I have to admit that when I first saw Lifetime’s “Liz & Dick” giant poster adorning the East side of the 9000 building on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, I had my reservations. Lindsay Lohan? Wasn’t it a bit risqué? The infamous actress had been in and out of rehab, arrested multiple times and was seen more often entering the courthouse of Beverly Hills than a film or TV set. She had a reputation of a drunken stoner who never made it on time if she made it anywhere at all. Yet, it was not so far-fetched to cast Lohan in the role. After all, she had a few things in common with Elizabeth Taylor. They both were child actors, they both had an addiction problem, both inconsiderate at times, acting as spoiled brats and both persecuted by paparazzi. So when I read from some critics that they have nothing in common, these people either do not know a thing about Elizabeth or they were not born yet and didn’t do their homework. Lohan is not a bad actress either. In fact I believe that she did an excellent job portraying Liz. No, she does not look exactly like her, but who does? Who could?
The anticipated Lifetime movie stars Lindsay Lohan and Grant Bowler, who is also quite good in the role of Richard Burton. The film airs Sunday November 25, 2012 at 9:00pm. Based on the true life story of the couple, the film takes us from the time they first met on the set of “Cleopatra”, to the personal hatred that they felt for each other and their passionate romance which followed. People were fascinated by the couple who indulged in everything imaginable; the excesses in drinking, partying, their marriages, his infidelities, their divorces. Their audience demanded to know more. We witnessed the troubled life they lived, the circus surrounding their every move and the adoration they had for each other.
In 2010, Larry Thompson produced the critically acclaimed “Amish Grace” for Lifetime TV, which sealed their relationship. So when the time came to do the story of “Liz & Dick,” they contacted Thompson to get him involved with the project. Besides, he had done several movies of the same genre including, “And The Beat Goes On: The Sonny and Cher Story” for ABC, “Lucy and Desi: Before The Laughter” and “The Woman He Loved” (The historical royal romance of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor) for CBS. He was the best man for it.
Directed by Lloyd Kramer with a script by Christopher Monger, “Liz & Dick” first appear to us in a flashback from beyond their graves and will re-appear periodically during the film; an interesting twist in the story. A few days ago, LATF met with the famous producer, Larry Thompson who went into detail about the movie and what it meant to him.
You basically have done it all; tell me how “Liz & Dick” came about? Why this story?
As a child, until the day she died, my mother, every year, would say, “Larry, February 27th is coming up. That’s my birthday, and you know, it’s also Elizabeth Taylor’s birthday. I think she’s the most beautiful woman in the world.” And so I would always have this fascination about Elizabeth Taylor. Who was this woman, who is the most beautiful woman in the world and shares my mother’s birthday? I followed her career, and as a filmmaker who’s done quite a few movies about famous people, it’s probably no coincidence that I’m making a movie now about Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. I would probably give my mother credit for inspiring me to make this movie.
How did it come about with Lifetime?
Lifetime had been thinking about an Elizabeth Taylor movie. They didn’t know what. Because I have done quite a few movies about famous people, they asked me if I thought it was something that I could figure out how to make work and if I would be interested. My mother would always say she’s the most beautiful girl in the world and I felt that Elizabeth Taylor was at her most famous and her most powerful in the prime of her life when she was with Richard Burton. It was during that period of time in those one and a half decades, then they got married again, that both of them were gods. They were gorgeous; they were the most expensive and powerful people. Everything you would ever want to understand as to why Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were great, you could see it in their relationship. And I figured, ‘You know what? The way to tell this story is: Liz & Dick.’ It’s not just Elizabeth Taylor. You don’t want to do just a biography, or a cradle-to-grave story about a star. You want to show the power, the passion, the stardom, the craziness, the excess—all that nonsense that goes into being a star.
Did you personally know Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton?
I met Elizabeth Taylor twice, actually; once here at Beverly Hills at her home, and once in New York. She’s a fascinating woman. I went to her home to have a meeting where I was with Cicely Tyson, my client, and we were meeting with Elizabeth Taylor because she had partnered to be a Broadway producer and they wanted Cicely to do a play: The Corn is Green. We sat in her living room where there was white carpeting, white walls, and white everything. We waited fifteen minutes, then twenty minutes, then thirty minutes. In her own home she was late. She showed up in the living room for her meeting and sat on this big, long white couch in the middle, and in front of her on the coffee table was this big, beautiful bouquet of violet flowers. We sat on the other side of the coffee table and had to look over the violet flowers, to look into her violet eyes to have this meeting. I thought, “This is theatrical.” This is a woman where even in her own home, having a meeting, it was a presentation. She was a star. I never met Richard Burton.
That’s when you decided at one point you would do this movie.
No, that was many years ago. The movie became interesting in the last couple of years, because I knew she was aging, and was not in great health. I thought this might be the time to do a movie about her.
Who was responsible for casting the principal actors? How involved were you?
Casting a movie, especially about a famous person, is very important. I was involved every second of the way. Who you cast to play your star is very important.
How did the casting of Lindsay Lohan happen?
