PETER SPEARS

The pro­ducer

Gay Times Magazine - - Culture -

Ac­tor, writer, pro­ducer, direc­tor – but he’s also the man that first op­tioned the book a decade ago...

How and why did you first get on board with the pro­ject? I had read an early ver­sion of the book in 2007, just as it was about to be pub­lished, and I fell in love with the writ­ing and felt com­pelled to try to make a movie of it. Since then, it’s been about a ten year odyssey. I don’t know that many peo­ple thought it was an ob­vi­ous choice for a movie. We had a lot of years of hear­ing ‘no’ and peo­ple not quite un­der­stand­ing what the story was, and what the stakes were. We al­most im­me­di­ately reached out to Luca Guadagnino, who I’d been friends with prior to this pro­ject. My hus­band is the agent of Tilda Swin­ton, so we knew Luca, and had spent lots of time with him in Italy.

How did the cast­ing come about? Ti­mothée has al­ways been this char­ac­ter.

His dad is French, his mum is Amer­i­can and Jewish, he played the pi­ano as a kid and re­learnt it for the movie, and the bi-na­tion­al­ity of the char­ac­ter, and know­ing how to jump in and out of English and other lan­guages… and he’s so in­cred­i­bly bright. In just so many ways he was Elio. He’s right on the cusp of be­ing a young man. He’s right there in that per­fect wrig­gly moment of his whole life be­gin­ning, and the cam­era cap­tured that feel­ing so well.

How did Ar­mie get in­volved with the pro­ject? Luca has al­ready been a huge fan of Ar­mie from his The So­cial Net­work days, and had been keep­ing an eye on him through­out his ca­reer. Luca made a phone call to Ar­mie’s agents, and said he wanted to send the script. I be­lieve that Ar­mie’s first re­sponse af­ter read­ing it was, ‘Oh my gosh, wow, this is in­cred­i­bly beau­ti­ful.’ In fact, his wife had read the book and loved it, but I think he was ner­vous…

They had a phone call and talked through his thoughts and feel­ings, and Ar­mie said he’d ac­tu­ally told his agent be­fore the call with Luca that he was go­ing to say no. Then af­ter his call

with Luca he rang his agent back up and said, ‘Well, I’m do­ing the pro­ject!’ [Laughs] Luca said that he just told him to look in his heart and the an­swer was there.

We’re so ex­cited he’s get­ting the re­sponse he’s get­ting - he re­ally rose to the oc­ca­sion, and took on the chal­lenge open-hearted, and with as much com­mit­ment as any­one could’ve done. You can see that up on the screen. Both guys did – it’s re­ally beau­ti­ful. They both en­trusted them­selves to the story and the direc­tor and the hon­esty of the moment and when peo­ple say chem­istry, I think that’s what peo­ple are see­ing up there. Be­yond the fact that they also both have great chem­istry in per­son, too.

You said the script went through a few it­er­a­tions as it was devel­oped - was there any­thing that was left out – à la the

peach scene? That scene was al­ways in the book, so it was al­ways there. Ev­ery­one asks if it’s go­ing to be there, it’s al­ways the first thing peo­ple ask about.

A friend of mine had read the script but not read the book, and was so moved by the scene with the peach – not be­cause of how out­landish it was, but be­cause of the in­ti­macy of that moment.

No mat­ter if you’ve done that ex­actly, the things you have done with some­one you love – and per­haps some­thing else even that in­ti­mate and deep – and the re­al­i­sa­tion that there’s some­one else will­ing to join you in that in­ti­macy and to join you in that place where there’s no self-con­scious­ness… I think it all wells up for Elio – that’s why he breaks down in the moment – be­cause there’s an­other hu­man be­ing who doesn’t find this thing sick, and who is able to meet him at that moment wher­ever he is and un­der­stand it com­pletely.

In the book there’s an­other some­what fa­mous scene we don’t have; a bath­room scene where one watches the other go to the bath­room, and it’s the sec­ond scene that peo­ple ask about – but these are these crazily in­ti­mate, pri­vate things that peo­ple do that no one talks about. That you think you’re alone and crazy for hav­ing done, and to process that I’m not alone in the world for hav­ing felt hu­man in those moments.

