Passion project

Laura Linney and Jude Law talk about Genius.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Nicole Kidman haunts Jude Law as he speaks on John Logan's script for Michael Grandage's Genius
Nicole Kidman haunts Jude Law as he speaks on John Logan's script for Michael Grandage's Genius Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Laura Linney on Mrs Maxwell Perkins: 'She was kept outside of Manhattan, sort of away from the cultural hotbed of the city'
Laura Linney on Mrs Maxwell Perkins: 'She was kept outside of Manhattan, sort of away from the cultural hotbed of the city' Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
In Genius, Maxwell Perkins (Colin Firth), who wears a hat at all times, even indoors while working in shirtsleeves or during dinner with his wife and five daughters, knows good writing when he sees it. Mrs Perkins (Laura Linney), a playwright herself, shoots her husband knowing glances. She is treated by Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law) as though she were as meaningless as a speck of dirt, while his mistress and patron, the married Mrs Aline Bernstein (Nicole Kidman), knows their relationship is doomed. Scribner’s Sons editor Perkins previously worked with Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West) and F Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce) who were haunted by different demons than the compulsive Wolfe and only briefly make an appearance here as does Zelda (Vanessa Kirby).

At the New York premiere, Laura Linney stated that A Scott Berg's Max Perkins: Editor of Genius and her grandmother helped shape her character and shared what it means for her to "feel passionately about something".

When Jude Law, his handsome face contorted, makes the comparison to Caliban, we almost believe the deformation fantasy. Michael Grandage on Thomas Wolfe as Caliban said: "'He is talking about internally."

Anne-Katrin Titze: You have a most impressive scene in Genius where you talk about being a playwright and you are completely ignored by the Thomas Wolfe character. Everything is in that gaze. Where did that come from? Were you just in that moment, thinking of that?

Laura Linney: Sure. I know what it is to feel passionately about something and to feel connected to an art form and then people dismiss you. And dismissing is painful and it’s shocking when it happens.

AKT: This kind of dismissing isn’t seen very often on film. It stood out.

Maxwell Perkins (Colin Firth) Louise Perkins (Laura Linney): 'He never outright dismissed her, but never encouraged her either'
Maxwell Perkins (Colin Firth) Louise Perkins (Laura Linney): 'He never outright dismissed her, but never encouraged her either'
LL: Good. I’m glad. I haven’t really thought about it but she is certainly an example of women of that time. I think that’s sort of why the moment lands the way that it does. Women were really not encouraged to pursue things artistically and have a family at the same time. You could do one or the other, but you weren’t allowed to do both.

AKT: And she had five children.

LL: She had five girls. And the home. She was kept outside of Manhattan, sort of away from the cultural hotbed of the city. So she did what she could. She had drama club, she had writing club, she wrote things. You know, her husband humoured her. He never outright dismissed her, but never encouraged her either.

AKT: You get the sense she would be happy to see herself in a film like this?

LL: Oh, I’m sure she would.

AKT: Where did the inspiration come from?

LL: The book the movie is based on has a lot of wonderful information in it, that Scott Berg wrote. That was there and then the script itself and then sort of, you know, my grandmother was similar to Louise. So I recognised something of her in that.

Jude Law told us how he became a man so different from himself. The script replaced the need for platform shoes to portray the six foot six inches tall Wolfe.

Genius poster at the Museum of Modern Art
Genius poster at the Museum of Modern Art Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Jude Law: John Logan had put in such an extraordinary script that seemed to capture the volume of him - in personality and in stature, that we really just thought and used that like a signifier, if you like, of his scale. He wasn’t so hard to capture because I think I was very comfortable in the hands of Michael Grandage and my fellow actors. At times I was just worried that I was going too far. Because, I mean, he was famously being raucous, loud, demonstrative, drunken, lecherous - I know nothing about that!

So I had to research all that from a blank page. In a way when you play a part like that, more than anything, you’re more concerned: is this going to be too much? Am I going too far? But Michael was very clear that he had to be for the piece, for the journey, for the response of others to ring true. It had to be.

Read what Michael Grandage and screenwriter John Logan had to say about Genius.

Coming up - Katharine Hepburn and Maxwell Perkins biographer A. Scott Berg.

Genius opened on June 10 in the US.

Watch the trailer below:

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