CANNES (Hollywood Reporter) - British filmmaker Stephen Frears, who directed Helen Mirren to an Oscar in “The Queen,” has turned his attention to “Tamara Drewe,” a comedy based on a graphic novel by newspaper cartoonist Posy Simmonds.
The movie stars one-time Bond girl Gemma Arterton, British heartthrob and “Mamma Mia!” star Dominic Cooper, U.K. comedy royalty Tamsin Greig, and newcomers Charlotte Christie and Jessica Barden.
A classic British comedy, it details the story of the fallout after a hot young newspaper writer returns to her hometown in the English countryside, where her childhood home is being prepped for sale, stirring up old and new local passions. The source material owes much to Thomas Hardy’s “Far From the Madding Crowd.”
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BRINGING A FILM FIRMLY ROOTED IN BRITISH HUMOR TO THE FRENCH RIVIERA?
Frears: I remember when I discovered what people really like about British film is the loonies on screen. Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, maybe John Cleese — that’s what people like in British films, the dottiness. I love the dottiness but I was rather shocked when someone pointed that out to me (as a so-called serious British filmmaker). It’s good, because personally I have dottiness in spades. This film has lots of things that people my mother would have called foreigners associate with English people.
WERE YOU A FOLLOWER OF POSY SIMMONDS’ CARTOON STRIPS IN THE GUARDIAN (AND SUBSEQUENT GRAPHIC NOVEL)?
Frears: I used to read the strip in the Guardian. She is one of the great women of Great Britain, I think. She’s like a national treasure. To me she’s this successful graphic artist and an intellectual at the same time.
THERE ARE CONSTANT REFERENCES TO THOMAS HARDY. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT HIS WORK AND IT BEING USED AS A JUMP-OFF POINT FOR CINEMA?
Frears: I liked the joke about him giving his wife syphilis and the fact that death comes out of nowhere is very Hardy. Destiny being violent death is special.
Frears: We spent 10 weeks shooting. Eight weeks down in Dorset, I think, and then in London for two. Ideally you’d have shot it over a year (the film is set over the four seasons) but I couldn’t work out how you’d pay for the actors for that length of time.
THE ENSEMBLE CAST IN “TAMARA DREWE” IS ALL REALISTICALLY OBSERVED VERSIONS OF PEOPLE. HOW TRICKY WAS IT TO ENSURE THAT HIT THE SCREEN FOR YOU?
Frears: You take trouble casting it. It only comes if you take that trouble. Tamsin (Greig) said I said I only cast her because she knows about farming. I am embarrassed to say I didn’t know about Dominic (Cooper) and his success with “Mamma Mia!” Just as well he was so good. And I hadn’t heard of Gemma Arterton, who’ll be upset to read that. But when she walked in to the casting I turned to (casting director) Lisa book her if she’s any good. She has such wit and charm and brings that to screen.
SHE DOES A FEW SCENES WITH QUITE A LARGE PROSTHETIC NOSE. ANY VANITY WITH THAT?
Frears: It was easy. She (Arterton) brought incredible subtlety to it. She kept shouting make it bigger. And we did.