Not to sound gushy but watch­ing the movie made us feel like we were fall­ing in love again, be­cause of moments like that which are so un­spo­ken, aren’t tele­graphed on screen and that have

a sub­tlety to them… I think you’re right. Peo­ple have said, ‘It’s not as graphic as it should be’, that, ‘They’re pulling punches sex­u­ally-speak­ing.’

But I think the film is in­cred­i­bly sex­ual. It’s a sex­ual film, espe­cially be­tween two men, and that for me, is for as long as I can re­mem­ber – and I’m 50-years-old.

I think it’s re­mark­ably sex­ual and sen­su­ous be­tween all the characters, and which is in keep­ing with the style of the direc­tor, which is very much how Luca shoots in­ti­mate scenes, and de­picts sen­su­al­ity in all dif­fer­ent kinds of ways.

I think it does a great job of stay­ing true to the sen­su­al­ity of the book, and I think it’s re­fresh­ing that there’s no sec­ond act scene-end­ing break where all of a sud­den some­one is beaten up or dies or gets sick…

The mu­sic adds a beau­ti­ful am­bi­ence. How did Suf­jan Stevens get in­volved? Luca knew the song Fu­tile De­vices, and had played it for me and told me how specif­i­cally per­fect it was for our movie and how he loved it. Like a man pos­sessed, he found a way to reach out to Suf­jan. He had thought there may have been a nar­ra­tor at one point. He wanted to float the idea of Suf­jan be­ing the nar­ra­tor, and while Suf­jan said no, he knew the book and he loved the script and said he’d write a song for it.

He sent two songs. I re­mem­ber the day they ar­rived. I was sit­ting in Luca’s liv­ing room, and we played them, and we were all blown away. No notes, noth­ing. It was just per­fec­tion. He also sent a re­worked ver­sion of Fu­tile De­vices, with a pi­ano ar­range­ment, more in keep­ing with the spirit of Elio and his pi­ano playing. Then it was an em­bar­rass­ment of riches to have even more songs.

That fi­nal shot, the close-up on Elio’s face, Ti­mothée had an ear­piece on and he could ac­tu­ally hear the song while he was there for that last shot. It was not some­thing that was laid in later – the mu­sic lit­er­ally in­formed the shoot­ing of the movie and that moment.

For many peo­ple, the last para­graph of the book is fa­mous in it­self, and it has a real punch, and I thought that when we knew we wouldn’t be do­ing that last bit of the script, I was in­ter­ested by how they would cre­ate some­thing as ef­fec­tive as that last para­graph, and yet I was blown away. I can’t imag­ine any­thing stronger than what Luca cre­ated in that last shot. It’s so filmic. It’s ev­ery­thing that words do when they’re put to­gether so well – and they cer­tainly are in the book. But that shot is with­out words. It’s the def­i­ni­tion of cin­e­matic.

On a more spe­cific, and prob­a­bly more per­sonal level, how does it feel know­ing that you’re go­ing to have an im­pact on a whole gen­er­a­tion of LGBT+ who see it, and that this could go down as a classic

in queer cin­ema? The last few years I’ve been in­volved in a group called Free­dom to Marry in the US, which was ad­vo­cat­ing for marriage equal­ity. I worked with the poet Richard Blanco on a movie cel­e­brat­ing that, based on a poem he wrote. So the fight for equal­ity has been a big part of my life.

It’s over­whelm­ing to hear you say it and to un­der­stand on a pri­mal level that it could be true.

I have 11-year-old kids, and if I’ve cre­ated some­thing that makes the world they’ve come into a lit­tle bit bet­ter in any way, that would be fan­tas­tic. I read some­where the quote, ‘Be the per­son you needed when you were a kid,’ and I feel in lots of ways we all – Luca, my­self and all the other pro­duc­ers – maybe made the movie we needed when we were younger.

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