One of the biggest surprise hits of this year was The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, about seven cash-strapped seniors who decide to retire to a resort in far-off India, where they find friendship and romance in the most unexpected ways. In fact, the film did so well at the box office, that there have been recent talks about developing a possible sequel. From director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) and screenwriter Ol Parker, the film stars Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson and Dev Patel.
With awards season gearing up, and Fox Searchlight hoping for something in one of the major categories, director John Madden spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about how it felt to have the feel do so well at the box office, how slow the industry has been to notice that older audiences are viable, whether or not a sequel could really happen and if he’d want to be involved, and what all of the awards season hoopla is like for him. He also talked about how excited he is that Showtime has ordered Masters of Sex to series (he directed the pilot) and that he hopes to stay involved, and that Murder Mystery, with Charlize Theron in the lead role, will be his next film, once he finishes casting. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
JOHN MADDEN: None of us knew it was going to connect in the way that it did, so it’s great. There’s a paradox where, in order to make a film, in the first place, you have to believe in it. It’s not that you make a tremendous effort doing that, but that’s the fuel that the whole thing runs on. More often than not, you’re having to settle for the fact that other people don’t quite see it that way. Well, unless the film is a total disaster, it will have people that respond positively, but in what numbers is something you can never really guess.
It’s incredibly gratifying and pleasing because, in this sense, I think the best thing about it is that it clearly has to do with people’s experiences seeing the film and the word of mouth that generated. Although it got very nice reviews, it’s not a movie where the reviews particularly drove the audience. They probably drove it in the first instance, but I realized that, once it was getting an audience, it would generate an audience. It seemed to have some quality about it that confounded people’s expectations of what they thought it was going to be. That’s news you want to give to somebody else. “Don’t think you know what that film is, you have to go see it,” is probably the best advertisement you could have for a film.
MADDEN: The industry is very, very slow to pick up on these things. It’s partly because the whole business is in denial about age. It’s a cliché to see how many people struggle to hold off the inevitable. With the prevalence of plastic surgery in this culture, and I’m not pointing a finger, but you couldn’t have made this film very easily in this country, I don’t think, because you wouldn’t have found faces that look the age they’re supposed to look. Actually, many of the actors in my film probably wish they had taken advantage of those kinds of measures. Once they saw themselves on film, they were like, “Oh, my god, is that what I look like?!” But, that’s a beautiful thing.
So, I think they were slow to pick up on it. Weirdly, we’ve become a sort of trailblazer, in that respect. A lot of movies that might have been about these issues, people have the confidence to back them now. I’m sure there will probably be a glut of them. We didn’t set out with a manifesto. I certainly thought, “That’s an interesting story to tell.” It’s interesting to look at old age as not something to be depressed and overly solemn about. There’s also reputedly an extraordinary film that I can’t wait to see, that’s the Michael Haneke film Amour, which takes a very different look at a similar situation. It was appealing to have a film that offered an organic humor because it’s a humorous situation and circumstances rather than gags that undercut the rather solemn tones that often this kind of story would be couched in.
MADDEN: To be honest with you, I can remember being on the set, when we were shooting the end of the movie, and I was just starting to crack jokes about that. I was spinning sequel ideas. I said, “Nobody is going to have any idea what’s going to happen, after this moment. Your lives are just beginning.” It’s true. One of the weird things about it is that the film describes a cultural collision and a rite of passage, into a life that’s only just beginning. That’s usually the stuff of teenage movies, which is probably one of the keys of its appeal.
Because there’s something very democratic about the film, with its story spread over many people’s lives, more than you would usually see in a film – and not just the seven principal characters who came over, but the Indian stories as well – we did stop and think about that. We weren’t like, “How can we make as much money again?” We pondered the idea of making a television project out of it because clearly, by its nature, it offered that. So, we certainly have thought about it, but I wouldn’t call it a sequel. If we come up with anything, it will be more of a companion piece, partly because we’ve left those lives up in the air. If you look at Judi Dench and Bill Nighy’s partnership, if you can call it that, they just backed into each other. It is fresh. People don’t do that. You don’t think about lives beginning, in any sense, at that age. It’s inviting and interesting.
So, the answer to that question is that I would absolutely be involved with it, if it meant that we could all collectively pursue that through one more stage, and find it interesting to do so. It’s entirely about that. If we come up with a story and a circumstance and a world that convinces us and we feel we can believe in – and I’m talking about the core filmmakers here – my job would then be to sell it to the actors and see if they believed in it. And then, we might go to the studio and say, “Yeah, we’re up for this.” But, I wouldn’t do it just to do it. That wouldn’t do anybody any favors. I’m not being precious. It’s been said to me, “There’s an audience that wants to see that. They want to knwo about these people.” I can see that, to an extent, but only if we can do it interestingly.
Is it exciting to also have Masters of Sex picked up to series at Showtime?
MADDEN: I loved [making the pilot]. I’m very involved in it. It’s a very interesting world, it’s a very cool story, and it unleashes all kinds of things that you don’t normally see dealt with or questioned. It was a fantastic script. I loved doing it. I’m thrilled it’s been picked up. I think it will have a long life. And I will remain very centrally involved in it, I hope.
As a producer, or are you looking to direct more episodes?
MADDEN: Well, certainly as an executive producer, and quite possibly to direct it. It’s just that the first phase of production probably coincides with a movie that I’m supposed to do. But, I’ll definitely come back to it.
MADDEN: That’s the one I hope to be doing, yeah.
Have you officially signed Charlize Theron for that?
MADDEN: Charlize is absolutely attached to it, yeah.
What made her the right actress for that role?
MADDEN: She’s a great actress, and also, I think she’s a brilliant comedienne. It’s a cool idea. The script is very unusual. It’s a deconstruction of a familiar genre. It’s about an American couple thrown into a completely alien world, and she’ll be absolutely wonderful in it. I have no doubt about that. I’ve just got to cast the rest of it right, and I’m just sorting that out now.
Having been through it before, what is all of the awards season hoopla like for you?
MADDEN: It’s a slightly odd situation with this film (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) because it’s already had its life. When I’ve been involved in it before, it had a slightly different role to play. If something does well or gets award recognition, it raises the profile of the film. In this case, the profile of the film is already established, and it is what it is. I find it fascinating and enjoyable, and it’s nice because, like everything to do with this film, I don’t have any [expectations]. If it got any kind of nominational recognition, that would be such a bonus. The film can speak for itself. I’m very happy with what’s happened to it. So, I don’t feel neurotic about, “Oh, my god, will it or won’t it?!” You can’t predict any of that. But, it’s enjoyable. The last time, I enjoyed it. I had reason to enjoy it because I won last time, or the film did, anyway. I hope it’s not a chore. Who knows how much we’ll be involved in it, anyway.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is currently available on DVD and Blu-ray.