Fred Schepisi’s flight was delayed in Hobart when he spoke to me on his mobile about his latest film Words and Pictures, starring Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche, and discussed the tricky casting of the leads, the story’s deeper meanings and his plans for his next film (if it happens!).
Fred Schepisi’s flight was delayed in Hobart when he spoke to me on his mobile about his latest film Words and Pictures, starring Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche, and discussed the tricky casting of the leads, the story’s deeper meanings and his plans for his next film (if it happens!). Fred, when your filming of Patrick White’s The Eye of the Storm came out in 2011 and you were doing publicity, was Words and Pictures already happening in some form? Yes, it was gestating. From the time it came to me to when it was finished took five years, and some of that was just trying to get the money, but after that it was all about trying to get the actors’ schedules to synch up. I had another actress in mind at the time, as Juliette Binoche had turned me down originally, but then when I got this other actress on board, Juliette suddenly said, “Hang on! I’m being silly! I want to do this!” But I just couldn’t let this other actress [whom Fred won’t name] go, so for the next 18 months I spent my time trying to get her synched to Clive’s schedule, but I couldn’t make it work and so I had to let her go, and then go back to Juliette. But Clive was always on board, despite his prolific workload? Yes, absolutely, and that was always the problem: he was busy, she was busy! [laughs]… And it was horrible, all the waiting. You know, when you come out on the other side of a thing like that, you say to yourself, “What I should have done was put it off for six months, and say to them, ‘I want you both to guarantee that you’re going to do this – and don’t take anything else!’” It all just keeps sliding, and it’s okay for them as they’re off working, but you’re spending 18 months not earning a penny! But I am glad that it all worked, especially as Juliette turned out to be quite a phenomenal painter [all the paintings you see her working on in the film were her own creations], and we were able to show them being done live on film, which was a huge bonus. As your previous film was the darker The Eye of the Storm, some audiences might think that Words and Pictures is a lighter tale by comparison, but it isn’t, as Juliette’s character is very ill, Clive’s character is very angry and there are many serious themes at play here… Yes, these are real people with real struggles, so to say that it’s a ‘rom-com’ is a little misleading. There’s all the stuff going on with the kids in the school and the school bullying and sexual harassment, and the technology aspect and what technology is doing to teaching and to students, and are there benefits or disadvantages to it. So yes, there is a lot going on in the film, which I always like. Clive Owen’s character is funny at first but turns darker and more desperate, and it must have been a tricky thing to do without him becoming annoying or unreal, so was that something that was always in Gerald Di Pego’s script or did it come out through his performance? Both. It was always the intention of the screenplay, but Clive’s performance was great. It’s also fairly obvious that Clive and Juliette liked each other for real… They both wanted to work with each other, but they’d never met. They’d always admired each other’s work, but then I got them together in New York and I thought, “Hmm [clears throat], these two really get on! My work here is done!” [laughs] Okay Fred, so what sort of projects are you doing in the future, and will there be further long gestation periods? Well, in a month’s time I was supposed to start something called The Olive Sisters, based on a novel by Amanda Hampson… But my financing just fell through, so that’s the end of that. Next year I’m going to do The Drowsy Chaperone, which is a musical that takes the mickey out of musicals while enjoying being one. We’ve got Geoffrey Rush on board, and we might have Barbra Streisand if it works out, and we’ve got Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman, and I’ve just got the script out to Justin Timberlake, who’s touring at the moment but he’s reading it. I really like him a lot… But every time I say that, that that’s what we’re going to be doing, something goes wrong! Words and Pictures is now screening at Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas