“Miss Potter” director, Chris Noonan sits down with JoyHog’s Mandy Ward
Mandy: How did this project come to you?
Chris: Uh, well, it came to me initially because attached to play Beatrix at that time was Cate Blanchett. Cate suggested to the producers that I direct it…that’s how it came to me anyway.
Mandy: Do you know her from Australia?
Mandy: Now you have this theatre thing going on in your life with the writers, and I was going to ask are you part of the theatre world in Australia?
Chris: No, not at all. I’ve never done theatre. But, uh, Australia is a small pond, so generally most of sort of the actors and directors know each other. It is a small world and you sort of get to know who you like and who you want to work with. I have actually worked with Cate on a little thing years ago…
Mandy: She would’ve had like six films come out at one time!
Chris: I know. But she is a miracle, that woman. I would actually say she and Emily Watson are right up there.
Mandy: Emily Watson in this film. Her entrance is so big each time. You know she just enlightened it so much. Is she such a pleasure to work with?
Chris: She is a complete pleasure to work with. She is completely. I’ve wanted to work with her for years. This was a very long…plus she just had a baby when I approached her about it. Basically I wasn’t going to take no for an answer. I used every tool at my disposal to try and entice her into it. Finally it took Renee approaching her and sort of pleading with her.
Mandy: So Renee was on board first?
Chris: Renee was on board first, yeah.
Mandy: She brought Ewan on, didn’t she?
Chris: Yeah she did. Renee and I simultaneously came to the conclusion that Ewan had to do it. And it was up to Renee to go and try to convince him because she had worked with him before in “Down With Love.” I just love the casting in this movie. There just isn’t a false note.
Mandy: The writers, how did you come across them? And with their background of theatrical writing, did you find that was interesting in the structuring of the script?
Chris: In many ways, a lot of the time I had to cut that back, yeah, because I didn’t want it to be a theatrical sort of film. But you know, when I came onto the project, there was sort of a fourth or fifth draft of the script, which had been developed, and you know I loved it and it really moved me. And that’s why I came on board, because of that script.
Chris: But, I’d worked a lot on developing it a lot further. I always like to keep the script fluid until you shot a scene, which writers hate, but actors love.
Mandy: Do you find yourself drawn to these family kind of feel good films?
Chris: I don’t feel that I’m drawn to that, but I must be based on the evidence. It’s not so much that I want something feel good, it’s a bit more complicated than that. I don’t want to spend two and a half years of my life on something that’s going to have the result of having people watch it go out and kill. I’d much rather make a film that I felt at the end of it was going to go out there and be an ambassador for people to get on better with each other. Or you know find a way through their troubles, or that kind of thing. So, I suppose that’s what I’m most attracted to, those sort of stories.
Mandy: And going back to the story, what is your favorite children’s novel or book?
Chris: Well, when I was a kid, I didn’t read Beatrix Potter books at all. And as a matter of fact, I sort of thought of them as schmaltzy, but that was because I’d never read them. But what I loved when I was six, seven and eight were the sort of boys adventure books. The British ones in particular.
Mandy: That’s like we had Nancy Drew for the girls. That’s interesting because the Beatrix Potter definetely is my generation of childrens books in the states, so I just had to see it.
Chris: You know, what I love about her? I went and read all of her books obviously after I started working on this, and I just found them fascinating from the point of view of their sedation, you know? They weren’t these simple, little sweet things that I thought they would be. You get Peter Rabbit’s father but in a pie behind Mrs. McGregor, the farmer, you know. I think she’s got a very, sort of warped sense of humor in a way. She’s got very wry, dark side to her, and I love that about her. She’s not just sort of sweetness in life.