft a sense of genuine uncertainty and suspense, because back then it wasn't at all inevitable this was going to work out.

THR: Having Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney as your leads probably didn't hurt.

Hooper: Paul was there for 106 days of the 108-day shoot, during which we did a lot of rewriting on the fly. He never dropped a line the entire time. He was brilliant at capturing Adams' range of emotion, his self-doubt, his self-loathing. And Laura is simply exquisite and peerless.