It’s possible you may not have noticed it, but three-time Academy Award nominee Lasse Hallstrom has become an immensely prolific director. During the ’90s he scored some of the biggest hits of his career including “Chocolat,” “The Cider House Rules” and “The Shipping News,” and though things quieted down in the new millenium, he rebounded with a flourish, scoring his second biggest hit with the Nicolas Sparks‘ adaptation “Dear John.” And now he’s back with the romantic comedy “Salmon Fishing In The Yemen.”
The film, based on a true story, concerns the budding romance between a fussy fisheries professor (Ewan McGregor) and a freewheeling British consultant (Emily Blunt) as they embark on a somewhat unlikely plan to bring salmon to the hot sands of the Yemen. The picture, penned by Oscar-winner Simon Beaufoy (“Slumdog Millionaire“) is based on a book by Paul Torday, who recounts the correspondence between involved parties with text messages, post-it notes and emails exchanges, though Hallstrom says, “We had to make the satire less specific, because the book has become quite dated.” That meant removing some of the specific political details, but also retaining great moments such as a humorous instant message exchange between the prime minister and his snippy press secretary.
Hallstrom was thrilled to work with McGregor and Blunt, as he says the two were his “First choices, all the way. They brought the lightness and the humor to the material.” But he singled out significant praise to co-star Kristen Scott-Thomas, who stars as the bossy press secretary Patricia Maxwell: “I knew she could be funny, as most actors can, but she brought that seriousness combined with a bit of heart,” he says, allowing the actress to capture what he considers the “balance” between the story’s sentiment and the rough-edged politics.
Next up is a departure for Hallstrom. He’s suiting up for his first Swedish film in 24 years, adapting the popular detective novel “The Hypnotist” in his native tongue. The thriller follows a detective who employs a hypnotist to get the truth about a triple homocide out of a silent boy, only to encounter severe psychological roadblocks. “I’ve never done a thriller before, so it’s a departure for me,” Hallstrom tells us. “It’s fun to try to figure out how to scare people. But it’s not a clear-cut thriller. There’s romance, there’s humor, and the story really speaks to me in how it jumps around. It’s very different considering the genre.” Many are comparing the series to “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo“, but don’t expect Hallstrom to board this potential money train that quickly. When asked about adapting the second film in the series, he says, “No, I don’t feel like I would return. The series is supposed to be seven or eight books. Maybe in the future, but I doubt it.”
He’s also had “The Danish Girl” percolating for a while. Nicole Kidman was attached for the longest time with a rotating door of co-stars, including Charlize Theron, Gwyneth Paltrow and Marion Cotillard set to play the world’s first sex change recipient. But when Rachel Weisz dropped out at the very last minute this past May, the film folded. Hallstrom seems to allude to some turmoil when he explains what happened. “That was always a labor of love, and I’m sad that it fell apart,” he says, noting that it could still happen in the future. “Originally, we had an actress who dropped out just as we were about to shoot, and then the project came apart for personal reasons. But I’m always ready to jump back in.”
Hallstrom’s success adapting “Dear John” also got him the plum gig on another Sparks adaptation, “Safe Haven“. But a scheduled release date of spring 2012 clearly never materialized, though it appears the film may be his next. “It’s supposed to happen in May, June, July, for release next summer, sometime next year,” Hallstrom says. “It’s also not a clear-cut genre piece,” he assures fans, as the plot deals with a woman who arrives in a small town all by her lonesome with a seriously damaging and damaged past.
Hallstrom was also attached to a romance, “My American Lover,” which would have teamed Johnny Depp with his real-life squeeze Vanessa Paradis in a love story between an American novelist and a French philosopher. But Hallstrom is most definitely out of the loop on that one: “I don’t know what happened to that project,” he shrugs, adding about Depp and Paradis, “I don’t even know if they’re together at the moment! Depp is a fantastic actor, and I’d like to make that happen. But I’m not certain about the casting, they may re-cast.”
“Salmon Fishing In The Yemen” opens this Friday.