Josie Rourke Artsnight

Josie Rourke

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And Josie even meets the real life Erin Brockovich.


Audiences have always had a big appetite


A popular character gets the part that actors want to play


As an artistic director, it is my job to consider the kind


From biopics to Shakespeare plays, it is something we're thinking


In my edition of Artsnight, I will be talking to actors,


writers and directors about the real lives they are choosing to show.


And asking them if they feel any responsibility to the people


I also want to know, how does it reflect our contemporary culture?


In 2015 our screen heroes are increasingly drawn from real


If you want to get ahead in the Oscar race, it is smart to


I spoke to leading practitioners of the form, including


Aaron Sorkin, screenwriter, and Tom Hiddleston, about the pleasures


Cinemagoers are being offered an array of films exploring a truly


Whether it is Steve Jobs, Lance Armstrong,


It does feel like there is an increasing proliferation


of real stories in cinema and maybe that is something to do with the


fact that we live in a world where everything has been documented.


I think that humans are by nature voyeuristic, we want to peek


into the window of our neighbour and see what kind of things they do


People enjoy relating to these people as human beings,


as opposed to two-dimensional figures who are far away.


When did this modern cinematic obsession with real lives begin?


One of the classics of the genre, directed by Steven Soderbergh,


dramatises the life of an unknown paralegal secretary


The film follows Erin and her lawyer, played by Albert Finney, as


they help a small US town, Hinckley, take on a giant corporation.


The story caught the imagination of millions and brought


With a little effort I really think we can just nail their asses to


With all of your legal expertise, you believe that?


Do you just know where the money is coming from?


That's why most of these cases settle - lack of money.


Do you know what toxicologists and geology experts cost?


We are looking at 100 grand a month, easy.


I have already made a huge dent in my savings.


I admit, I don't shit about shit but I know the difference


The real Erin Brockovich now tours the world, campaigning


But I was curious to know just what impact this seminal film had


The movie was overwhelming, the movie shocked me.


I had no idea, it was not until somebody said, what are they


I don't know, the working title is Erin Brockovich?


That is stupid, nobody is going to name the movie Erin Brockovich.


He goes, Erin, we don't need to see another movie about a lawyer.


Just understand what is going on here.


You are running around in miniskirts and stilettos,


picking up dead frogs, trying to help these people who have been


So a friend of mine this week, he wrote on Twitter that he was


annoyed with his car company and he was going to do an Erin Brockovich.


I wish I had a penny for every time that happened.


How do you feel, now that your name has become a verb and an adjective?


You cannot separate Erin Brockovich from Erin Brockovich.


Is that so weird that I had to just say that?


Does this figure in people's heads, this character, Erin Brockovich,


played by Julia Roberts in this movie, how does that woman travel


The things people say to me because of the movie and the association,


My running joke is, I'm Erin Brockovich, and I'm Julia Roberts.


Even today, I will be in a grocery store line and they are like, oh,


Well, it was the name of the film and it's a real person and I'm it.


I am, like, no, Julia played my person, I am Erin Brockovich.


No, that was the name of the movie. They don't make that connection.


Do you think the movie delayed understanding of your role in it?


I remember the night that the movie premiered.


And I was literally panic-stricken coming up to the event and my car


There is a red carpet here and here and I can see all


of the lights and activity and I get out of the car and there


The night that the film came out, some of the agents and stuff


and my friends came over to the house and we went to


the movie theatre and we could not get into the movie theatre.


I had to detach and it has taken this process


and all of these years to really see what it ultimately feels like.


When a movie is a famous, you then put "the real" in front...


I wanted know something, it is not about the number.


It is about the way that my work is valued in this firm.


It is about how, no matter what I do, you are not...


I have decided that the figure you proposed was inappropriate.


The bonus he gave me was a true act of love.


So if I watch it, I am going to tear up,


It is a memorial as well as a monument?


So, you shouldn't ask me that question!


That was the first time I saw Julia on set.


That is the first time you saw her, the day you went to play the part?


I was in the trailer getting my hair and make-up ready, so they say.


And she came in through the side door.


Apparently, she was not supposed to be talking to me so she went


And I think to myself, that is kind of rude.


