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“I’ve worked with actresses whose behavior during production was less problematic, but I don’t think I could have found a better actress to have played Elizabeth Taylor at this time.” That’s how Liz & Dick producer Larry A. Thompson describes his experience working with Lindsay Lohan on his Lifetime TV movie about Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
During production in June, Lohan made headlines when paramedics were sent to her hotel room. The actress was suffering from exhaustion following long working days, which put the telepic in the crosshairs of watchdog groups IATSE and SAG-AFTRA. That was just days after Lohan was involved in a car crash following a late night in production.
While the producer behind TV movies focusing on Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Sonny & Cher and more says he’s not happy about the bad press, he’s relieved to have finished the grueling project that co-stars Grant Bowler as Burton.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Thompson to discuss the parallels between Lohan and Taylor, working with the actress and his Emmy and ratings expectations.
The Hollywood Reporter: Has Elizabeth Taylor’s family seen the film?
Larry A. Thompson: To my knowledge, they have not. I have not reached out to them, nor have they reached out to me. Having done a lot of iconic bios and stories about famous people, sometimes you have to stand back and be objective as a filmmaker. Sometimes when you get involved with the family or friends or people who knew them, the creative process can be blocked by whatever criticisms or agendas they may have.
THR: You have a personal connection to Liz & Dick beyond producing.
Thompson: My daughter plays Kate Burton in the movie at the age of 10 and my son plays Christopher Wilding, Elizabeth Taylor’s son from her marriage to Michael Wilding. It was a special moment to be making a movie about Taylor and have my family be a part of it. All my life my mother would say to me up until the day she died, “Feb. 27 is coming up, that’s my birthday and you know Elizabeth Taylor has the same birthday as me and I think she’s the most beautiful woman in the world.” I watched her career and thought that during the time she was married to Richard Burton, she was at both at the height of their beauty, their fame, their power, their stardom and their royalty. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’m making this movie about them since that fascination started with my mother.
THR: Could you see Lohan and Bowler as Emmy nominees? The telepic?
Thompson: When you start out to make a movie, it’s embarrassing to think you might get nominated for anything. When you start off, you think you’ll win an Emmy and then halfway through you just want to finish the damn thing. That’s possibly what happened to us. I do think the movie is quite good, of course that’s self-serving to say and I’m guardedly optimistic that the public will like it. If anything good happens for Lindsay, Grant or the movie, director, costumer or the hair and makeup, I’ll be very proud.
THR: How was Lohan on the set?
Thompson: Her performance was wonderful every day, and Grant is magnificent; he’s really the anchor of their relationship and the movie. We had to get through quite a bit, and making a movie with Lindsay Lohan is not for the faint of heart. During production I certainly turned 50 shades of white, but we got it in the can and I think it’s good.
THR: How frequently did you discuss the parallels between Taylor and Lohan’s life? Was that part of the allure?
Thompson: Of course. I’ve worked with actresses whose behavior during production was less problematic, but I don’t think I could have found a better actress to have played Elizabeth Taylor at this time. A lot of what people know about Lindsay, they know from the media; what they don’t know about Taylor during that time of her life is she had the same thing going on. People are going to discover that at 29, Taylor’s behavior was so scandalous that her relationship with Richard Burton was denounced by the Pope. A DUI here and a DUI there pales in comparison to being denounced by the Pope. When they see that Lohan’s life really does parallel Taylor’s life and Taylor’s to Lohan’s, I think it becomes a bit more clear to people as to why we cast Lindsay Lohan.
I’ve been called everything from an idiot to a genius, and the jury’s still out on that. I don’t know what viewers ultimately will think; I’m not either. I hope I’m just a producer. I believe the risk we took by casting Lindsay Lohan is that we opened a product, and she brings us the reward. If you’re going to make a movie about Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, you better have some magic, and Lindsay has brought that to our movie.
THR: Has the bad press surrounding Lohan helped or hurt the pic? Are you secretly glad?
Thompson: The old adage that any press is good press? I’m praying that that adage remains true. I’m not glad about it at all; I’m glad I survived it, but I’m not glad about it.
THR: Did you have any discussions with her about her off-screen drama during production?
Thompson: “Discussions” is a very liberal word. We dealt with them as we had to.
THR: What notes did you receive from the network?
Thompson: They wanted to step up and step out. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton is a platform, and Lindsay Lohan was the ignition switch and Grant Bowler made it happen. Lifetime read the same media and news reports during production as everybody else did, and by the time they saw the rough cut, they were just relieved and happy.
THR: What ratings expectations do you have? What’s the expectation from Lifetime?
Thompson: You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. All I know is we made a hopefully a very sensitive movie, and I embrace whatever reason people come to the movie. If they’re coming to see Elizabeth Taylor or Lindsay Lohan and they hope she’s going to fail, I think they’ll be disappointed. If they’re hoping she succeeds, I think they’ll be pleased. People who like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s story will think it’s accurate.
THR: Looking back, is there one thing you wanted to do but didn’t?
Thompson: I wish we could have done two more hours. I think it could have held up as a four-hour movie. I put this in development at Lifetime over two years ago, long before Taylor died. We were in development as a two-hour movie from the beginning, and we talked about maybe doing four hours. After Taylor died, the question about a four-hour came up again. I hope and believe that when people watch it, at the end, they’ll say, “More, more, I would have like more.” And that’s not a bad thing.
THR: Would you revisit Taylor’ story with Lohan?
Thompson: If I were to revisit the Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton story, I would certainly revisit with the same cast, sure.
THR: Having done TV movies on Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Sonny and Cher and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, what’s your next subject?
Thompson: Oprah Winfrey. I’ve optioned Kitty Kelly‘s book and I’m developing a four-hour mini. I’m from Mississippi as is Oprah, and her journey from dirt road to Mississippi to the world stage she lives on is nothing short of miraculous. She’s a fascinating, interesting and powerful woman who certainly can hold up four hours. I’ve optioned the book, and we’re developing the script now. I’m talking to every network about it, but I have a unique four-hour take on it and I want to develop it further before we decide what we’re going to do.
Will you check out Lifetime’s Liz & Dick? Hit the comments with your thoughts. The telepic airs at 9 p.m. Sunday on Lifetime.
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