When it came to telling the big-screen story of Alan Turing — the World War II British mathematician who cracked the Nazi’s submarine code Enigma and was later sentenced for gross indecency for being gay — the The Imitation Game was more than just a run-of-the-mill biopic for the cast led by Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley.
“People were upset that Turing wasn’t pardoned and the actors were aware of the growing discontent (in the UK) that he wasn’t given his proper due,” said Imitation Game producer Ido Ostrowsky. “His resonance was never lost on the cast.”
Ostrowsky, along with director Morten Tyldum and producer Nora Grossman, described their uphill challenges in making the World War II drama last night during the Awardsline Screening for Imitation Game at the Sundance Sunset 5 Theater in Hollywood. Deadline Hollywood’s Dominic Patten moderated the session before the standing-room-only screening.
Ostrowsky and Grossman first sparked to the idea of Turing in 2009 while reading an article in the Telegraph in which British Prime Minister Gordon Brown publicly apologized for the treatment of Turing, who after the war was convicted of gross indecency over his gay conduct. Winston Churchill hailed Turing for making the single biggest contribution to the war effort by cracking the code, saving 14 million lives and shortening the WWII by two years.
In the article, Brown said, “His sentence – and he was faced with the miserable choice of this or prison – was chemical castration by a series of injections of female hormones. He took his own life just two years later.”
“Why didn’t we know about him? And why is this apology happening now? That was the impetus to getting this film made,” Ostrowsky said. The royal pardon for Turing occurred a month after Imitation Game wrapped, last December.
Ostrowsky and Grossman developed Imitation Game with screenwriter Graham Moore writing on spec. Cumberbatch spotted a draft of the script early on and remained attached throughout, as rumors prevailed that Leonardo DiCaprio was also expressing interest in the project. Originally Imitation Game was set up at Warner Bros., but the studio eventually sent the project back to Ostrowsky and Grossman, who partnered with Teddy Schwarzman — the linchpin when it came to financing the Cumberbatch-Knightley film. “[Warners] realized that the story of a gay mathematician was not as commercial as they thought,” said Ostrowsky. Tyldum and Knightley attached themselves to the film and the Weinstein Co. scooped it up as distributor after seeing footage at the Berlin Film Festival and outdoing five other bidders.
Tyldum said the actors had three weeks of rehearsal, during which Cumberbatch perfected Turing’s stammer. “There was some contradictory accounts on Turing,” Tyldum said. “Some say he had a great sense of humor, while others say he was awkward. He would walk away from certain people when he was spoken to, if he didn’t find them interesting. His brain was always going faster than his mouth. If he looked off in the distance, it was because he was thinking of something else.”
Tyldum shot Imitation Game in eight weeks for $15 million. “Seventeen members of his family have seen the film and loved it,” he said.
Tyldum made his mark stateside with the Norwegian thriller Headhunters prior to tackling Imitation Game. Said the director: “Part of me wanted the challenge of doing my first English-language film as a British period piece. But when you stumble on something great, you don’t make a choice, you just have to do it.”