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The final days of Leo Tolstoy

Michael Hoffman is certainly not a director who could ever be accused of repeating himself.

Michael Hoffman is certainly not a director who could ever be accused of repeating himself. Over a 27-year career, Hoffman has created everything from the quirky low budget British comedy Restless Natives to an all-star adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

His latest project is The Last Station and true to form the story of the final days of author Leo Tolstoy (War And Peace) is unlike anything he’s done before.

“My movies are very disparate in terms of genre and subject matter because I like to do what moves me,” Hoffman told Metro. “I usually find subjects that relate to what’s going on in my life. In this case, I didn’t set out to make a Tolstoy biopic. I wanted to make a movie about the difficulty of living with love and the impossibility of living without it.”

The Last Station stars Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren as Leo and Sophia Tolstoy during their turmultuous final days as Leo struggled to decide whether to leave the rights of his work to the public in keeping with his socialist politics or to leave it as an inheritance for his family. It’s a complicated story about loyalty and love with amazing career-capping performances from the two leads. Quite apart from his interest in the themes of the piece, Hoffman was thrilled to work with such fine actors. “I’ve never questioned that we had the perfect cast,” claimed Hoffman. “Helen and Christopher had extraordinary chemistry that would have been extremely hard to find with any other actors. One time Chris asked me, ‘How do I play an icon?’ And I remember just saying, ‘Well Chris, you are an icon. If we can’t do it with you I don’t know who we’re going to do it with.’ Both actors brought that iconic presence to the film.”

The big names in Michael Hoffman’s cast aren’t limited to Mirren and Plummer either. The screenplay also drew in actors like Paul Giamatti and James McAvoy before the director had even secured financing. “I think all of the cast felt that the script was great actor bait,” said Hoffman. “It was material they knew other actors would respond to, so they all signed on knowing that they would be in a great cast.” But despite all of the recognizable names, it took Hoffman years of struggle to bring The Last Station to the screen. “It was extremely tough to get off the ground,” revealed Hoffman. “Even with movie stars attached, I couldn’t just walk in the door at a Hollywood studio and make a Tolstoy movie. It took a German producer to basically turn an American film into a European film in order to get it made. So, I’m really grateful for the Germans because without them there would be no Last Station.”

• The Last Station opens in theatres on Friday