Annette Bening, Jamie Bell talk ‘Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool,’ imitating Steven Gerrard, and Hollywood’s troubling past with female characters
It has taken nearly 25 years to bring Gloria Grahame’s story to screen
Between 1946 and 1955 Gloria Grahame was regarded as one of the brightest performers in Hollywood.
But while her status might have waned over the last 62 years, Grahame’s appearance in the likes of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” “The Big Heat,” “Oklahoma!,” her Oscar nominated performance in “Crossfire,” and her Oscar winning effort in “The Bad And The Beautiful” mean that the softly spoken, fierce, but cutesy actress still has a place in the heart of cinephiles.
“Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool,” though, focuses on the latter stages of Gloria Grahame’s life, particularly her turbulent but deeply loving relationship with Peter Turner. Despite being over 30 years his senior, the Hollywood damsel and the Liverpudlian struck up an instant accord after originally meeting in London.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Annette Bening and Jamie Bell, who play Gloria Grahame and Peter Turner, respectively, about “Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool,” its 25 year journey to screen, and why it is a sweet and beautiful love story.
How did you get involved in the film?
AB: “Barbara [Broccoli] who produced it is friends with Peter. They’ve been friends for 40 years. So was around Peter when he was dating Gloria. It took Peter a few years to process the relationship. Then just one night, he couldn’t sleep, and he just started to write this book. It’s very discreet, and sweet. It’s not a tell all. It’s a beautiful, poetic story about this relationship that he had with this movie star … All of us have that one relationship that had to end for some reason. And it always stays with you. Nothing else every inhabits that part of your heart.”
JB: “Barbara Broccoli has been trying to make the film for 23 years. When you have someone like that, who is so successful because of the Bond franchise and musicals and her plays, they are going to push it as far it can go and make it beautiful, especially because of the personal connection. Once I knew of everyone’s investment I knew it was going to be something different.”
Annette, you were originally lined up to play Gloria back in the 1990s, right?
AB: “Barbara and I talked about it like 20 years ago. It wasn’t the right time. I was too young to do it. It was one of those projects that kind of bounced around. And then about six years ago I ran into Barbara at the ladies room at the BAFTAs. I’m not kidding you. We remained friends, but we hadn’t seen each other for a while. That’s when I mentioned this movie, and they then hired this guy from Manchester. He also wrote ‘Nowhere Boy.’ There were all these great guys that wanted to make this film about Gloria.”
What was your original reaction to being cast opposite Annette Bening?
JB: “I was intimidated. All of my reps were like, ‘This is a great opportunity to go toe to toe with someone of this caliber.’ And I was like, ‘Or it is a disaster because I could be so exposed.’ I was nervous, but there was immediately a lot of trust and support. I was thrilled at the opportunity but a little terrified about actually doing it.”
“The role was just great opportunity, too. There were a lot of ups and downs, and the love story element, even though it was unusual, I hadn’t really done a romantic movie before. There was a spirit in Peter that they saw in me. I could relate to a lot of what he had been through, the fact Gloria took him and plonked him in the middle of America, was working class, and an outsider to his family because he was interested in this profession.”
How important is Liverpool to the film?
AB: “Liverpool is like a character in the movie. That’s what Peter came out of. He’s decent, lovely, he’s a wonderful man, who just so happened to fall in love with this movie star. Gloria thought it was so exotic, and weird.”
Jamie, which Scousers inspired your accent in the film?
JB: “I started with The Beatles. But it is such a dated and hackneyed accent, so I didn’t want to just replicate that. So I swiftly moved onto Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney. Can’t do Carragher, though, that would be mental. Stephen Graham has a very thick sounding Liverpudlian accent, but I wanted to tone it down a tad. I wanted to have it less thick. I wanted to hit it and then just have it roll off me. I actually prefer going close to the wall with accents. Because that makes it rich.“
Annette, in her films Gloria was repeatedly abused by dominant male characters, what was it like re-watching those moments?
AB: “It’s actually quite chilling to see. In watching her films, the number of times she was slapped, hit, or punched. It was handled like she deserved it. Because of course she was the bad girl. So the bad girl always deserves it. It was the 50s, too, so it is not that long ago. It was just like that’s what you do to a woman.”
“Now if that was done today, it would be done in a different context. It would be dramatized in a different context. It would be wrong. In terms of stories and storytelling, I feel like we now have more subtlety, especially when it comes to the different types of female characters.”
“Especially in terms of females playing fleshed out characters. They’re not always strong and powerful. That’s not what we want to do. We want to play people that have nuances and faults, and some are very sexual, some aren’t sexual at all. There’s just more nuance.”
“Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool” is released in New York on December 29.