Working Title was working overtime this weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival. They along with their Universal Studios/Focus Features partners in love and crime held back to back premieres here of The Danish Girl (with Focus), followed by Legend (with Universal). I went to The Danish Girl party which started about 9PM at Soho House and then once that cleared out they just reset the food and the Legend crowd moved in around 12:30AM. This certainly kept Working Title’s Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan hopping. I had seen Danish Girl Saturday morning and caught up with Legend at its Elgin Theatre public screening this morning. After its World Premiere in Venice earlier in the week there was lots of anticipation for the North American premiere here yesterday, and I can say director Tom Hooper’s beautiful production of this long-in-development project was definitely worth the wait. One of its producers, Gail Mutrux said she has been trying to bring this to the screen for 15 years. She seemed relieved at the reaction so far, especially since this is the first film she’s gotten to the finish line since Kinsey 10 years ago.
Long before he won an Oscar earlier this year for Focus’ The Theory Of Everything, Eddie Redmayne, who stars as a young husband who became a pioneer in the transgender movement in the 30s, told me he was approached by Hooper, his Les Miserables director. This is something Redmayne has been thinking about for some time, and he really delivers a stunning performance that is prompting talk about a second consecutive Oscar. Redmayne of course was everywhere somehow during last year’s campaign season, but remarkably managed to run back and forth to make this film at the same time. The mind boggles how he did it. It’s a heartbreaking portrayal of this true-life tale. Equally fine is Swedish star Alicia Vikander who is sensational as his wife, Gerde Wegener. Rather than just a movie about being a transgender, this is at its beating heart a truly moving love story that anyone in, or who has been in, a relationship will easily identify with. In fact that is what Vikander told me she sparked to most when the part was offered after she auditioned in one particularly gut-wrenching scene. Hooper told me after she did that, the part was instantly hers.
The big question is will Focus be campaigning her for lead or supporting actress. Like Felicity Jones, who starred opposite Redmayne last year in Theory Of Everything and was nominated for lead actress, this role of Gerde carries the same kind of weight. It’s a lead, no question. But if campaigned for supporting, Vikander would probably win outright. The risk is confusing the actors branch which makes these decisions on their own. There is no suggestion of categories on the ballot. In 1981 Susan Sarandon was campaigned for Support in Atlantic City and even said she voted for herself in that category only to be surprised when she nabbed a lead actress nod instead. In order to avoid colliding with her other film Revolutionary Road, Kate Winslet was campaigned by the Weinstein Company for supporting in The Reader. Instead she was nominated for that movie as lead actress and went on to win. You never know in the tricky world of Oscar campaigning.
At the party in addition to talking to Hooper, Redmayne, Vikander and Focus chief Peter Schlessel (who was clearly jazzed by the reaction) I made a direct b-line to the screenwriter, Lucinda Coxon who started a decade ago to adapt David Ebershoff’s book. It’s an exceptional screenplay and I always like to find the writer. “I just hope people don’t think I am suddenly cashing in with the whole transgender conversation that’s happening,” she told me. “I have been working on this for 10 years, long before it was being talked about the way it is now. This is a love story.” By the way I am told Hooper became emotional after today’s 12 noon public screening where he received a standing ovation. He said the fest means a lot to him since he has now come here with four films (Red Dust, Damned United, King’s Speech were the others).
As for Working Title and Universal’s October 2nd release, Legend, this true story of the notorious Kray brothers, Reggie and Ron who gangsterized London in the 60s. Brian Helgeland has given the brutally violent tale a lot of period flavor from that decade including a killer soundtrack of hits from the era as well as a very fine Carter Burwell score I just loved. Tom Hardy plays both brothers and pulls it off incredibly well. The technical aspects of having Hardy appear opposite himself for most of the movie must have been daunting but it looks impressive. This is clearly a difficult role to pull off believably, particularly since both brothers are so well known in England. The actor is superb and you can throw his name into the crowded Best Actor race if voters can get past the bloodletting. Actually the script is surprisingly funny and entertaining. Unfortunately I couldn’t make out a lot of Hardy’s heavily British and cockney accented lines at the Elgin today. The dialogue seemed muddled there, as I hear it was at the premiere screening last night at Princess Of Wales theatre. These are the festival’s top venues but they are mostly legitimate theaters, not movie houses. It’s a tribute to Hardy that I enjoyed the performance as much as I did anyway. Is it a gimmick? Yes, to a degree but it makes it fun. The best films I have seen pull off this double header with the same actor were 1961’s The Parent Trap that famously starred “Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills” as identical twins. Hardy has two distinct looks in Legend. The best I saw was 1935’s Columbia film, The Whole Town’s Talking in which Edward G. Robinson plays a meek accountant mistaken for a vicious escaped prisoner who is his exact doppleganger. This movie pulled off the seeing double bit flawlessly in an era when talkies were just beginning. It would make a great remake for some top comic actor. The premise still holds up.
Also this weekend new distributor Bleecker Street, which bought Pawn Sacrifice out of last year’s TIFF, had its own big gala last night for the World Premiere of the Hollywood 1950s blacklist movie Trumbo which is about famed screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, blacklisted and accused of being a communist. And speaking of Edward G. Robinson he is portrayed in this film by Michael Stuhlbarg. In fact there are lots of Hollywood legends turning up as characters in the movie including John Wayne, Kirk Douglas (who helped break the blacklist) and evil gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (played by Helen Mirren, and she’s a hoot). I had a chance to preview the film just before the fest, and sitting alone in a screening room I was brought to tears by his story. But in front of much bigger crowds the film, directed by Jay Roach and written by John McNamara, has been getting big response here, even if some curmudgeonly early reviews are mixed. Not mine. This film packs a punch. I understand it got a five-minute standing O after its public screening today, that went on so long Roach decided to bring it to a halt. I guarantee you writers especially will be moved, particularly by Bryan Cranston’s performance.
As he was being swarmed by well-wishers Cranston couldn’t contain his enthusiasm for playing Trumbo. “I loved it. I really just had a blast and Jay is incredible to work with,” he told me. You really don’t have to say much more to an actor than the fact that both of Trumbo’s daughters, Mitzi and Niki, have roundly applauded the movie. And who would know better? They were here for the premiere along with stars Cranston, Mirren, Stuhlbarg, Elle Fanning and a hilarious John Goodman as a cheapo B-movie producer who figured out how to keep his business going by hiring blacklisted writers to do terrible movie ideas. The film’s producers were also there including Michael London and Shivani Rawat who told me that all the actors they were thinking about to play the various roles actually turned out to be available and interested. Roach is an inspired choice as director (he’s also directing Cranston in his Tony-winning role as LBJ for HBO right now). He really gets the flavor of the era. Cranston took the film and showed it to 99-year-old Kirk Douglas who said he loved it and issued a public statement to that effect. He says Douglas laughed about the fact that he wasn’t offered the part of Kirk Douglas himself. That’s an important endorsement because the movie not only gives credit to Douglas for breaking the blacklist by hiring Trumbo to write Spartacus in 1960, as legend would have it, but also to Otto Preminger who was the first to go public by announcing he had hired Trumbo to write his 1960 epic, Exodus. “I hope the word gets out that the movie is also very entertaining,” Roach said. So let’s start the word. It is. And now let’s throw Cranston into that Best Actor mix too.