Genius of observation

Michael Grandage on the inspiration for his debut feature.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Michael Grandage presents Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Laura Linney
Michael Grandage presents Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Laura Linney Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Michael Grandage directed Nicole Kidman in Anna Ziegler's Photograph 51 last year at the Noël Coward Theatre, London, and told me he hopes to bring the production to Broadway in 2017. He also directed Jude Law in Hamlet at the Donmar Warehouse and on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre.

Michael Grandage on Wolfe as Caliban: 'He is talking about internally'
Michael Grandage on Wolfe as Caliban: 'He is talking about internally' Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
His directorial debut feature Genius begins with shoes that might make you think of Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers On A Train. Screenplay by John Logan, based on A Scott Berg's book, the friendship and collaboration between Charles Scribner’s Sons editor Maxwell Perkins (Colin Firth) and his discovery, writer Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law), is explored.

Wolfe's problem is that he can't stop writing, like a feverish Rainer Werner Fassbinder of the page, he burns himself out. And the people around him. His mistress and patron, the married Mrs Aline Bernstein (Nicole Kidman) to whom he dedicated his book Look Homeward, Angel, knows her relationship is doomed.

"I don't exist any more - I've been edited," she says, and replaced by Perkins. "You're overwriting the scene, Mrs Bernstein," is the reply she gets. The man she loves can't even come to the opening night of the play she made the costumes for.

Genius does contain many train rides.

Anne-Katrin Titze: For your first film, you decided to start with shoes.

A rainy night - Genius premiere at MoMA FILM
A rainy night - Genius premiere at MoMA FILM Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Michael Grandage: I did. That’s the first time anybody’s asked me that. In weather not unlike we’ve got at the moment - raining.

AKT: Were you thinking of Strangers On A Train?

MG: No, no, it wasn’t my direct reference. My reference for that came from looking. The one joy about researching this period in New York in the late 1920s going into 30s is that there is a mass - I couldn’t believe how much - of stills photography. And I was very taken by some images. One of them was a lot of shoes on Fifth Avenue on the sidewalk. So I started with that.

AKT: It’s a beautiful start. You’ve worked with Nicole Kidman before in Photograph 51.

MG: I did.

AKT: Are you coming to New York with Photograph 51?

MG: We’re still trying to.

AKT: For the fall?

Joel Grey greets Michael Grandage on the red carpet
Joel Grey greets Michael Grandage on the red carpet Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
MG: No, possibly spring next year. We are trying to make it work.

AKT: You had also directed Jude Law in Hamlet on stage. In this case, in Genius, he compares himself to The Tempest's Caliban - which is physically far-fetched. This deformed creature. He is anything but deformed.

MG: He is talking about internally.

AKT: I am aware. Did you talk with him about that?

MG: Yes, I did, because it’s something Wolfe did say about himself and it’s something that is very, very helpful to him getting into the inner psyche of the man.

AKT: In a letter from Thomas Wolfe to Fitzgerald, he writes about artists as leaver-outers and putter-inners. What are you?

MG: Both, I think, is the answer.

Nicole Kidman with Keith Urban at the Museum of Modern Art
Nicole Kidman with Keith Urban at the Museum of Modern Art Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Nicole Kidman and husband Keith Urban left the kids at home, watching a movie.

Nicole Kidman: Shrek 4 [Shrek Forever After]. Shrek 3. I get mixed up with the numbers. They [the kids, not the Shreks] are five and seven.

Read what screenwriter John Logan had to say about Genius.

Coming up - A Scott Berg, Jude Law and Laura Linney at the Genius premiere in New York.

Genius opens in the US on June 10.

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