So I looked up this way and she stopped and looked at me


She goes, I'm so embarrassed, I don't even have my boobs in yet!


It was an awkward moment but she brought laughter to it.


Erin worked closely with the director on her celluloid


portrayal but some recent biopics have been more controversial


Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the new Steve Jobs film, believes


creative freedom is vital when writing biographical screenplays.


You're not an engineer, you're not a designer.


The graphical interface was stolen from Xerox.


He was a leader of the team before you threw him off his own project!


So how come, ten times in a day, I read that Steve Jobs is a genius?


Many journalists have taken on, they have done their own version


of a biopic, including Walter Isaacson, who wrote the book


The movie announces itself pretty early on as a painting


and not a photograph and not a piece of journalism but a subjective,


artistic take on one particular aspect of the life of Steve Jobs.


I think if you lined up ten screenwriters and asked each one to


write movie about Steve Jobs, you would get ten very different


movies, even among those writers who did choose to do a literal version


Sorkin's approach has sometimes left his subjects unhappy.


Mark Zuckerberg, the hero of The Social Network, rejected


the film, stating, this is my life so I know it is not so dramatic.


I thought that was a perfectly understandable response.


I don't think any of us would like to have a movie made out


of the things that we did when we were 19 years old.


In that our lives are not the same as movies and


the properties of people and the properties of characters don't have


People don't speak in dialogue and people's lives don't lay


themselves out in a series of scenes that form a narrative.


That is something that a writer does to a story.


You have part of my attention, you have the minimum amount.


The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook,


where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room,


including and especially your clients, are intellectually or


Did that adequately answer your condescending question?


If you put cameras and tape recorders in anyone's workplace,


It would not be a movie. You need someone to come


along and shape that, to find some kind of truth in that.


It seems that the line between fact and fiction is increasingly blurred.


James Marsh's Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire,


about the French tightrope walker Philippe Petit, was recently turned


Stories come to you as documentaries because they appear to be so beyond


the realms of believability, if you were to present them as fiction,


And my rule is, if the story feels utterly incredible and unbelievable,


then the documentary is possibly the best way of doing it.


And if a story feels a little bit more manageable, maybe a drama is


Marsh has made the shift into biographical drama with


The Theory Of Everything, the story of Stephen and Jane Hawking.


Why didn't he make it as a documentary?


I think a documentary could not get you into where the drama could get


So, in the case of Steven Hawking and Jane Hawking, there are many


kinds of films you could make about Stephen and Jane's life, but unless


I was filming the marriage for 25 years or 20 years, I could not


really have had the same access to the emotional life


of the characters that you could do through the dramatic script.


I am not qualified to say which is more true and what isn't.


All I know is that both documentaries and films that I have


made based on true stories, you are looking for something that, to you,


Neither of those media or mediums of film making are the literal truth.


How does an actor make the stretch into playing a real-life character?


Especially when their experience is far from their own?


British actor Tom Hiddleston transformed into American country


I wanted to hear what it took for him to make this leap


So you've taken on this icon, this hero, this massive figure


How deep was the breath that you drew before doing it?


It was daunting, it was challenging, but exciting.


Because Hank Williams changed the landscape of American music.


Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen,


Basically, he was born with spina bifida, which wasn't diagnosed


But he was apparently quite a weak child and he wasn't strong,


which is why he missed the draft, so he wasn't a soldier himself.


He didn't work on the railroad, he didn't work in the field,


he didn't work on the farm, which is I think part of


the reason why he latched onto music and why he latched onto the guitar,


How did you begin to get into this music, which is not your music?


That was the hardest thing, I think, was trying to change


Our British rhythm is actually very on the beat.


It's very neat, it's very tidy, it's very British.


You unstitch it by going to Nashville for six weeks


# She changed a lock on our front door


I went to train with a man who is actually Nashville royalty


He himself saw Hank Williams play, on his father's shoulders,


at the age of two and it's one of his earliest memories.


And Hank is the biggest inspiration in his life.


The thing he instructed me to do from the get-go was to interpret


which is really just like playing a Shakespearean role.


He said, there's no way you can imitate Hank.


