Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman play father and daughter in Florian Zeller’s complex relationship drama, “The Father”. The film has garnered six Oscar nominations, including one in Best Actor category for Hopkins, for his role of an eighty-plus man battling dementia, and one in Best Supporting Actress category for Colman, who plays his conflict-ridden daughter.
The respective roles, as well as enacting the relationship for screen, was emotionally exhausting for the two acclaimed actors, and they confess coming back with self-realisation from the shooting experience of the film, which is based on a play titled “Le Pere” by Zeller.
“When you are working for years, the good plays and films make you go around examining life. This one made me think about my past, my parents and particularly the sweet sadness of it all,” said Hopkins.
He recalled how the particularly emotional last scene wasn’t working initially. “The last scene didn’t work and we had a little break. I went around the set, saw the chair where I used for sit. There was a photograph of my daughters and myself in younger days and the camera pasts and goes out of the window. That hit me,” said the actor.
For Hopkins, the film brought back many memories. “I remember the time I took my mother to the hospital when my father had died, and I still remember looking at him and his feet were cold. This was almost 40 years ago and I remember thinking that ‘yeah, you are not so hot either. There he is and one day I will be there’. That’s a wonderful thing — and I know it is weird to say that it’s a wonderful thing — but it’s good to remember that it’s all gone with the wind. I remember I found his glasses, and he had a little notebook with a map of America. He wanted to come to America, and I told him that I would take him. Of course, he was unwell and I promised him, to cheer him up, that when he gets out of the hospital, I would take him to New York and drive across,” he recalled.
“I remember he was one day sitting in hospital looking at the map and he had wet himself his pyjamas and I remember that while doing the scene that it’s all so fragile. That’s what I realise now more and more — that’s all so fragile. But I am aware of fragility. It makes me enjoy life more, I have a laugh now. I like watching old guys on television who have gone like Sinatra and others. There is a great victory in all this by recognising death and mortality. Well, I am here and I have survived all these years,” the actor said.
For Colman, the film was a reminder of how cruel the process of aging could actually be.
“It made me think of my parents, and ageing can be so cruel and rude. My mum used to say that every generation thinks they have invented sex but, of course, everyone has been in love and passionate. My parents are still in love but it’s unfair that it’s difficult for them to go upstairs and eventually I will be like that. It did make me think of them and I am so pleased that they are still together and happy,” she said.
To this, Hopkins added, “Olivia talked about parents getting old. I am going to be 83 at end of the year, my legs ache. When I was doing the film, I found that my brain was playing tricks with me because it was sending messages to my back that I am an old man. So, every morning I had to tell myself that I am just acting and pretending, because your body reacts to what your brain is saying. But I have accepted that my knees ache, I can’t go running anymore.”
“The great psychiatrist Karl Jung once said that when you reach your forties and fifties everything is fine, and then there is something you see at the horizon and that’s death and it makes you appreciate life. That’s a wake-up call that there is nothing so special about any of us. It’s kind of humbling that we are not that hot and all the glory is gone,” the veteran actor added.
Hopkins and Colman were interacting with IANS at a press meet for select media, also attended by the film’s screenwriter-director Florian Zeller.
Zeller, who has a nomination at the Oscars this year in the Best Adapted Screenplay category for his work in the film (jointly with Christopher Hampton), opened up about his process of adapting his play into the film.
“I kept the narrative of the play, which is trying to tell the story from the inside, and to put the audience in a specific position to try to understand what is going on, and look for exit and meaning. For me it was the opportunity to play with disorientation. I didn’t want the father to be just a story. I wanted it to be an experience. To innovate with the experience, frustration, anxiety, uncertainty – to what it means to lose your bearings. So, it was taken from the play,” explained Zeller.
“But I didn’t want it to just be the play, I wanted it to be cinematic as possible so I tried to do what only cinema can do. It was mainly about using the set, for example, in a cinematic way. When I wrote the script, I drew the layout at the same time as if it was the main character in the story. In the beginning when we are entering the house, there is no doubt that we recognise his space, his furniture, his knick-knacks and, step by step, slightly always in the background you have some small changes, some metamorphosis of the set, of the apartment so that it creates this feeling that you know where you are and at the same time you are not certain where you are and it’s the beginning of doubting process,” the filmmaker added.
“I wanted to play with the feeling of disorientation with the set. That’s why there are so many corridors and doors because I wanted to play with it. Meaning that you recognise the way to travel into that space but something had happened but you don’t know what happened, so that you are constantly uncertain of where you are. In a way it was very concrete and visual that it would tell a story of being lost. What was challenging and exciting for me was to do it in the background when you are focused on the character. That is why I shot the film in the studio, so that I had this liberty to do whatever I wanted to – be able to remove a wall, change proportion or colours of walls in a minute, almost,” Zeller sums up.