Kevin Kline, Dakota Fanning and Susan Sarandon in Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland's The Last Of Robin Hood: "The real Errol Flynn can't quite live up to Errol Flynn, the idol."
In a Trump SoHo Hotel suite, high above the city, I met up with The Last Of Robin Hood directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland for a conversation on Kevin Kline's portrayal of Errol Flynn. Susan Sarandon and Dakota Fanning as Florence and Beverly Aadland led us to Marjorie Morningstar, starring Gene Kelly and Natalie Wood - Too Much, Too Soon and the Barrymore clan - Groucho Marx and You Bet Your Life - John Huston's Roots Of Heaven and all the way down to Barry Mahon's Cuban Rebel Girls.
Earlier, I had spoken with Jane Pollard and Iain Forsyth about 20,000 Days On Earth, their documentary on and with Nick Cave, at the Regency Hotel. This was my second interview with co-directors producing a Lolita connection.
Dakota Fanning as Beverly Aadland: "The scene we recreate is approximately but not exactly like the dance number in Marjorie Morningstar..."
Glatzer and Westmoreland are careful and daring at once in their direction of troubling intimacy in The Last Of Robin Hood. They don't give easy answers and their splendid performers, Kline, Fanning and Sarandon, show us complicated people instead of what easily could have become puppets acting out mid-century gossip of the stage mother, the underage siren and the dirty old rich man. Not by chance did the debonair actor choose a squared question mark to initial his impeccable wardrobe - "because I question everything - I'm especially curious." Doubts are a dangerous thing when your life is show biz.
We begin in October 1959, the month of Errol Flynn's death at age 50, and then are taken back two years to the day he first laid eyes on 15-year-old Beverly Aadland, the Hollywood chorus girl who was to become the last love of his life. Her mother, Florence Aadland's book on her child's relationship with the dashing movie star and serial seducer was the starting point of the film and adds a third perspective to the knotty relationship. "Woodsy", as in wood nymph, Flynn renames Beverly his "little sprite", while serving her very pink pink champagne, right before adding her to his long line of conquests.
Anne-Katrin Titze: The first time I heard about your film was in early Spring 2013, from Christine.
Wash Westmoreland jumps in: Christine Vachon?
AKT: Yes. We were together on the inaugural First Time Fest jury and the second day she was flying back from Atlanta. I remember her on the phone checking what you were getting for lunch. She also said to me then that Kevin Kline was the only one who could ever have portrayed Errol Flynn. Do you agree with her?
WW: No one else could have played Errol Flynn but Kevin Kline. He has the physical resemblance.
AKT: The mouth, isn't it?
The Last of Robin Hood co-producer Christine Vachon with Bunny Bag and Anne-Katrin Titze at the Players Club. Photo: Ed Bahlman
WW: Yeah, and the way the eyes are set. But he also has this quality that he could just take over the whole room with an anecdote. He can be so charming and have derring-do. How many actors these days still have derring-do? Come on, Kevin had to be Errol Flynn!
AKT: Susan Sarandon and Dakota Fanning are playing mother and daughter. Who came up with that?
WW: Physically, I think they do look like mother and daughter. There is a physical resemblance. They just have that way of feeling very comfortable around each other. A natural compatibility - friction but also underlying love. Florence and Beverly did love each other, but Florence's love was manifested in a difficult way and eventually led to an estrangement. I think they are both actresses who celebrate a complex part. A part that isn't reduced to a morally simplistic character. Each of them got to play their characters with all those complexities.
Richard Glatzer: Susan is a young soul. Dakota old.
Errol Flynn with Beverly Aadland in Barry Mahon's Cuban Rebel Girls: "Where you really see Beverly clearly is in Cuban Rebel Girls - she was the star of that movie."
WW: It's true. Susan is doing the Ping-Pong Club, she is doing a million different projects traveling all around the world and has this young exuberant soul. Dakota brings a sense of experience and maturity. We did want Beverly to be a certain anchor because the other two, their personalities point often to such questionable but interesting directions. Dakota's [character] is more centered and has more gravity to her decisions and her worth.
AKT: The Gene Kelly film Beverly Aadland was working on when Flynn spotted her and picked her out, was that Les Girls?
WW: No, it was Marjorie Morningstar, which was shooting on the Warner Bros. lot on the opposite soundstage. Flynn was working on Too Much, Too Soon, ironically titled, which was the story of Diana Barrymore, John Barrymore's daughter. And the problems she had with her father. Flynn was playing John Barrymore in that movie.
