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Wimbledon - Richard Loncraine Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. You’re a rom-com virgin, what sort of surprises did doing romantic comedy throw at you, and what problems?
A.
They’re much harder than you think, that was the thing that shocked me, you know, because all directors are arrogant and I thought it would be quite easy to do one. What else was difficult? The fact that this is not just a romantic comedy, it’s got sport in it as well, meant it was twice as difficult, so we were constantly trying to balance one against the other. It was pretty tricky.

Q. I read something that said the semi-final of Wimbledon would be played on the Centre Court or Number One court, so is this something that was important to you when filming? This attention to detail?
A.
Absolutely. It is important, yeah, but I’ll tell you why, because it’s very simple. The end of the movie obviously had to take place on Centre Court. Number one court is 10,500 people, and Centre Court is 13,500, but Number One Court is a new stadium, so it looks like it holds about 25,000 people. So if we had played the semi-final on Number One court, it would have been really anti-climatic to go into an old-fashioned court that looked much smaller. And if we’d gone on to Centre Court, there wouldn’t have been that ‘fuck a duck’ when Paul works out on the Centre Court. So it was a really hard decision.
Unfortunately, they pulled down… the original Number One court was about 7,000; Number Two court, 3,500, which is what we decided to use, so it was kind of Hobson’s choice, and I, in the end, felt it was dramatically better to save it. But, the article is absolutely right, but there was nothing we could do.

Q. How do you cope with creating something visually exciting when arguably your dealing with the dullest spectator sport this side of cricket, especially when modern tennis seems to be about endless baseline rallies?
A.
Well, I didn’t know that til I started making the movie, though. But is it dull? I think it’s more interesting the more you know about it. I wasn’t terribly interested when I started, but then I got more interested as things went on. But with regards to the baseline issue, it presents an enormous problem with how you keep both players in shot, so we knew we’d have quite a lot of television in the movie, and we did, but I knew we had to cover it in a very different way. So I said very arrogantly that it should be somewhere between sort of MTV meets a Nike ad, and I’d made quite a lot of commercials, so I had a go at doing that. We story-boarded everything, and I tried to look at all the tennis movies - there aren’t many - and looked at all the sports ads that had been made. We stole from everybody really in terms of technique, but realised that the rallies were the thing that everyone could understand even if they weren’t tennis enthusiasts. It was fairly tricky but even the serving shots… every serve in the movie, almost without exception, the camera tilts vertically when they serve, in order to keep the shot. There’s an awful lot of technique that you won’t really notice, but hopefully gives the film a kind of energy.

Q. You worked in three world-famous locations - Wimbledon, The Dorchester and The London Eye - how difficult was it to film there?
A.
Well, Wimbledon obviously was the biggest challenge to get permission, they didn’t really want us there for a long while, and it took an awful lot of persuasion; a man called Mark McCormack, the tennis agent who died, sadly, who introduced Wimbledon to Working Title and got the two groups together. But they were very nervous about us making a film there, because Wimbledon is a very valuable property in their eyes, and a lot of damage could have been done. So that was really tricky, but once they accepted us on board, they were fantastic and they’ve really become friends. I was almost more nervous about showing them the movie, because they really trusted that we would do something that we said we would do, than anyone else.
The Dorchester were great. They’ve only allowed, I think, one film here before, and that was Damage, and the production designer, Brian Morris, who did our film and Damage, managed to trigger the introductions, and we little by little did a bit more, and a bit more, and a bit more, and it was a great background. And the staff are the real staff at the end in that sequence.
And then The London Eye, yeah, that was just a nightmare to film in, because we actually had to shoot it in the pod, in one night. We had much too much work to do, it was something that really should have been done in three nights, and we had to do it all in one, and the air conditioning couldn’t be on up there, so we were all sweating, and I’m a bit claustrophobic, so being stuck in this bubble, in a hot room, which was all steaming up, knowing I couldn’t get down, was quite tricky, but we got through it.
And we had record temperatures that week - Centre Court was frightening, it was something like 108 degrees when we were filming a lot of the time, because it’s a sun trap.