Well, firstly, when we decided we were going to make a movie about Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, we knew that there was a large segment of the audience that would come watch it no matter who we cast, because they were interested in Elizabeth Taylor, they were interested in Richard Burton, and they’d be interested in their love story. But we also know that there’s a large generational demographic that might not remember Elizabeth Taylor, or know who Richard Burton even was. A lot of young kids think that Elizabeth Taylor is an old, old woman sitting in a wheelchair next to Michael Jackson. They don’t know she was very vibrant and exciting, and that she was the most famous woman in the world at the age of 29. We wanted to hire a young actress who could bring to our movie a young audience so that we could expand who might be interested in it. We put a short list together of some young actresses who could play Elizabeth, and Lindsay Lohan’s name was one of the people on that short list.
We had talked in terms of Megan Fox, Olivia Wilde, and Kate Beckinsale. We even actually talked to Jennifer Connelly at one point. But Lindsay, interestingly enough, wanted the role. She identified with Elizabeth Taylor. She had been a child star. She understands what it’s like to be haunted by the paparazzi every day. She knows what it’s like to have her life exaggerated. She knows what it’s like to live in a drama filled world. She has her own addictions, as did Elizabeth Taylor. I think that she, at the age of 26, understood Elizabeth Taylor at 29. Therefore, with the similarities, plus the fact that she’s a gifted actress, if we could get her to get her act together, we had the shot of bringing magic into the movie, which I think she did.
You’re actually giving her a second wind, because there aren’t that many people who would have taken that risk with her.
Well, listen. It’s not like I’m a social worker, and I went out to help Lindsay Lohan. That would be a little disingenuous. I’m also a producer and self-servingly, I thought she would be the right actress for the role. If she weren’t the right actress for the role, I wouldn’t have given her a second chance. I cast an actress who I think is right for the role, and the byproduct of that is she gets a second chance. I think it was a win-win situation.
Were you very happy with her portrayal of the iconic star that Liz was?
Yes. I don’t even know what to say, because I don’t want to brag too much about the movie. I think the movie is really good. I think that she does a remarkable job. And I think she and Grant Bowler, together, sent it over the top, because Grant Bowler brings a level of gravitas and chemistry to the relationship that makes the movie really work. I think that she has shown in this movie that she has always had “it.” I said to her via e-mail on the night before we were about to start production that we were starting a journey together. I said, “You give me 21 days to make this movie, and I’ll give you your destiny.” I think this movie could open up her future to everything she deserves. We struggled through it, but we kept our bargain.
The movie seems to take place in many different countries.
The movie is a globetrotting, love making movie. It takes place in Italy for the first three acts, which is where they met on the set of Cleopatra at the famous Cinecitta studio. We go from Rome to London to New York to Mexico to Canada to Budapest. We’re all over the world, because their lives were all over the world. The only place that they could live without the press following them was on a yacht. They bought a yacht. They lived on a yacht in the Mediterranean, they went to Sardinia; they went to Monte Carlo; they were everywhere. The movie takes place all over the world.
Wasn’t this one of the most expensive projects that you’ve done?
Well, I don’t know. In the world of magic and Hollywood, there are ways now to make things look big. I think it’s a big, glamorous movie.
It is, and it’s a movie that looks expensive. You expect certain things when you talk about Cleopatra, and you see that.
Yes. If you didn’t have the world’s stage, you wouldn’t understand who Liz and Dick were. They were the Brangelina of their day. They were the first, huge, major, royal, Hollywood stars.
Are you expecting anything of it?
Firstly, when somebody asks me, ‘Larry, what do you think of the movie?’ I say, ‘I think my mother would be proud.’ She inspired it, and I also think that Lindsay Lohan is such a lightning rod of controversy, that there are going to be critics who destroy us just because they don’t like Lindsay Lohan. There are going to be people who love us because they love Lindsay Lohan. And I think that while I embrace whatever reason people want to read or watch the movie, if it’s curiosity about Lindsay Lohan or whatever, that’s fine, but I think once they start to see the movie, they’ll realize we’re not making the Lindsay Lohan movie. We’re making the Elizabeth Taylor movie, and once they settle down and breathe easily, and watch Lindsay and start judging her on her artistry as opposed to her antics, I think they’ll say, ‘Oh, this is interesting. This is good.’ This was certainly not without risk. If you’re going to make a movie about magical people, you better have some magic.
Is this a picture that’s aiming for recognition at the Golden Globes?
Just this past week, I screened it for all the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press, so we’ll see.
Will this movie appear in any other countries? Has it gotten sold?
It’s being sold as we speak.
Is it being sold for theaters or for television?
It’s good enough to be for theaters.
I think so too, but it was designed for television. There’s a reason for that too. I love television and more people will see this movie on television, worldwide, than would go to a theater. Number one, it’s free. People will watch it over and over again. I want people to know the story. I want them to feel the story. I think that it’s an opportunity for people all over the world to see a great love story.
The producer gets involved on the finance end of it, and it seems that this movie was an expensive production.
I was financially at risk the whole time. I own the movie. I licensed it to Lifetime. On days when things were going badly, I was scared to death.
“Liz & Dick” is supported by a great cast. I particularly appreciated the performances of Theresa Russell in the role of Sara Taylor and David Hunt as Ifor Jenkins. Tanya Franks is a credible Sybil Burton. Whether the critics like it or not, the final call is the one of the viewers and as far as I am concerned, I say to you: Don’t miss it. It is entertaining and that’s all that you can expect. Maybe we should give Lindsay Lohan a break!
By Michele Elyzabeth
See a clip of Larry’s interview with LATF at LATFTV HERE.
Airs on Lifetime Sunday, November 25, 2012 9:00pm PT 8:00C
Images Courtesy of Richard Mclaren