Stephen Frears cracked up a packed U.K. Pavilion in Cannes this week, going down memory road about his work with cinema. Paul King moderated the conversation which started out with the telling of Frears at law school in Cambridge. “I realized, at Cambridge, what I wanted to do, so I got a degree then quit.” Frears who studied with the likes of John Cleese took a different path, with his dream of making it to the Royal Court. With champions like Lyndsey Anderson and Carroll Rice, how could he not be on that path to success? During his time spent with Carroll Rice he was asked to work on a film…and the rest is history.
Frears commented several times that his career was really unplanned, “It just happened, I had good fortune in those days.” He started out making films then broke into television. “I was going the wrong way which seemed to be the story of my life.” He eventually returned to films once PM Margaret Thatcher started deregulating television, then came “Dangerous Liasons.” “Most directors had turned it down. They eventually scraped the bottom of the barrell and came to me. They asked, ‘When can you start?/ I said, ‘Tuesday.'” King responded, “What were you doing on Monday?” “Something. I was always scrupulous.” Saddened while watching a clip from his film, because John looked so young, he laughed thinking of Malkovich’s legs in stocking, Michelle Pfeiffer’s youth, how he always wanted Americans in his “big film”, and feeling like in one scene he’d ripped it off from the movie “Paris, Texas.”
Then one day the phone rang. It was Martin Scorcese of course trying to talk him into making “The Grifters.” “It was no surprise to me [when Scorcese called] as I’d spent my life expecting this to happen.” He referred to Scorcese as a “clever bugger” in how he handled the business of Hollywood. When asked if he felt like he was encroaching on Scorcese’s territory in regards to the subject matter of the film, he said simply, “No.” And how could he be encroaching when Scorcese phoned him himself?
Going through the list of most notable films as “The Accidental Hero,” “High Fidelity,” et al, “The Snapper” seemed to be his favorite. “It was a joy – heaven. It was such wonderful material.” “The Queen,” he recalled, seemed to be a collaborative effort. When asked a year prior if he’d make a movie with a ‘Blair theme,’ events of the week (Princess Diana’s death), and Helen Mirren attached as the Queen Elizabeth II he said yes. Once reading the script after it’d been written, however, he kept trying to improve it by saying, “there should be a third act and have a shootout in the Abbey.”
Frears is a writer’s director, having them onset whenever he can. “They know more than anyone. I figure they got us into this mess, they can get us out of it. I came from the writer’s theater. I always thought I was there to serve the writer.” Many screenwriters would be, and are, clamoring to make a movie with him. With no upcoming project in mind he is reading scripts, but can’t decide. There are “a lot of good ones…life’s a complete nightmare.” Frears is one “clever bugger” indeed.