Director Philip Kaufman Talks HEMINGWAY & GELLHORN Starring Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman

     May 22, 2012


Hemingway & Gellhorn – premiering on HBO on May 28th and directed by Philip Kaufman (The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Right Stuff, Henry & June) from a script by Jerry Stahl and Barbara Turner – recounts the passionate love affair and tumultuous marriage of literary master Ernest Hemingway (Clive Owen) and trailblazing war correspondent Martha Gellhorn (Nicole Kidman), following their relationship through the Spanish Civil War and beyond.  As the two witnessed history, they covered all the great conflicts of their time, but just couldn’t overcome their own conflicts at home.  The film also stars David Strathairn, Molly Parker, Rodrigo Santoro, Parker Posey, Lars Ulrich, Santiago Cabrera, Saverio Guerra, Peter Coyote, Diane Baker, Joan Chen and Tony Shalhoub.

During this exclusive interview with Collider, accomplished filmmaker and multiple Academy Award nominee Philip Kaufman (whose writing credits include Raiders of the Lost Ark) talked about how this film was brought to him, making his first feature for television, how Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen came to the project, his decision to intersperse black and white and color footage throughout the film, and shooting entirely in San Francisco, which doubled for seven different countries.  He also talked about how he’s currently developing a number of projects, but doesn’t know which one he’ll do next.  Check out what he had to say after the jump:

philip-kaufman-imageCollider: How did Hemingway & Gellhorn come about for you?

PHILIP KAUFMAN:  It was brought to me by Barbara Turner, who had done an early draft, and Alexandra Ryan.  It was this very huge, long thing and I wasn’t sure if I could quite see it, but I knew Gellhorn’s work and I loved Hemingway, as a writer, so we began working on it for awhile.  And then, Alex Ryan formed a relationship with [James] Gandolfini, and he was interested, but he never committed to doing it.  He brought it to HBO, as a producer, and was thinking about whether he could be in on it and play that role.  And then, he really decided that he wasn’t right for the role, and he just wanted to be involved in some sort of producing capacity.

That’s how we got set up at HBO.  It was originally going to be a feature because it was Picture House, at the time.  And then, when Picture House went out of the feature business, they asked me if I would do this for HBO ‘cause I’d never done television.  I had a talk with Len Amato, the head of HBO, and he was so bright, in talking about Hemingway, that it was one of the best story conferences that I’d had.  It just was great to be involved with this company that really was excited to do this project.

What brought Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen to the project?

KAUFMAN:  I met Nicole [Kidman] and she said that she wanted to work with me.  I didn’t give her the script, but I told her I was doing it.  She secretly got ahold of the script somehow and called me and said, “I want to do this.  I want to work with you.  Whenever you make this, I want to be in on it.”  I showed the script to my lawyer, who’s one of my best friends and has been my lawyer forever, and he read it and said, “I think Clive Owen would love to do this.”  So, we sent it to Clive and he called me from London and said, “I’m in!”  And then, we just had to work out their schedules and when they could do it together.  They knew each other, but had never worked together.  Of course, both of them had great admiration for the other’s work.

clive-owen-nicole-kidman-hemingway-gellhorn-imageDid you give them any specific direction or research, in embodying these individuals?

KAUFMAN:  They’re great actors.  Clive [Owen] was Hemingway.  A guy from French cinema, who knows everything about movies and knew Hemingway’s work, said that Clive is 100% Hemingway.  He just felt that.  And then, we had film of Martha Gellhorn, but Nicole [Kidman] just transformed into the character.  They’re both brilliant actors, and they’re both extremely modest, which was great.

And then, there were all the other people.  Bobby Duvall didn’t even want credit on the movie.  We’re old friends and we worked together 40 years ago or more, when he played Jesse James, when he was just a young guy, when I did The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid.  When I called him to ask him to do a small but great role as the Russian, he just came in and did it and said, “I don’t want any credit for this.  People will see it in the movie.”  For me, it was a great personal thing because it was a lifelong relationship with one of the greatest actors in the world, who came back to do this.

Brooke Adams, who was in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, came in as a woman in Spain when the bombs are falling.  She’s married to Tony Shalhoub, but she speaks Spanish because she’s lived in Spain.  That was a little homage to our moment, 25 or 30 years earlier, where she had played the lead in our earlier movie.

nicole-kidman-clive-owen-hemingway-gellhorn-imageHow did you develop the look of the film, with the black and white interspersed with color?  Was any of the black and white footage real footage from the time?

