David Frankel is the director of Hope Springs, Marley & Me and The Devil Wears Prada. His latest film Collateral Beauty, is released this week and has a multitude of big names such as Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren and Will Smith. This Q&A focused on the cast and the ideas behind the film. You can see the results below!
Collateral Beauty is released on St Stephen’s Day.
How did you bring together such incredible ensemble cast on this film, with actors like Will Smith, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren, Edward Norton, Keira Knightley, Michael Peña, Naomie Harris, Jacob Latimore, etc.?
The process began with sending out the script, which was a beautiful invitation to come play. And it didn’t hurt that Will Smith was already attached to play Howard.
In a way, this is two movies: It’s Howard’s story, and then it’s the story of the other executives in Howard’s firm. As far as the rest of the casting, there was an initial school of thought that said, ‘Oh, you have Will. Now just get the most interesting, cool, indie actors you can.’ But I didn’t want the audience to just be waiting to get back to Will as Howard, so I campaigned really hard for the biggest, best actors we could get in every role.
Jacob Latimore was the first person who came in to audition for the role of Raffi, who personifies the concept of Time to Howard. As a director, there’s this impulse to feel the need to see other people for the role, but everyone involved just thought, ‘Why?’ Jacob nailed it, and, in the end, there was no other choice.
Even though Will is taking on a very emotional role in the film, he’s also known to be a really fun guy on set. How did you find the experience of working with him?
As the director, I could say, ‘Okay, now, come on everybody; be serious. We’re shooting a serious scene.’ But Will would have the sound guy hook up speakers and he’d be rapping and singing show tunes between takes or between set-ups. I mean, he would be completely clowning around. This one day, we were shooting a particularly intense scene with Will and Naomie Harris, and he really went for it. And Naomie, to her credit, could not be thrown. They were really enjoying themselves and then, poof, the camera is rolling and they both settled in and were firing on all cylinders. It was really fascinating to watch [laughs].
One of the parallel storylines running through the film involves Naomie Harris’s character, Madeline, gently coaxing Howard into her counseling group. Can you talk about shaping that dynamic with Naomie and Will?
Naomie’s chemistry with Will is very specific to her character and really special, and I think discovering the emotion in Madeline is one of the real pleasures in store for audiences. It’s beneath the surface, but then it peeks through every once in a while.
The film takes audiences on an emotional journey that is uplifting and surprisingly funny. Was this thread of humour always there in the film or was it something that emerged in the post-production process?
It was always there, and we made sure to highlight as much of the levity as possible in the post-production process. When I make a movie, I don’t actually even see it until weeks after we’ve finished shooting. I have the editor put it all together, so that when I sit down and watch it, it’s a fully scored movie with titles and everything. Then you can be like the audience. You’re experiencing all the wonderful, magical elements of the film for the first time.
Initially, I concocted this phrase that this film is a ‘screwball drama’ – and Will never lost sight of the screwball. He finds comedy in each moment and plays it. For example, there’s a scene where Kate Winslet’s character, Claire, says to Howard, ‘We want you in a meeting,’ and he’s kind of paralyzed – and you laugh because of how he plays it. That’s part of his natural buoyancy.
One scene that surprised me in post-production was this moment when Will and Helen [Mirren] are on a bench in a dog park, and she introduces herself as ‘Death.’ She says, ‘Nice to meet you.’ He says, ‘nope,’ and walks away. When you show that scene to an audience of 400 people, it’s one of the film’s biggest laughs. The film played, at many points, like a comedy, which was so gratifying. It’s a real roller coaster ride for many people.
I think Will was aware of all the comedy all the time, which is why I think he had so much fun making this movie. He gets so much energy from things like that. He’s a fascinating, fascinating man.
What do you hope audiences experience when they see Collateral Beauty in the cinema?
I hope they say, ‘You’re going to see something original that you haven’t seen before, and it’s going to make you feel things that you haven’t felt before.’
As you watch the film, you’re not going to see a car chase. You’re not going to see someone jump off a building. You’re not going to see somebody mow down 17 goblins. Those things aren’t going to happen in Collateral Beauty. But we are going to give you a life-affirming, chest-swelling experience that takes you out of your everyday, and gives you something to talk about.