Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool
Published Date: 08/11/2017
An interview with Producer Colin Vaines
My involvement with Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool began seven years ago. I had been working for Graham King (Oscar winning producer of The Departed) in Hollywood as one of the heads of production but made the decision to go out into the freelance world again. I made up a list of all the projects that had passed my desk, which had never been made but I really loved, and Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool was top of my list.
I read Peter Turner's book (of the same name) again and fell in love with his wonderful memoir all over again; it is so funny and so sad and truly captures the extraordinary nature of the Oscar winning actress, Gloria Grahame. It is something that is so different and I felt it would make a unique film. So I set about tracking down who owned the rights and I found out that twenty-three years ago it had been optioned by Barbara Broccoli.
It transpired that Barbara had her own attachment to the story. When she was 17 she met a young actor called Peter Turner. So they became friends and one day they went out and he said that he wanted her to meet his friend Gloria. As Barbara describes it the door was opened and she was confronted by a mass of blonde hair with an arm sweeping it back whereupon she was greeted with, "Hi, I'm Gloria."
So Barbara was there when the relationship happened between them and had always felt an incredible attachment to the book but clearly there was also the family business of the Bond films. But over the past twenty-three years she had kept the option renewed and had developed various scripts and during this time there had been various talent and directors attached but the thing with developing a film is you have to reach critical mass. So you have to have everything in line: script, cast, directors, production team, the money together but sometimes you hit a peak and sometimes you don't quite close it at all and the train leaves the station and it had happened with Barbara, as it has with me and every producer.
I decided to give Barbara a call - I didn't know her that well, we had met once or twice but she is just a fabulous person. I felt that Matt Greenhalgh who had written Nowhere Boy and Control and had worked uncredited on a film that I was working on would be great to adapt Film Stars and I asked her if she fancied pushing ahead with the film again. Well, there was a pause on the end of the phone and she said "This is just so strange!"
She had always wanted Annette Bening to play Gloria Grahame and approached her about 20 years ago but Annette felt that she was too young at that point. Well she had bumped into Annette at the BAFTA Awards two weeks before my call and Annette asked her, "Whatever happened to Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool?"
So there was a sign that perhaps this was something we had to get moving on!
She loved Matt's work - who wouldn't? He is a very gifted writer and had his own unique touch in the area of biography. He just got it. He has moved in that world. Matt is a working class guy who because of his great work was mixing in the world that Peter Turner had found himself. Literally we sent him the book and he replied as soon as he had read it and said, "I'm in!"
Barbara put up a little money for development and that got Matt off and running with the script. We just all had so much belief in the film. In fact it was Barbara's idea to try the flashback idea, she is just phenomenal as a producing partner. We got through several drafts in about six months but we were very clear that we were creating this beautiful love story, which we really wanted the audience to invest in. Peter was trusting us with his story and very quickly Matt's script showed him we were inhabiting the right area.
However the script, as it turned out, was the easy part. I M Global came on board early and Stuart (Ford) was just great but we had to pull in money from private equity, which finally got us over the line. And also Lionsgate pre-brought the UK rights and they have been wonderful all along and really beloved in the film. That took about four years; being a film producer is not for the fainthearted!"
During this time we had the great fortune to have director Paul McGuigan come on board. I had seen him at a film screening and he subsequently said that I was so weird, I just kept looking at him, but as a producer you develop this sense that something is right. So as soon as I left the screening I rang Barbara and said, "Look, I have an idea that Paul McGuigan would be great to direct Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool. What do you think?"
Barbara loved him and his work. Paul instantly had great ideas. He wanted to capture that old Hollywood vibe. A film about reflections, much of it shot in the studio, with the brilliant production designer, Eve Stewart and Paul was very insistent that we should use back projections and no green screen. He had a clear vision. He met Annette, he is just wonderful with actors, and she loved him too. We knew we had the right person to direct the film.
We never, ever discussed anybody else other than Annette to play Gloria. You've seen the film; who else could have played Gloria Grahame? Strangely when she starred in The Grifters, Stephen Frears said that she should watch all of Gloria Grahame films; so she was perfect!
Jamie Bell read the script and absolutely loved it. We met and then he read with Annette and you immediately felt this spark, and every day you saw this magic develop. He captures that Liverpudlian confidence and then the tenderness and warmth underneath. The universe smiled on us with Jamie. He is so hard working and such a lovely person with it. He has this wonderful ability to be in the moment immediately; it's quite extraordinary.
I have to say that the stars were with us with the rest of our cast: Julie Walters, Vanessa Redgrave Kenneth Cranham, Stephen Graham and Francis Barber. All of those actors are just incapable of giving an ineffective performance, they have such a level of reality and that is such a beautiful thing. We would race in to the set just to see their performances; Barbara and I have been blessed.
It's a great story and I thank Showcase for your support championing the film; it is a unique take on on a bittersweet love story so we just want people to go and see it. We are biased but we think it's wonderful! It's certainly been so well received from all the festival audiences.
Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool is at Showcase now - CLICK HERE to purchase tickets