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Director Philip Kaufman and executive producer Peter Kaufman became involved with ‘Hemingway & Gellhorn’ nine years ago. “I’m not really interested in making any film just for the sake of getting something made,” the director explains. “For me, it’s always been about having an adventure, falling in love, committing totally to something, for however many years.”
Executive producers Alex Ryan and Barbara Turner developed Turner’s script with the Kaufmans, ultimately bringing it to James Gandolfini, who became a producer and champion of the film, and brought it to HBO. Writer Jerry Stahl was then enlisted to further develop the screenplay.
Explains Ryan, “I was moved by the inextinguishable spirit of this woman who, despite her success, seemed to be relegated to live in Hemingway’s shadow, and I felt that many people could relate to Martha’s battles on and off the field.”
The passion with which Kaufman approached this story was due, in large part, to the passion within the story itself. “With Hemingway and Gellhorn, we have two strong, bright, sexy people who are filled with vigor and energy and competitiveness,” Kaufman says. “We have moments of heightened passion, of idealism, of beauty, of heroism and tragedy.”
To executive producer Peter Kaufman, the film is about “the passionate and turbulent love story between one of the world’s most famous novelists and one of the greatest war correspondents of the last century. It’s about the battle of the sexes, the battle with their inner demons, and the battle for freedom of the individual against the rise of Fascism all over the world at this time.”
“Martha Gellhorn is really the discovery of our film,” says director Kaufman. “Hemingway is legendary, but few people know of Gellhorn and the successful career she had after their marriage – being considered, by many, the greatest war correspondent of the 20th century.”
Adds executive producer Trish Hofmann, “I think this film is reminiscent of movies from the past with its romance and suspenseful drama, but the elements of the story are still very applicable today. Martha Gellhorn paved the way for modern women, showing that they can hold their own in a male-dominated arena, and are welcomed there, as well.”
Says Nicole Kidman, “Women like Martha Gellhorn were trailblazers who did things that weren’t the norm; who changed what professions women could aspire to; who changed the world. I think I’ll always seek out those women to play them, if given the chance.”
Faced with the challenge of portraying real people, both Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen came to the table prepared.
Kidman’s upbringing seems to have laid the groundwork for her portrayal of Martha Gellhorn. “I came from a strong, feminist mother who wanted her girls to go out into the world and take a bite out of it,” she explains. “I’m drawn to those women who do that, and Martha was definitely one of them. When you do a film that is based on a real person, it’s not a case of mimicking them or emulating them, it’s actually just trying to find their essence, their core and trying to bring some form of them through me to the screen.”
Owen had not read Hemingway extensively when the screenplay was presented to him. Instantly taken by the story and the role, he knew that considerable preparation and research would be necessary to portray such an iconic figure. “You can’t play somebody like Hemingway and treat it like you do every other film,” he says. “I just immersed myself for eight months with everything Hemingway – everything he wrote, everything that was written about him. I visited Madrid, Paris and Cuba. I saw all the places he went and lived.”
Discussing the role of Hemingway, Kaufman refers to one of his earlier films, observing, “‘The Right Stuff’ was about heroic men and grace under pressure, a concept originated by Hemingway. Clive Owen seemed to embody that quality.”
Kidman and Owen worked closely with world-renowned dialogue coach Tim Monich, perfecting the distinctive voices of their characters by listening to and watching hours of archival tapes of Hemingway and Gellhorn.
‘Hemingway & Gellhorn’ was shot entirely on location in and around San Francisco, where various parts of the city and its surroundings – Oakland, Livermore and Marin County – were used to represent Key West, Spain, China, Cuba, Finland, New York, London and Germany.
Says director Kaufman, “I knew I wanted to make this film in San Francisco because, of all the cities in the world, San Francisco had the most variable kinds of locations that could be molded and transformed into what I was looking for. I know this city. And there’s so much talent here, so many wonderful locations. The crews, the extras, the atmosphere, the food and the city’s cooperation all make it a great place to film.”
In addition, Kaufman tapped San Francisco-based visual effects supervisor Chris Morley and Tippett Studios to help expand on the kinds of visual techniques used years before in his films “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” and “The Right Stuff.” Through the magic of Morley, Tippett, editor and sound designer Walter Murch and the entire production team, Kaufman was able to “nest” his characters into actual archival footage, using recently developed enhanced digital effects.
Murch, Kaufman’s long-time collaborator, notes, “This was a film with a huge number of moving parts, like a very complicated machine. It has all the scope and breadth and challenges that a feature film has, but done in less time on a smaller budget. Plus, there’s the artistic and technical challenge of using the archival footage and finding ways to get into that historic world and integrating our actors into it, going in and out of color and grained imagery, wanting those transitions to be both visceral and unnoticeable, to look and feel very natural.”
Image Courtesy of HBO