Sunday, November 6, 2011

Bill Murray takes on FDR in new film set for release next summer

From USA Today:

A towering array of talent has portrayed Franklin Delano Roosevelt in movies and on TV, including Ralph Bellamy, Jason Robards, Jon Voight and Kenneth Branagh.

But English director Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Venus) had just one name on his ballot to fill the role of the 32nd president in next summer's Hyde Park on Hudson: Bill Murray.

"It is one of those parts like Hamlet," Michell says. "You don't do it unless you get the right actor."

Murray, infamous for playing hard to get with filmmakers, responded to the script in record time, Michell says. But getting a definitive yes or no required some patience.

"It was a very complicated dance and made life difficult for me while prepping the film," says the director. "I wouldn't have done it without him. But after a year of waiting, I received a wonderful text that said, 'Yes, I'll do it.'"

Once committed, Murray was the picture of professionalism while shooting the story about the historic visit to the United States by England's King George VI (yes, the same stuttering monarch from The King's Speech) and Queen Elizabeth in June 1939, three months before the start of World War II. "He rose to the challenge magnificently," Michell says of his star.

That includes handling FDR's paralysis, the result of a late-life bout with polio that was kept hidden from the public.

"We put Bill in touch with people who have polio and with a physiotherapist, who made calipers and taught him how to walk with them," the director says. Murray also worked on embodying the FDR spirit. "He captured the voice of the man, the tilt of his chin, that trademark cigarette holder and his way of spreading confidence,"

The script, based on a radio play, concentrates on the historic public event — the first time a reigning British monarch visited the United States — and how Anglo-American relations improved considerably after FDR and wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams) played host to the royals at their estate in Hyde Park, N.Y., following a more formal gathering in Washington, D.C.

There is also behind-the-scenes drama, as the long-suspected affair between FDR and distant cousin and family companion Daisy (Laura Linney) is explored.

Michell adds that while Hyde Park on Hudson is not a comedy per se, there is plenty of humor "as two cultures crash into each other."

No more so than when the Roosevelts treat their guests to an old-fashioned picnic, featuring the then-exotic Yankee treat, hot dogs. "The hot dogs are an integral part of the story," he explains. "The conundrum is explored of whether the royals should publicly eat a hot dog and possibly be set up for ridicule by consuming a strange and slightly socially embarrassing object."