British filmmaker Ol Parker has crafted a solid tear-jerker of a movie. Film critic Tony Earnshaw spoke to the director.
Ol Parker thinks back to a screening of his last film Imagine Me & You in Toronto and a review that followed it. Colleagues and crew members were anxious lest he see it; in the end he bit the bullet.
“Actually it was quite nice but it said ‘I look forward to seeing what he does with a film he really cares about’. It was incredibly accurate – a fantastically helpful comment. So I waited until there was a film I cared about.”
That film is Now is Good, a sensitive adaptation of Jenny Downham’s 2007 novel Before I Die in which American child prodigy turned teenage sensation Dakota Fanning plays an authentically British girl slowly succumbing to leukaemia.
In the seven years since Imagine Me & You, Parker, married to actress Thandie Newton, has been busy writing scripts, most recently for John Madden’s star-studded oldiefest The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, from Deborah Moggach’s book. He’s also rewritten a screenplay by scribe-of-the-moment Diablo (Juno) Cody. Suddenly, life is busy…
What’s more he’s crafted a poignant and moving tale of lost love with an incredible cast that includes Fanning (“she chased me” for the role), War Horse discovery Jeremy Irvine and the ever-watchable Paddy Considine.
Having just turned 40 when he scripted The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel with its cast of elderly folk (“I was confronting my own mortality”), Parker first turned down what was to become Now is Good.
“I don’t really like those movies,” he reveals. “It is really difficult to be moving without being sentimental, without being fake and I didn’t quite see how that could be possible.
“Then as we were making it, we were really lucky. I was thrilled with Dakota, obviously, but then I remember the day that Paddy and Olivia Williams signed up. They are both actors that have a certain kind of integrity, so when Paddy said yes particularly, it was like ‘We are on the right track here, we might not be making the film you kind of expect it to be’.”
He adds: “Dakota works really hard. She is the most dedicated, impressive actress I have seen in a long time [and] also an absolute sweetheart.
“She was having accent coaching – she came over early. She is really committed and really dedicated and even though we paid her nothing, she just wanted to have that experience. She worked her arse off.
“Paddy is a trip, he is extraordinary. He is ferociously honest as a person and as an actor – a genius. I can take no credit for his extraordinary performance; I just sat there and kept a distance.”
Parker admits that he opened up Downham’s book, which he describes as “very poetic and beautiful”, adding: “There are lots of changes but when there is a really brilliant line, it is probably Jenny’s.”
He set the film in Brighton where he’d lived in his 20s and allowed death to play itself out against the sea, the sand and a sunset that anguished dad Considine hopes will never come.
But Parker knew precisely what he was doing. And as Tessa (Fanning) fades, he hoped for tears.
“It is a weirdly aggressive desire when you are making a movie. I would go to screenings, watch the audience and will them to cry.
“Warner’s had this test screening and it was all 17-year-old girls. It was amazing. They had these tissue boxes and all you could hear was riippp riippp. I talked to two 17-year-old guys afterwards. I said ‘Would you go and see it?’ and they were ‘Absolutely no way’. I said ‘You really should because you would be well in’. That is the only sell I could do.”
The Director and his star
Dakota Fanning began her career aged six and went on to star with Denzel Washington in Man on Fire and Tom Cruise in War of the Worlds. She is a fixture of the Twilight franchise and also co-starred with Kristen Stewart in The Runaways.
Ol Parker changed his name from Oliver to avoid being confused with Oliver Parker, director of An Ideal Husband.
As a writer, Parker has been involved with the Jimi Hendrix biopic Crosstown Traffic and wrote Comrade Rock Star for Tom Hanks. He is also linked to Oscar-winning writer Diablo Cody’s directorial debut Time and a Half.
Formerly an actress, author Jenny Downham has written two books, Before I Die and You Against Me.
Now is Good (12A) is on nationwide release.