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An Interview with Producer Marc Samuelson on Casting the Movie Wilde

Photo by Dave Cito

Marc Samuelson is part of the rare breed of a truly successful independent producer, making British films that regularly receive wide distribution and critical acclaim along with box office success. Casting is one of his first priorities in any project.

MS: With WILDE (1997), I wanted to make an honest film about the reality of what happened.  And above everything else – is the question ‘who’s he going to be?’  Because that’s massive.  Clearly you’ve got to have the right director, clearly you’ve got to have a brilliant screenplay and the right casting director. That was Sarah Bird, who did a brilliant, brilliant job.

The financiers wanted some kind of a star name and they made a lot of suggestions – could it be Alfred Molina,  could it be John Malkovich – and you’re thinking, okay, that’s interesting…really?  It could be John Malkovich, hmmm, that’s a very strange intepretation – okay, let’s keep discussing it – could be Brendan Gleeson, well maybe that’s a bit more like it but not really etc., etc.

Sarah Bird was great friends with Lorraine Hamilton who represented Stephen Fry – who had always been talked about for doing an Oscar Wilde project.  But the context of the time was that he’d walked off a West End play – Cell Mates – so I didn’t even know if he was insurable, and he had no value internationally and I didn’t know if he could act – but apart from that, he was ideal!

But, Sarah and Lorraine persisted, so Brian (Brian Gilbert, director) and I went and had a drink with him….  and four hours later we came out of the Savoy and I said to Stephen, you’re my worst nightmare because I don’t know if I can raise the money on you but I can’t think of anybody else doing this  – which I’ve never done in a meeting before but it was so obvious.   And he left and Brian and I said to each other, we need to just find a way to make this film with Stephen, no matter what because he’s just amazing and he personifies Wilde and brings a massive amount to it and I had no question, having met the man, that he’d be unreliable or flake out or be a problem a la Cell Mates and so on.  And so we solved all those problems.

The great thing that Sarah did was, she knew that part of the job was going to be to deliver an ensemble of great actors yes, but, frankly, they had to be an amazingly good looking group of young men.  When we discussed Bosie, conceptually, Brian Gilbert said, “the thing is – when he turns to the camera in the first shot, it’s like the sun came out because you have to understand why Oscar was willing to throw his whole life away for this young man – even the straight men in the audience have got to get that”.  To which Sarah said, “Jude Law”.  Just like that.

And it’s really interesting because that level of certainty is unbelievably helpful – it cuts through it.   This guy, Jude Law, he’d done nothing – he’d done one bad movie, but Sarah had seen him on stage – in ‘Les Parents Terrible’ – and said he was amazing, he’s unbelievably good looking but the most important thing is that he’s a really good actor.  (So began the big debate about Jude Law, is he actually a character actor in the body of a leading man?)

We met him at my house – Stephen and Brian were sitting in my living room and the door bell rang, I’d never met this guy before and seen one photo of him, I opened the front door and I just thought ‘you’re in!’ because he was just absolutely right and indeed, he aced it in every way.

Excerpt from The Casting Handbook: For Film and Theatre Makers by Suzy Catliff and Jennifer Granville © 2013 Taylor and Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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