Then Beverly was kind of a background showgirl dancer on Marjorie Morningstar which is a film where Nathalie Wood has an affair with Gene Kelly. Which is again a huge age difference. Gene Kelly is like a theatrical instructor at summer camp. The scene we recreate is approximately but not exactly like the dance number in Marjorie Morningstar that has a little bit of a bohemian feel to it.
AKT: Is she seen in Marjorie Morningstar? Can you spot Beverly?
WW: You can't. You can see her as a blond figure dancing in a distance. There's no close-up of her. She has one line...
Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning) Errol Flynn (Kevin Kline): "I think what we tried to show in the seduction was two people experiencing the same act completely differently."
RG: The dancers are glimpsed through a window.
WW: Yes, Natalie Wood and Carolyn Jones are outside the window and they look and see the dance that we recreated in our movie as if we were on the inside. You do see Beverly more clearly in Roots Of Heaven, the John Huston movie, where she has one line. We play it as something that Florence [her mother] was angry about afterwards because she thought it was a bigger part. Where you really see Beverly clearly is in Cuban Rebel Girls - she was the star of that movie. It's very much a strange film, a very low budget independent movie made during the revolution.
AKT: So to sum it up - the entirety of her movie performances is that she is seen from a distance in Marjorie Morningstar, one line in Huston's Roots of Heaven and star of Cuban Rebel Girls?
RG: She was also in Too Much, Too Soon.
WW: Oh, yeah! Flynn actually got Beverly to do a cameo in Too Much, Too Soon. He walks onto a press junket in the movie. There are huge posters of all the Barrymores - John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Ethel Barrymore, and he walks in, and he sees this girl and just looks. She is standing in front of a line of gentlemen in suits and ties, looking a little awkward, and that's Beverly and she looks at him. He wrote that in for her at the time they first started seeing each other.
RG: She was on a show that Groucho Marx used to host, called You Bet Your Life when she was 14 and she did the Jitterbug with Groucho Marx. She was also on the Red Skelton show with Errol when he was quite near the end.
Trump SoHo Hotel New York skyline - Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland are careful and daring at once in their direction of troubling intimacy in The Last of Robin Hood.
WW: It's really an interesting clip because you can see how much fun she was.
AKT: You made strong choices in regards to the sex scenes. Your film does not romanticise them and you don't condemn them either. There is a sense of as is. Was that what you were going for?
WW: Yes. How to portray the initial seduction of Beverly was very complicated because, in essence, Errol Flynn would seduce a lot of women. That's what his reputation was, and often be very fast. Much too fast for how the young woman was prepared for in the experience.
AKT: Assembly line?
WW: As a date rape. But that concept wasn't around in the 1950s. I think what we tried to show in the seduction was two people experiencing the same act completely differently. For Flynn it was his regular seduction. It was all about the conquest and that's part of his masculine identity. For Beverly it was a very difficult very personal moment and she went through a lot of pain and difficulty at that moment that he wasn't aware of. She doesn't get to process it until afterwards in the car on the way home when you see how difficult it has been for her. So we tried to show the event how it happened and show how Beverly processed it.
AKT: Then things change between them.
WW: The next time we see them in bed together we show that Beverly has grown in sexual confidence and that Flynn can no longer keep up with her. Which is in a way a comment on the limits of his masculine image. The real Errol Flynn can't quite live up to Errol Flynn, the idol.
Kevin Kline as Errol Flynn: "He can be so charming and have derring-do. How many actors these days still have derring-do?"
AKT: Instead of his initials embroidered in his shirts, Errol Flynn had a question mark [?].
WW: On everything! There's a chapter in his autobiography, My Wicked, Wicked Ways. The chapter's title is ?. It's the most interesting chapter because it's the one where he really reflects on his life, the effect that Hollywood has had on his life and the effect of fame. And also this sort of existential mystery - still questioning everything, still questioning who he is, if he's made the right choices in his life. And behind this facade of strength is actually someone who is thinking twice.
In part 2, we discuss Stanley Kubrick's connection to Errol Flynn with his Lolita, costume designer Orry-Kelly's role, the palettes in Otto Preminger's Bonjour Tristesse, Richard Quine's Strangers When We Meet and Alfred Hitchcock's North By Northwest.
Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland told me they "are racing to complete" their latest film Still Alice with Julianne Moore, Kate Bosworth and Kristen Stewart which "will be premiering at Toronto [Film Festival] as a special presentation."
The Last Of Robin Hood opens in the US on August 29.