Theatre's Grandage says was nervous making 'Genius' for Berlin

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 16, 2016 2:30 PM

By Sarah Mills

BERLIN (Reuters) - British stage director Michael Grandage said on Tuesday he was nervous directing his first feature film "Genius", about fabled American book editor Max Perkins, but he had more than a little help from his friends.

Starring Colin Firth as Perkins, Jude Law as Thomas Wolfe and Nicole Kidman as the older married woman who fell in love with the rambunctious novelist, "Genius" is having its premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival where it is competing for the main Golden Bear prize.

Grandage, who made his name directing classics of the English-language theater, told Reuters in an interview that he knew he could deal with his actors but was unfamiliar with some aspects of film-making.

"I was nervous of the technical side particularly but I did quite a lot of research. Before I started work I went and visited a number of friends on sets and started to ask a lot of questions way before we went into any kind of pre-production," Grandage said.

"The one element that I felt confident about was the only element that probably is shared with my work in the theater, which is the relationship with actors.

"And I was very excited to explore that in a different medium and I deliberately chose ... a performance-led film."

Grandage does seem to get the most out of his principles, with Firth portraying a supremely self-controlled Perkins, whose notion of a piece for a jazz band to play at a black club Wolfe has dragged him to is "Flow Gently Sweet Afton". The band manages a danceable swing version.

Law plays Wolfe as a boisterous man who is in love with life, and with writing, so much so that he can hardly bear to stop. A version of his second novel that he presents to Perkins - whose clients also included Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald - fills several crates.

"Tom doesn’t really have a family, he ends up a sort of lonely island," Law said.

"Through the journey of the film you see his relationship with Aline Bernstein (Kidman's characters) but he never has children and you don’t see any of his other relationships."

Firth said it had been a challenge to play the restrained and decorous Perkins while Law was going full throttle.

"People talked about Maxwell Perkins as being barely audible at times and that’s how I started it when we rehearsed it," Firth said at a post-screening press conference.

"But of course Jude...is just off the walls and swinging from the chandeliers... so it was about making that energy work where it's completely one conflicting with the other. But still it works as a dynamic."

(Writing by Michael Roddy; editing by John Stonestreet)