Another Fine Mess
STAN & OLLIE | Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly star in a heartfelt study of Laurel and Hardy…
I’m seeing Mr. Scorsese today,” Jon S. Baird tells Teasers from a New York hotel. This is a humblebrag with a point – Baird’s new film Stan & Ollie opens with a bravura tracking shot following legendary double act Laurel and Hardy through a Hollywood soundstage during the shoot for Way Out West. “He saw the film a few weeks ago. I said, ‘You know where the first shot of the film is coming from?’ He gave a little chuckle, as if to say, ‘Yeah, you’re not the first to do that…’”
Scorsese homages aside (Baird promises a “silver star” to the TF reader who spots the second), Stan & Ollie is no assembly line biopic. Focusing on Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy’s little-known live tour of Britain in 1953, it’s a poignant platonic love story between two men in the twilight of their careers. “The film is called Stan & Ollie, because we wanted to make a film about two friends who just happened to be these icons,” says Baird. “There’s a real sadness to what happens to these guys. They were exploited by the studio system. They’re facing mortality and trying to hold onto that thing they had in their youth.”
Pathos-fuelled it may be, but no Laurel and Hardy film would be complete without a steady stream of chuckles. Enter Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly. The pair count Laurel and Hardy among their comedy heroes, and rehearsed with a clown choreographer for three weeks to perfect the duo’s stage routines. “The first time [Steve and John] walked on set I didn’t watch the monitor, I watched the crew’s faces,” Baird recalls. “I knew by the expressions that they had got it, because it was like watching these ghosts appear in the room.”
In a neat touch, Laurel and Hardy’s antics aren’t limited to their stage performances, with several famous skits bleeding into the pair’s ‘real’ lives. “That was something we built into the script quite late,” says Baird, who worked from a script by Philomena’s Jeff Pope. “One of the most iconic moments in a Laurel and Hardy movie is the piano that falls down the stairs in The Music Box. So we built that into the storyline, and wrote around it.”
In a thrilling what-if? Baird also filmed a snippet of Laurel and Hardy’s final, unmade picture – a Robin Hood feature the pair were hoping to finance with the British tour. “There was a lot of pressure doing that, because that’s when you really have to get it right,” Baird admits. “But it was great fun to do. Steve and John were getting very excited about doing a real Laurel and Hardy film, and saying, ‘We should actually do this Robin Hood film. This should be the sequel!’”
ETA | 11 JANUARY / STAN & OLLIE OPENS NEXT YEAR, AND PREMIERES AT THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL ON 21 OCTOBER.
COMIC TIMING Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly play the legendary slapstick stars.