Philip Glenister is not given to musing about his work. He’s a jobbing actor – or at least that’s what he’d have you believe. When asked what made him commit to playing Charles Forestier, a journalist in 19th-century Paris in new film Bel Ami he quips, ‘I was free on a Tuesday.’
But much about Philip is a front. Behind the gruff exterior – which he used to great effect as the brash DCI Gene Hunt in Life On Mars and its sequel Ashes To Ashes – is not quite a softie, but certainly someone who cares about his craft and works hard. He just likes to joke about it.
I ask him whether he had any journalists in mind when playing Forestier, the man who gives Robert Pattinson’s caddish character Georges Duroy his big break. ‘I based it on Piers Morgan,’ he says with a cackle.
Forestier and his wife, Madeleine, played by Uma Thurman, take Duroy under their wing, and she advises him the best way to get on in Paris is via the city’s most influential wives. Duroy embarks on some torrid affairs and steamy bedroom scenes as he scales the social ladder.
So how was it working with such impressive actors on the risqué period drama? Word is, Uma can be temperamental. ‘She’s bonkers,’ he jokes. And then there was Robert, one of the hottest actors in the world thanks to his role in the Twilight films. ‘We were filming at a house in Hertfordshire adjoining a school. The pupils got wind of it and started chanting, “Robert, Robert”. We had to threaten them with cattle prods!’
Robert Pattinson has made a generation of girls swoon, and brought in millions of dollars for the producers of the Twilight phenomenon, where his portrayal of Edward Cullen means he needn’t get out of bed again if he doesn’t feel like it.
So, it would be understandable if such adulation had gone to his pretty tousle-haired head, and made him a bit difficult to work with. How did the directors of his new film Bel Ami deal with such an idol on this, their very first film?
“He was delightful,” insists Nick Ormerod, one half of the directing duo along with Declan Donnellan – established theatre directors with a body of stage, ballet and opera work more than three decades in the making, but novices when it came to film.
“He did insist on rehearsing for a whole month before we did our first shoot, which is apparently unheard of in Hollywood, but he was passionately attached to the project.”
“He wasn’t that famous when we offered him the part,” remembers Donnellan. “He’d done Harry Potter, Twilight was just starting, and I remember seeing his face on the side of a bus.
“Our film took so long to get going because it was art house, that he went off and did Twilight, so we were watching this phenomenon take place.”
Bel Ami was filmed two years ago, which meant the Twi-hards were out with a vengeance by then – remember the tales of Pattinson bunkered down in America trying to film Like Water For Elephants in a small mid-western town? Donnellan and Ormerod look surprised by such unseemly tales:
“We had a relatively serene experience,” smiles Donnellan. “Only a tiny bit of that in Budapest. We shot in Twickenham, and there was literally no one there.
“But then, we hit the red carpet in Berlin, and it was like being in Bladerunner, an incredible experience being in the middle of this phenomenon. It was astonishing and hilarious, particularly for our first film.”
Ormerod and Donnellan were steering their golden boy through the French period drama, Bel Ami, based on the short story by Guy De Maupassant, detailing the climb of a young man Georges Duroy (Pattinson) through the ranks of Parisian society, thanks to his success with the ladies who succumb to his pale, cheek-boned charm.
“Rob kept saying, ‘this character has no redeeming features, he’s so venal’,” laughs Donnellan. “It’s thrilling to see somebody like that, and Rob agreed. If he sees something he gets it, it’s that base level of envy, which he can only cure by getting what the other guy has. There’s no lesson in the film, our purpose is only to make you come out asking questions.”
As well as Pattinson, the directors were able to tap into the talent pool of Kristin Scott Thomas, Uma Thurman and Christina Ricci, which could have been intimidating for novices behind the camera.
“Uma is a great personality, she is fantastic, and she does make her opinion known, but that was absolutely fine,” laughs Donnellan.
“We’ve done a ballet with the Bolshoi before, and operas with Bryn Terfel, so we have done some scary things before.
“Kristin we knew well from our work in Paris, but Uma and Christina and Rob all came from our casting director. They all come from very different backgrounds, the one thing we all shared was not having done anything like this before.
“You go in hyper-prepared, and then when you get on the floor, you realise you actually don’t need all that, and get rid of it – the storyboard is really just to reassure other people as well as yourself. Ultimately, the whole thing is improvised. Whatever you planned, you always saw something better on the day.”
Having set such a high bar, are Ormerod and Donnellan now claimed by the film world?
“We’re already back on stage, but we are definitely bitten with the bug,” explains Dormerod.
“We would have done more projects in the past,” muses Donnellan. “But we can’t bear to leave the theatre for that long – six months of lunches in Soho House is as much as we can take.”
So I won a trip from England to Berlin via The Twilight Saga UK Facebook page By posting a rather emabrrasing video of myself struggling to sumerise the movies so far in 60 seconds. I was told I had one 3 days before flying out to Berlin. Everything was manic. We had a day of getting used to being in Germany and then the next day it was the Berlinale.
17/02.2012 – Bel Ami Premiere (Berlinale 2012)
After heading on over to The Bel Ami junket to collect our bits, we headed back to our room to sort out ourselves, We had lunch, mooched through town and then headed to the Main Berlinale Venue. There was a band (no idea who they were but all the songs sounded the same) We went and stood over to one of the sides (which for some reason were empty) Other places had people already 3/4 people deep and waited for a while (around 3 hours) for Rob to arrive. He arrived at least 30 minutes before any of the other cast to make sure he could meet as many fans outside as possible.
He got out of the car and headed straight over to the side me and my friend were on. (AHHHH) When he finally got to me and Courtney, Courtney asked him to sign her Small Bel Ami card/Poster that a lady handed out to everyone. I then got a photograph, my friend then got a photograph. Then my friend realised her picture didn’t actually take so she called him back to us and got another one and I too got my poster thing signed. Turns out that Germany can take the Essex out of a Girl because Courtney spoke ever so Queen like. The charm and manners seemed to work though so who’s complaining. Once we had met Rob we thought we had better head inside to the screening so after trying to wade our way through the now 10+ people deep crowds we walked the red carpet and headed inside. It turns out we were sat with other Brits who found my general film knowledge to be very impressive.
After watching the rest of the Red Carpet arrivals and the cast signing their portraits that were on the walls inside the venue, everyone took their seats, The Cast walked in and Sat a row behind us (O.M.G), Rob’s family were behind us and to the left. I have a feeling all the Brits got put near each other because we were sat right next to a few as well. The cast got up in turn and gave a wave to the audience. A lady introduced the film and the cast snuck out as the film began.
Once the film had finished and the credits had rolled (Film festival premieres are very different from general premieres), no one left me and Courtney (my friend) just sat starring at each other wondering what to do. The lights stayed down and the claps went on throughout the whole like 7 minute credits. Once the lights came up, The cast came on stage. The ladies recieved flowers and the announcer from before asked Rob a few Questions.
The premiere was so, so much calmer and more relaxed and smaller than anything I have ever experienced before. I really enjoyed it.