Larry A. Thompson has managed a lot of talent and produced a lot of television over the years, but nothing he’s done before has attracted the kind of attention Liz & Dick has. Set to air November 25, the Lifetime TV movie about the stormy love affair between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton was in the spotlight from the moment Lindsay Lohan was cast as Taylor. Car crashes, filming delays, exhausted crew members and the constant glare of the media hampered the production. Liz & Dick covers the couple’s two marriages, two divorces and career ups and downs. Grant Bowler plays Burton in the film. Lloyd Kramer directs from a script by Temple Grandin scribe Christopher Monger. Thompson talked with me about the trials of making Liz & Dick, hiring Lohan, and his next project on Oprah Winfrey.
DEADLINE: With all the attention on Liz & Dick, this could not have been an easy film to make.
THOMPSON: It was a challenge to make this movie. I certainly was aware of the risk I was taking hiring Lindsay Lohan. I realize now making the right decision is easier than living with the right decision. But it was the right decision nonetheless. Because in our movie none of the reported madness seeps into the story except when the story asks for it. It was a complicated jigsaw puzzle under the best case scenarios and then when you are challenged by new factors, it keeps you on your toes. When you’re promoting a movie, you always have to watch what you say and when you are working with Lindsay Lohan, it gives that piece of advice new meaning.
DEADLINE: So why did you hire her?
THOMPSON: I think by having Lindsay in our movie she will bring a younger generation that might not even know who Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton are. And I think because of their interest in Lindsay Lohan they are going to see a story on Lifetime that’s going to thrill them. I think all the naysayers who think that Lindsay Lohan is a train wreck are going to shocked to see how much of an actress she is. I’ve learned to divorce one’s talent from one’s personal behavior and I think the audience will start doing that too one they start watching the movie.
DEADLINE: Did you see a lot of similarities between the two actresses?
THOMPSON: The fact is Lindsay had so many things in common with the Elizabeth Taylor that we were portraying in our movie. Elizabeth Taylor in our movie is 29 years old when she meets Richard Burton. She had been a child star. She and Richard Burton lived a life of excess, whether it be drinking, carrying on, making love, living in the spotlight under the glare of the paparazzi, having everything they said and did exaggerated. So I think there was a lot that was going on with Elizabeth Taylor that Lindsay Lohan could relate to.
DEADLINE: Would you make another movie with Lindsay Lohan?
THOMPSON: Well, sure. While I certainly have worked with many actresses whose behavior during production was less problematic, I do believe her performance as Elizabeth Taylor is riveting and tragic. I think Grant Bowler as Richard Burton steals your heart and Lindsay Lohan as Elizabeth Taylor breaks it.
DEADLINE: Besides the celebrity factor, what relevancy does Taylor and Burton’s story have to today’s younger viewers?
THOMPSON: Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were the first Brangelina, they were the first Hollywood international couple. They gave birth to the paparazzi. So I think an audience today will not only see a great love story and learn about two Hollywood icons but they’ll be able to understand why we live in a celebrity crazed world.
DEADLINE: What’s next after Liz & Dick?
THOMPSON: Oprah! I’ve optioned Kitty Kelly’s book on Oprah Winfrey and I have a take on a four-hour miniseries on a women who I think is fascinating. I have a take on the story that I am about to go out and pitch.
DEADLINE: Who’s going to play Oprah?
THOMPSON: Haven’t got there yet.