Now out on Blu-ray and DVD, Woman In Gold is the true story of Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), who along with lawyer Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) attempts to retrieve her family’s prized possessions which were taken by the Nazis. Among these treasured items is Gustav Klimt’s painting Portrait of Adele Block-Bauer I.
Powered by solid performances from Ryan Reynolds and Helen Mirren (the film also stars Katie Holmes and Daniel Brühl), Woman In Gold effectively captures Altmann’s tragic yet in turns inspiring journey. The film is directed by My Week With Marilyn filmmaker Simon Curtis.
During my interview with Simon Curtis, he talked about the challenges of mounting the production and gave a bare-bones account of the joys and day to day responsibilities of being a filmmaker.
What is the first criteria in choosing your directing projects? I’m assuming it starts with the narrative.
I am very material driven. I think in terms of the emotional content of the film and the story and there was something about this story that connected to me emotionally on lots of different level and that’s what I really focused on.
You have great collaborators in the film . . .
Film is collaborative. I’m always slightly suspicious when (people say) ‘it’s all about the director.’ You need so many people on your side and I think the definition of the director is – does he or she bring out the best in everybody on both sides of the camera? That for me is what directing is. I had phenomenal people working for me on this film. I can’t put it any better than that. When I think of this film, I think what Alexi Kaye Campbell did with the script, (which is) a really complicated story or what Ross Emery the DP did with all those different time periods and different looks and what Helen Mirren brought to it, and so on. I think of it as a collaboration.
How ambitious was your shoot with the various locations you needed to cover during production?
We shot for a month in London for the interiors, then we did three weeks in Vienna and one week in Los Angeles.
Filmmaking is a combination of planning and spontaneity and the first AD (assistant director) Phil Booth is someone I’ve worked with and he’s phenomenal fun to work with. I have to say, it was intense those three weeks in Vienna that when we arrived in Los Angeles, we were all on our knees with exhaustion. We had some very important days to film there.
Did you know Ryan Reynolds and Helen Mirren would have chemistry going into production?
I certainly didn’t know before they met, but from the second they met, it was apparent they did. I was grateful for that, because that may not have been the case. I thought their relationship brought a huge amount of wit to the proceedings.
Memory emerged as the great theme of this film in a way and it’s about memories you suppress and all those sorts of things. I find it very moving that it’s a journey in the film that Maria (Mirren) would push things away, and then at the right moment she would be forced to see them.
How much of a resource was Randy Schoenberg?
He was very involved in the script and very involved in promotion. His support of the film and saying we got it right meant the world to me. You can spot him in the final sequence where Maria walks through the past in her family’s apartment.
When people ask you for filmmaking advice is there specific roads you point to?
I don’t know, because what no one says about being a director – setting up a film, finding the script, shooting the film, editing the film, promoting the film, are all very different skills. Some directors are better in some elements than others.
I would say, for me, it’s got to be something you believe in and are passionate about even if you’re wrong. It’s got to mean something to you because you’re going to have such exposure. You’re going to have to read or be sent hundreds of reviews and test screenings, or whatever. Even if you’re wrong, you have to believe in it.
In the case of this film, I was very upset that a lot of the critics were very dismissive of the film and didn’t take on board that at a time when so many films are just vapid and doesn’t mean anything, and this film is at least trying to say something. It’s a love letter to America and immigration. There are so many themes. So like it or not, it is trying to do something.
Can you talk about Hans Zimmer’s contribution to the film as the composer. The score is very subtle yet effective.
I’m very glad you think that. Obviously it was a great honor to work with Hans. He’s another person that this subject meant a great deal to. It meant a great deal to Harvey Weinstein, just as it meant to me. That is what was driving us through.
Hans wanted a score that owed something to the tradition of Vienna but wasn’t a museum score, but had a modern edge as well.