Q. Did you consult any current players about appearing in the film? I know you’ve used former players, like McEnroe and Pat Cash, but did you ever give any thought to using Greg Rusedski or Tim Henman, for instance?
A.
We deliberately decided that would not be the right thing to do, we had to suspend belief…
PAUL BETTANY: Well, there was one person that wanted to be in the movie…
A. [Laughs] There was one person, yes. We had to find somebody to play against Kirsten when we were shooting at Wimbledon and I went to see Sharapova, and I turned her down. I thought she was another blonde, and it wouldn’t really work, but it didn’t go down too well when she won. I thought, ‘I know that face, where have I seen her before?’

Q. How was she offered to you then?
A.
She was just someone as an up and coming young player who wanted to be in the movie.

Q. So was it the coach who approached you?
A.
I think it was the coach or the manager…
PAUL BETTANY: It’s already the blondest movie ever made…
A. And it was all in wide shots, so it would have just been two blondes, so you wouldn’t have known who was who. I wanted someone who looked different.

Q. How did you manage to keep the Centre Court crowd entertained while filming?
PAUL BETTANY:
Well, we had one week there; the last week of the real fortnight, there was a real crowd just to tie it in, because who can afford that many extras? The next seven weeks were with a paid crowd, who were fortunately paid to react like everything I did was brilliant. And we had 6,000 blow-up dolls.
RICHARD LONCRAINE: Well, it was 7,500 actually.

Q. And they were at the back of the crowd?
A.
No, at the front. That was one of the problems, because we could only afford 400, maybe 600 on one day, and it seats 13,500 people, there was almost no way, so the special effects company are full of unsung heroes, because you won’t see it, but we’d shoot, for example, 400 people applauding, and then they’d take the arms off those 400 people, and stick the arms over the dummies, so you could map them on. It was an amazing effect, but sometimes, because of the pressure of filming, we didn’t realise how complex the tennis would be, how much coverage it would need. The idea was to always put real people behind Paul or Austin, wherever they were moving, so obviously macking around Paul had to be done by hand, you couldn’t out blue screens up, there was too much movement, so occasionally it went wrong; quite often we’d find one camera angle where there were dummies behind, so they would then have to replace the dummies with real people, so it’s pretty complicated.
PAUL BETTANY: And it takes a long time to move 7,500 dummies around.

Q. Did John McEnroe have any tantrums during filming?
A.
No he didn’t. He was very hard to persuade to be in the movie. It was the hardest two hours of my life, it was pretty tricky. It’s not that John’s rude, he waits for you to hang yourself. He doesn’t suffer fools, so I eventually persuaded him. But he’d been in a film before that wasn’t that good with the tennis, and wasn’t sure whether this man from England was going to make a better job than the last one. But we eventually persuaded him and he was fine. He’s not demanding, but he doesn’t give you a lot until he’s convinced that you know what you’re doing. So, he was fine and he added enormous credibility.
We decided early on that we weren’t going to have famous tennis players apart from people like Murphy Jensen, but I meant the kind of Roddicks and the Federers, and ask them to be playing in the movie, but we wanted to have as much credibility, because you had to believe in these people as tennis players, and so people like McEnroe and Chrissy Evert, and Mary Carillo were very important to us.

Q. The fact that Peter Colt, your character, is not particularly driven, or ambitious about winning, is, I suppose, a British trait, but was that a problem ever with the money-men? Did they ever want a more American approach to it.
A.
Yes, they did. Adam Brooks, who wrote it, the only times we ever, not exactly fell out, but disagreed, was when I said this is a story about a man who’s never convinced he’s ever going to win, he’s just given up, you know, he’d been doing it too long. And if you think about it, the chances of him winning are ridiculously small, and it is, in American game shows, people actually do applaud themselves, but that’s not what we do here, we apologise if we get things right. I was amazed that we were able to keep that character without having to change it.
The studio were pretty good about it; it tested well and people liked it. And Paul, we did go back, there were requests early on to do a lot of ‘yes!’ and those sorts of things, which Paul couldn’t do very well, no, he didn’t want to do them and quite rightly, so we went back. Because it took so long to do the post-production - 36 weeks - Wimbledon came round again and I was allowed to do more shooting, which was fantastic, and one of the things we did was add a bit more.

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