KAUFMAN:  Well, it was a big mixture.  Showing HBO how I was going to make the movie, I said, “I can shoot this entire movie in San Francisco, for all these places, and I want to show you how I can do that.”  So, I put together other movies I had done, like The Unbearable Lightness of Being, where we had the invasion scene.  My editor, Walter Murch, edited that and he’s an old friend of mine.  Even when Peter [Kaufman] and I were preparing the pitch for The Right Stuff, we put together a lot of documentary footage.  People don’t realize how much documentary footage was in The Right Stuff.  I had used black and white in a couple other movies, and I’d even shot one of my earlier movies in black and white.  So, we put together this whole presentation and included places and locations in San Francisco that could blend, almost exactly, with Spain, China and all of these places.  HBO came up with six people, and Len Amato saw it and said, “Well, I guess we can go home now.  We’re going to make this movie.”

clive-owen-hemingway-gellhorn-imageThat was great.  I loved that.  I never left San Francisco, for casting or anything.  We just stayed up there.  I had worked with virtually everyone on the movie, in some other movie.  I had worked with the cinematographer and the assistant directors.  The set designer, Geoffrey Kirkland, did The Right Stuff.  Walter Murch has won many Oscars for films.  So, we blended the footage.  In Unbearable, we sometimes degraded the footage, so Daniel Day-Lewis and Juliette Binoche looked like they were actually in those battle scenes, and we had to carefully match them.  Now, there are techniques where you can nest people into the past.  Chris Morley, from Tippett Studios, who do a lot of the special effects, really got into the movie.

We did green screen, too.  For example, when Martha Gellhorn comes back from Finland, that is Hemingway’s house in Cuba.  Morley went down and photographed it and put it in, so she’s actually entering the real Hemingway house.  And then, inside is our set, which is matched carefully.  It’s not exact, but it was matched carefully with all of the diagrams and pictures we had of the Hemingway house.  A lot of the footage was blended with the action footage of people shooting and running.  We were able to nest them in, in a way that we couldn’t do in The Unbearable Lightness of Being.  This is a relatively low-budget movie with incredible scope.  It’s about seven countries, all shot in San Francisco.

nicole-kidman-hemingway-gellhorn-imageHow difficult was it to cut so much story down to about two and a half hours?

KAUFMAN:  We carefully prepared the movie.  With every shot, we knew exactly what we wanted to do, where the green screen would be, where the actors would come in, and what the actors were going to do.  We had storyboards.  We even had little constructions that we made, where you could see how the actors would come.  We had all the stock footage.  We built a little screening room, at the end of San Francisco, in an area called Dogpatch.  There were some empty warehouses that the city let us use.  There were some old abandoned offices that we moved into, and we had all of our people sitting in different offices.  Our composer (Javier Navarrete) came from Spain and spent a lot of time there.  The editor and the special effects people were there.  It was this great, “Let’s make a movie,” feeling.  All these guys were geniuses, really.  The stages were unheated and we had the worst winter ever, in San Francisco.  For scheduling, we had to shoot with all the rain and the cold, and keep the birds away from outside.  It was under really difficult circumstances, but everybody was into it.  We knew the movie we wanted to make, and it wasn’t that much longer than that, when we first cut it.

So, there aren’t a lot of deleted scenes then?

hemingway-gellhorn-philip-kaufman-clive-owen-nicole-kidmanKAUFMAN:  No, there’s not a lot of stuff.  We knew the movie.

Do you feel like, when two people are both so passionate, it’s impossible to have any kind of relationship, other than a completely tumultuous one?

KAUFMAN:  Well, Hemingway has that quote, “If two people love each other, there can be no happy end to it.”  There are some great Gellhorn quotes, too.  Historically, people took one side or the other.  Hemingway was too macho.  Hemingway was a great writer.  It’s a very tragic story because he was great, but he drank and got obsessed with fame.  There were a lot of frailties that he had, where he couldn’t live up to his own standards.  And, Martha Gellhorn became this tough old bird.  She was really, really tough.  People who knew her in London said she was amazingly tough, and they were incredibly tough with each other.

What’s next for you?

KAUFMAN:  I’m working on a bunch of things, but nothing is at that point where I can really talk about it.  I’d love to work with Clive [Owen] again.  I’d love to work with Nicole [Kidman] again.  I’d love to work with them both together again.  I’d love to work with the same group of people in San Francisco, who made the movie.  It was a magical thing.  There was such a good feeling.  Peter [Kaufman] and I are trying to think about how we can keep this kind of filmmaking together, and not have to go to Hungary, Romania, Vancouver or Louisiana.  We can do these movies in San Francisco.  I did most of The Right Stuff in San Francisco, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  I’m looking for something where we can do what we did on Hemingway & Gellhorn in San Francisco.  We shot 100% of that in San Francisco.