But the way that you'll carry it across - and he used these words -


he said, "If you can sing with the same


feeling and show us what that means to you, we'll hear it, we'll


Because that's the power he had, it came from his heart.


Hank wouldn't be tamed by the music industry.


Famously, he once stormed out of an interview, something musicians


What I loved, I guess, is that Hank has a rebelliousness I don't have.


I'm too English and too well brought up probably.


Do you think you will acquire that with age?


I don't know that I'll ever walk out of an interview.


We love biographical plays and films, but if history tends to


be about dead white men, who is pulling in the other direction?


Screenwriter and playwright Abi Morgan has made a career


and a reputation putting women at the heart of stories.


I spoke to her about her latest film, Suffragette, and how she


Abi Morgan has created a memorable - now classic array -


of leading parts for actors on stage and screen.


Her heroes and antiheroes are often women.


Here at the Donmar, we just staged a production of Morgan's


First performed in the year 2000, it was set on the eve


of a violent revolution and starred an all-female cast.


When we met in the Donmar, I began by asking Abi


when the words female or woman are put in front of


When women turn to me and say, 'How does it feel to be a female


writer?', I think four or five years ago, I used to baulk at that.


One of the things I really don't think I considered properly


You know, and so I never went into a room


and thought - I'm lesser in the room.


What's interesting as I hit my 40s and my mid-40s is that I'm more


Not just my own, because you have to look outside


The young Abi was drawn to compelling female leads like


Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday.


When I think about those films that have been


female-lead that I was drawn to, I can often relate them to actresses.


It's often films that have been led by strong actresses like


Meryl Streep, and it's Sissy Spacek and Sally Field.


And Hildy in His Girl Friday, and Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment.


Both of those were absolutely astonishing to me because they were


And there is a group of powerful, campaigning women at the centre


Yes, but I consider myself more of a soldier, Mrs Watts.


Will these women's testimonies make a difference?


But as Mrs Pankhurst says, it's deeds, not words,


I think it was being ignited by another woman's passion, which


What I also realised was it was rare for me to be on a set where there


You don't often get a mainstream movie led by women,


Or a fantasy, or a kind of romantic film.


Politics of a very different colour were at the heart of The Iron Lady,


Margaret, with all due respect, when one has been to war...


With all due respect, sir, I have done battle every single day


of my life and many men have underestimated me before.


This lot seem bound to do the same, but they will rue the day!


And when you went back to look at Thatcher,


was that driven by a desire to re-examine or reinterpret, or was


I remember Phyllida saying to me that actually, she wanted to make


What really intrigued me was the very simple premise, which was, what


would happen if I passed Margaret Thatcher buying a pint of milk?


And then when I learnt that she was experiencing dementia, it became


even more intriguing to me and I realised that actually, it had the


potential to be the kind of prism in which to look at the kind of power


of loss and loss of power, which is at the centre of the film.


Phyllida is also always described as 'King Lear for girls'.


And I think if nothing else, whether you revere or revile her,


she would be really that great feminist/antifeminist figure that we


I think what drew me to her was trying to find out those big almost


They're great because they're another way of


redressing the balance of stories that have been told about men.


We've seen numerous films about Kennedy.


We've only ever seen one movie about Margaret Thatcher, and I hope that


In the critically-acclaimed series The Hour,


Abi also explored what it was to succeed in a male-dominated world.


This time, the backdrop was a 1950s newsroom.


When you decided to write The Hour, was that what most motivated you,


It was Romola's character and it was the character of Lix Storm


which, in itself, is a complete nod to those 1930s/1940s slightly coded


sort of, you know, enpowered names of that time.


It was a time where there were huge sexual politics going on


in the office and yet there wasn't necessarily the language.


Certainly not the political language to talk about it.


A new programme, a new era, and they want me as producer.


And you can never really find one who will ever stay.


A couple more years, you'll probably want a baby.


And even if they don't say that to your face,


It's all about creating fully rounded women.


I think what's really interesting about, say, working on a film


like Shame, ultimately, that's about a very sexual man,


but it's also about a group of very sexual women as well.


And that was fascinating to me and actually, I guess,


really simply, I think women, there's a lot of shame around sex


and admitting that you have a sexual appetite and being enpowered.


