EXCLUSIVE: Brit pop superstar Robbie Williams and The Greatest Showman director Michael Gracey were in Cannes this week to talk about their upcoming large-scale feature film Better Man based on the singer’s life.
The musical project, which is being shopped to buyers here in Cannes through Rocket Science and CAA Media Finance, will look into the experiences that shaped Williams’ life, both on and off stage and, unusually, will be portrayed by a CGI monkey in the film.
Williams, who was in town to promote the film to buyers with Gracey, told Deadline that his relationship with Gracey goes back to when the director was in the development stage of making musical epic The Greatest Showman.
“Robbie helped me out massively on The Greatest Showman,” said Gracey. “There was a time when music was being called into question and as Robbie was one of Hugh [Jackman’s] main references for what it was to be a great showman, I went round on a Sunday and played Robbie the music and sort of told him the story and took him through it.”
Williams quipped, “I thought he was pitching me to be the lead in the film all the way through it. He was playing me the music, told me the whole story and showed me the storyboards and in my head I’m going ‘Yeah, I’ll do it.’”
While that film ultimately didn’t lead to a major collaboration between the two, it’s come full circle with Better Man.
“I didn’t want Robbie for that film but as time went on and he told me all of these amazing stories, I realized that Rob is naturally an amazing storyteller,” Gracey said. “And whenever we would talk he would ask questions about my life, I’d ask questions about his life and when he spoke, these amazing stories just felt so heartfelt and original and unexpected and I thought they would make for a great film.”
While the duo admitted they weren’t supposed to yet explain the full reason behind featuring a CGI monkey as playing Williams despite people in the film industry knowing this fact – “you want something like this to be reveal,” said Gracey – they did give Deadline a snippet of their rational behind the decision.
“There was a conceit at one point which was how we could frame the film in an original way,” said Gracey. “You know, there’s been great biopics and we wanted to come at it in a sort of way that didn’t just take the existing route and so it was through a series of conversations that we wanted to lense it not how we see Robbie but how he sees himself.”
Williams originally became a pop star through being part of the hugely successful UK band Take That before launching a strong solo career that included his signature hit Angels as well as Millenium and, interestingly, Take That (whose current members are Gary Barlow, Mark Owen and Howard Donald) have their own feature film project Greatest Days (starring Aisling Bea, Jayde Adams and Marc Wootton) which is being launched in the UK on June 16.
When pressed about his knowledge of that very different project (Greatest Days is more of a Mamma Mia style musical about the fans of boy bands), Williams admitted that while he hasn’t seen the film, he was involved on the production of the stage show The Band, on which the film is based.
“I’ve seen the trailer but I haven’t seen the film yet but I’m sure it’s going to be amazing,” said Williams.
Take That recently headlined King Charles III’s coronation concert earlier this month and when asked if he would ever reunite with the band, Williams said: “Yeah, I bet I will, yeah. Nothing on the horizon but we have these universal strings that pull us back together all the way through our lives and I would be very happy to do something with the boys again but I don’t know when that’s going to be.”
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