David Frankel / Collateral Beauty
Oscar winning director David Frankel make audiences laugh and cry, just the things his mother told him she liked in entertainment. After all, Marley & Me left us in tears, the Devil Wears Prada made us laugh and Hope Springs did both. Collateral Beauty with it’s A-list cast – Will Smith, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet and Edward Norton – tells a radical story about our spiritual lives. Smith is a man nearly destroyed by the death of his daughter; he can no longer function. His friends intervene to help him sort his grievances with the universe by calling on the ideas of what it is to be human. Collateral Beauty seems a risky project in the climate of films these days because of its spiritual content. We spoke with Frankel in Toronto about the idea and his incredible cast of stars.
That must have been some pitch meeting!
Thank God there wasn’t a pitch meeting – they sent me the screenplay when Will Smith was attached so I jumped on the train right before it left the station. I was the one who really questioned the studio!
The idea of a comforting film seems a new one. Do you think Hollywood will be reminded the power of that in these trying times?
If they do I hope they get reminded really fast. One movie a year isn’t going to do it but going forward… People are sad upside down and backwards. This film makes you think and gives you a little hope.
You gathered a remarkable cast of A-listers plus this amazing breakout young man Jacob Latimore. He seems to have an understanding older than his years. How did you help him?
That was a great thing about the film. Everyone we offered the film to said yes. We got our first choices. Jacob auditioned and he was the first one I the door and I couldn’t believe he was so easy, so obviously a star in waiting, so charismatic and energetic. The way I helped him was handing him off to Kate Winslet and Will and they mentored him in the best possible way. Will rehearsed with him when he was a little shy to start. He pushed him and encouraged him to step off and be tougher to Will’s character and he showed him some real toughness. Jacob finally figured out too that it should be more intimate too. Kate helped him massage his performance word for word, line for line. He nailed his lines.
Will Smith’s performance is so good and the others Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, and Kate. When you deal with this calibre of talent, do you step back a little as a director?
That was the best part of making the movie with a cast like. It was the easiest job I ever had. All I did was roll the camera and look at what we got. With Will there is very little directing going on. One thing was we were always navigating levels of humour and drama and there is variety in his performance in take after take. I experimented a lot in the editing room and made the decisions there. It was fascinating to see the full range, joking, crying, and playing scenes in every possible way. A great actor loves to act and the opportunity to not repeat himself. It was really satisfying.
Naomie Harris has tremendous range from Moneypenny to Moonlight to the grief counsellor in Collateral Beauty.
She has a knack of dealing in human emotion. My mom’s advice was that her favourite entertainment made her laugh and cry and I feel that why I love making people laugh and make them feel and think something. That’s the best of all possible worlds.
There are some rather astonishing twists and turns but I think they were lifelike as well as powerful.
That was one of the major reasons I was drawn to make it. It’s a testament to great screenwriting – a testament to great screenwriting. We never really get to see what the future holds for any one of us. How far are we willing to go on behalf of people we care about?
The film’s out soon. What’s next?
I’m going to go home to hang out with the family it’s going to be great gift. I had a nice gift last Christmas – the screenplay for Collateral Beauty!