And so that permeates the way we portray women on the screen.


You've gone backwards with this kind of new historicist


Going forwards, what do you really want to hear?


One of the things I would like to see is that we allow


ourselves to take on some of those big themes, big worlds, big genres


that we would normally reserve for men.


It would be really great to see a female Bond.


I love James Bond and it's probably sacrilege to say that, but when


you're looking at the mix of Idris Elba and Damian Lewis,


you know, do have a think about the woman


In my final film tonight, I meet some theatre practitioners


who are challenging received wisdom behind the casting


Shakespeare said that great acting holds a mirror up to nature,


but do you need a white male actor to play one of America's


We meet people behind two shows who are challenging the idea of how


# I'm passionately smashing every expectation, every action... #


The hottest show on Broadway right now tells the story of a key figure


in the early history of the USA, Alexander Hamilton.


Alexander Hamilton was our first Treasury Secretary.


He came from this tiny island in the Caribbean, he left when he


was 15, joined the revolution and became George Washington's aide.


So he arrived in America in, like, 1775, so just


The actors playing America's Founding Fathers look and sound like


America today, and the soundtrack album is making its way towards


We also wanted to eliminate any distance between then and now.


So if we populated our show with people


that looked like the world that we see today, then automatically, we're


And that proximity gives us immediacy and doesn't


create a gulf between something that happened and where we are.


I think seeing the show certainly changed me and my perception of what


Are you feeling excited and hopeful for what's next?


All of our hope is that whoever that kid is that came to see Rent, who


made this, there is somebody out there who is hopefully going to see


the show and say - my story matters, that it can sound like me, that it


can look like me, that it can be about something that I care about.


And I think that idea that all of our stories are relevant


and have a place, even in a world as commercial as Broadway,


what it's saying fundamentally is, this can be for everybody.


On this side of the Atlantic, how our history is being represented


In the last three years, director Phylidda Lloyd has produced radical


interpretations of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Henry IV,


How I came by the Crown, O God forgive


And grant it may with thee in true peace live


My gracious liege, you won it, wore it, kept it, gave it me...


Following critical acclaim in London, Phylidda and


the cast are back rehearsing Henry IV before it transfers to New York.


Why did Phylidda choose to do an all-female production?


What we're trying to question is - who is entitled to what we have


come to think of as the Crown Jewels of our culture,


Who has got the keys to this kingdom?


Men get all the amazing stuff to talk about.


Honour, justice and rivalry and peace and power, and women talk


about domestic things, or they talk about their husband,


It's kind of romantic and domestic, it's a smaller world.


I would like to try another exercise of the actual changing of the space.


Rehearsals begin with movement sessions in this radical


interpretation of Shakespeare, the actors have to learn to inhabit


The room should feel completely full.


To start engaging with bits of yourself that you don't usually.


Like, we talk a lot about the pelvis and the power there.


I've been going to the gym and I've been really enjoying getting muscles


and swaggering and taking up space and not apologising,


Well, I found myself sat legs open, doing the man spread on the Tube,


How does telling the story in this way make it more accessible


One of the things that's most surprised


and to all sorts of people who've never done Shakespeare before.


And how instantly the words fit the situation


I love talking to young men after the show.


Going, God, I didn't know how you lot are going to play men!


And then eventually going, I stopped thinking about it


You weren't playing men, you were playing the character.


And we're like, that's exactly what we're doing, playing the essence


Lie down, lie down here close to the ground


If these productions open up Shakespeare to new audiences,


how might they have opened up the actors to new ways


Spiderman, definitely, without a doubt.


I always loved Spiderman, but the idea that I can play him is amazing.


The challenge is on for everybody else in the world because we know


what we can do, because we are saying - the best, some of the most


spectacular writing ever written in the English language, we are


tackling it and we have the muscles for it.


I'm going to leave you with a clip of the Company of Henry IV


singing a song from the production Daddy's Gone.


# I won't be the lonely once sat in on my own inside


# Forget your daddy's gone, forget your daddy's gone


# He's gone, he's gone, he's gone, he's gone


# He's gone, he's gone, he's gone, he's gone


Mild and wet and windy. Wet and windy into Northern Ireland and much


of Scotland. For


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