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September 2016

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DIRECTOR'S CHAIR 14 POST SEPTEMBER 2016 uch like the royal subject of his acclaimed 2006 film, The Queen (which won him his second Oscar nom- ination), British director Stephen Frears has long been considered a national trea- sure. Of course, the truth is, he's an inter- national treasure. Now 75, and with a long and prolific career that spans some five decades and that has always embraced a wide variety of styles, themes and genres — he cut his teeth at the BBC, where he first honed his abilities to work with tight budgets and schedules, and made his name in TV drama, working almost exclusively for the small screen in the first 15 years of his career. In the mid-1980s, he turned to the cinema, shooting The Hit, starring Terence Stamp, John Hurt and Tim Roth. The following year he made My Beautiful Laundrette for Channel 4, which crossed over to big screen audiences and altered the course of his career. Since then, he's made big Hollywood studio pictures and high-profile films with big stars, such as Mary Reilly, Hero, the Oscar-nominated The Grifters and Dangerous Liaisons. But he's probably better known for such smaller, grittier ve- hicles as the Oscar-nominated Philomena, Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight, Cheri, Dirty Pretty Things, Hi Fidelity, Prick Up Your Ears, Snapper and The Van, films that provided a rich palette for Frears to explore stories with a strong social and political conscience. His latest film, Florence Foster Jenkins, features both star power — Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant, along with The Big Bang Theory's Simon Helberg — and a richly- comedic palette for Frears to explore the true story of 'the world's worst singer,' Florence Foster Jenkins, a 1940s New York socialite (played by Streep) who ex- uberantly pursued her dream of becom- ing the world's greatest singer — despite having a legendarily-terrible voice. Her "husband" and manager, the aristocratic English actor St. Clair Bayfield (Grant), tries to protect his beloved Florence from the awful truth about her vocal skills, but when she decides she's ready to give a public concert at Carnegie Hall with her anxious pianist Cosme McMoon (Helberg), a crisis looms. Here, in an exclusive interview with Post, Frears talks about making the film, which is already attracting Oscar atten- tion, his love of post and why he has no plans to retire. How do you go about deciding what your next project will be and what made you choose this? "I always look for interesting stories and I'd heard her sing on YouTube years ago and thought it was very funny, but she was also so sincere and it broke your heart. I didn't really have any profound thoughts and when I read the script by Nicholas Martin, I just thought it'd make a great film. And I wanted to work in the genre of men in tuxedos and women in evening gowns. That's what it was like when I was a kid. And she's really a fasci- nating character, and it's got it all — com- edy, tragedy, pathos. I suppose I make films that I want to see myself. Why else would you do this?" But some directors specifically make films aimed at 15-year-old fanboys all over the world. "(Laughs) I'm afraid I'm not that kind of director." You've worked with many of the grande dames of stage and screen, including Helen Mirren and Judi Dench, but this was the first time you'd teamed up with Meryl Streep. Any big surprises? "I suppose you're always surprised when someone's as good as she is. She really is that good. I'm more like a Woody Allen in that, once I've got someone like Meryl, I don't feel the need to direct her every single move. I just let her get on with it. I know what they're doing and it has to make sense, and she's just so skillful. When her name first came up when we were casting, I just thought, 'Perfect!' and she was very conscientious and hard-working — and completely transfor- mative. She just became Florence. And she can really sing. And someone had told me, in order to be able to sing really badly in a role like this, you actually have to be a really good singer — and Meryl is." What about Hugh Grant? "I thought he'd be perfect as St. Clair, so I sent him the script, and he wrote back saying, 'I usually hate everything, but this is wonderful.' He can do all that stuff, as he really is like someone out of the '40s. I've always thought he was a great actor, STEPHEN FREARS: FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS TELLING THE STORY OF THE WORLD'S WORST SINGER BY IAIN BLAIR M Union VFX handled visual effects work for the film, which included recreating 1940s New York City.

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