EXCLUSIVE: Grace Of Monaco scribe Arash Amel and that film’s financier Uday Chopra have found another untold story involving an iconic actress as their next project together. Chopra’s YRF has optioned Seducing Ingrid Bergman, a book by Chris Greenhalgh that will be published in the U.S. next year. Amel is writing the script and will produce with Chopra, who’ll finance the film, same roles they played on the Olivier Dahan-directed Grace Of Monaco, which The Weinstein Company releases this fall. Seducing Ingrid Bergman is the story of a torrid, clandestine romance between the beloved actress and the celebrated war photographer Robert Capa. Their tryst took place in post–WWII 1945 Paris, right before the onset of the Cold War and communist witch hunting. Amel tells me that the love affair set the stage for an image change for Bergman, whose The Bells Of St. Mary’s wholesome image would be shattered when her affair with director Roberto Rossellini became public and she was actually denounced by the U.S. Senate for loose morals when this Swedish housewife left home and fell in love with a playboy filmmaker.
Amel was just completing Grace Of Monaco when his CAA agents slipped him galleys of the Bergman book, and he responded to a symmetry between the stories of actresses in crossroad moments. Grace Of Monaco is many things, but at its core, it is the story of Grace Kelly’s struggle to surrender Hollywood stardom and swallow her ego to become a subordinate, a princess supporting her husband at a time when Monaco was under siege from France. Bergman is about an actress breaking free from the wholesome image she cultivated for herself, which didn’t match a true self that was far more complicated. Amel liked the idea that the book was written by an academic who got permission from Bergman to tell that story and of Capa’s role in liberating her.
“I read it and realized I had the beginnings of an exploration of the consequence of life-changing choices made by two of the most iconic women of the 20th century,” Amel said. “It struck me that Grace and Ingrid had to deal with identical dilemmas for these modern women in repressed times. Grace surrendered to the forces that shaped her fate, but Ingrid refused to surrender and ended up in this scandalous affair with Rossellini and became the first and only actress denounced by the U.S. Senate. One ran away from Hollywood and the other was exiled, and this gave me the spark to tell the second story. Each sacrificed in her own way. Grace was all about sacrifice and Ingrid, by being true to herself, faced losing everything she had built. She was basically a prisoner of this structured cage she created for herself in Hollywood. I told Uday, and right away he said, ‘Let’s go do this.’ ”
What Bergman has is Capa, who was like Hemingway with a camera, fearlessly covering the Normandy invasion and other battles and wars, bedding beautiful women, gambling till he was broke and staying at the bar until the last drop was gone. Filmmakers including Michael Mann have worked on projects about him. Here, he becomes the catalyst for Bergman’s self-awakening. By the time Capa romanced Bergman, he had been changed by WWII and the Nazis, and by all he’d seen in the Spanish Civil War, and he had zero tolerance for repression. In Bergman, he saw a woman trapped in that subservient role. “To him, she was his salvation, this shining gem in a gilded cage, and he couldn’t leave her alone when the cage was darkening,” Amel said. She returned to a Hollywood where artists were being railroaded by a government obsessed with the Cold War and the onset of red menace. Howard Hughes had just purchased her home studio RKO and purged two-thirds of the staff in line with the government’s crackdown on a perceived communist threat. She was expected to fall in line.
“I would have hated to be a creative artist in this town at that time,” Amel said. “The government, which had just won the war, created this permeating terror of red menace that built up to the McCarthy witch hunt trials,” Amel said. “They used this fear campaign against artists to show ordinary men and women it was OK to betray your friends, because Ronald Reagan had done it. This was the antithesis of Capa. Without giving it all away, Capa’s romantic notion was to break her heart and give her the courage to save herself. Soon after, she began to rebel against her masters and then came Rossellini, which got her publicly denounced for perverting the morals of the U.S. But she was no longer controlled by Hughes, Hoover, McCarthy and this whole climate of fear.”
Chopra said they are in no hurry to align with distribution. Amel is close to being done with the script. and they will then lock in a director and a top actress to play Bergman, and a male star to play Capa. There are a slew of female stars who might be right for this, but Amel promised both leads are strong star parts. YRF development and production head Jonathan Reiman will be exec producer.
When I told Amel that if he keeps this up he’ll become the go-to guy for classic Hollywood actress backstories, he just laughed and said, “Betty Grable is next.”