Tag Archives: Gosford Park

Memories of ‘Gosford Park’ from the Ivor Novello Consultant David Slattery-Christy

20 Jan

When people who are unfamiliar with Jeremy’s work ask me ‘What will have I seen him in?’, it’s always Gosford Park, and Jeremy’s wonderful and much admired performance as Ivor Novello, that I suggest first.

Robert Altman's 2001 masterpiece, 'Gosford Park'.

Robert Altman’s sublime murder mystery set above- and below-stairs in a country house gave Jeremy one of his very best roles to date, and despite being amongst one of the most talented casts ever assembled, Jeremy gave what Robert Altman himself described as ‘one of the, really, best performances I’ve ever seen in a film‘.

Ivor Novello is the only non-fictional character in Gosford Park. To give Jeremy’s portrayal authenticity, David Slattery-Christy, author and playwright, and expert in the life and works of Novello, was engaged as the film’s official consultant. I was delighted when David agreed to tell me about his memories of working on the film.

David Slattery-Christy

I am fortunate enough to have some great memories of my time working on ‘Gosford Park’. The first ever meeting I was invited to, at an apartment in Kensington, London, I shall never forget. At the time I was directing a tribute show, to mark the 50th anniversary of Ivor Novello’s death, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, when I was called and invited to attend the meeting. At that point I had no idea what the film involved. Imagine my surprise, on arriving at the said apartment, to find the likes of Robert Altman, Dame Maggie Smith, Charles Dance, Dame Helen Mirren, Eileen Atkins, Kristin Scott Thomas and Jeremy Northam, to name but a few. At this moment I realised this would be like no ordinary film.

During the location filming at Wrougtham Park near London I was fortunate to meet and see Jeremy Northam shoot his scenes and witness the resulting rushes. The one memory I was left with concerning Jeremy was his modesty. He quietly went about his scenes and left everyone so impressed with his skill and the depth he brought to the Novello role. Watching the rushes of his scenes was the only time I remember there was total silence in the tiny screening van. He did all this with no fuss or fanfares. He was a very warm and polite man and always had a ready smile for everybody.

Jeremy as Ivor Novello, with Claudie Blakely

Prior to shooting I had compiled a list of all the things that Novello did or didn’t like along with a few insights into his character. Jeremy’s portrayal and performance captured Novello brilliantly, even to the playing of the piano and singing of the various songs whilst shooting the scenes. The only thing that changed was the piano playing – Jeremy’s brother played the piano track we hear in the film.

David Slattery-Christy
Ivor Novello Consultant – Gosford Park

David has written at greater length about his work on Gosford Park in his excellent book on the life and work of Ivor Novello, In Search of Ruritania.

An absorbing and thoroughly engaging read, and a must-own for fans of Altman’s film looking to learn more about Novello and his work … straight from the film’s Ivor Novello consultant.’ Tara O’Shea, Chicago.

You can find out more about David’s book and where to purchase it (I have a copy myself and I highly recommend it) by visiting his website: David Slattery-Christy.

I’d like to thank David very much indeed for taking the time to make this wonderful contribution to the blog.

by Gill


How Many Degrees of Jeremy Northam?

2 Dec

Remember the old Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game? About seven or eight months ago I had confirmation that I had joined the ranks of the Truly Jeremy-Obsessed when I found myself playing Six Degrees of Jeremy Northam. But maybe you don’t know what the heck I’m talking about. I’ll explain/remind you: Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is a kind of trivia game that started in 1994 when three college students were watching Footloose (1984). The idea was that you could link anyone in “Hollywood” to Kevin Bacon in six degrees or less because it seemed as though the actor had worked on a movie with everyone—or had worked with someone who had worked with everyone.

Kevin Bacon

The game was based on the “six degrees of separation” idea that you can connect any two people on the planet through five or fewer acquaintances using their relationships to one another (family, friends, neighbors, classmates, work colleagues, etc). Each relationship is a “degree.” In Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon the relationship is simply that the two people appeared together in a movie.

The game was extremely popular in the ‘90s and the concept has remained a fixture in pop culture. There are a book, a board game, and several web sites devoted to “6D of KB.” Bacon himself spoofed the idea in a Visa commercial several years ago. A recent article about a favorite actress of mine, Laura Linney, referred to the game as a measure of how prolific and varied her career has been. The article emphasized this by saying you would only need three or four degrees in her case, not six. (“The Age of Laura Linney,” by Frank Bruni, New York Times Magazine, 7/28/10)

Six Degrees of Jeremy Northam was born when I began trying to link the stars of every movie I saw with the inimitable Mr. N. Somewhat to my surprise, I found I could often do it in a lot less than six degrees. Now, I should confess that I’m not very good at either this game or the one with Kevin Bacon. The problem is that I don’t see a lot of movies these days and very few of those I do see are big blockbusters. So, I’m sure most of you will be much better at Six Degrees of Jeremy Northam than I am!

As Sir Thomas More

In spite of this handicap, I have concluded that Jeremy’s magic number is two. That such a small number of degrees can connect him to many actors stops being surprising when you consider he’s worked in all three acting media (movies, theater and TV), on both sides of the Atlantic, and in a wide variety of genres—despite having appeared in so many “wing collar” period dramas that the poor man seems to feel are the bane of his existence. Rather, it makes sense that an actor who has often said he looks for different kinds of roles and dreads being typecast would have worked with a great number of people. A close connection to so many of his fellow actors is only to be expected from an actor gifted enough to play both Dean Martin and Sir Thomas More, a devilish hit man as well as an upright gendarme, one of Jane Austen’s most beloved heroes and the borderline-psychotic commander of an American army base, and both a nebbishy hen-pecked husband and a sexy, helicopter- and sailboat-piloting spy. Especially since, as we all well know, the last two contrasting characters are actually in the same movie! *

Jeremy in 'Cypher'

Some basic rules of Six Degrees of Jeremy Northam (arbitrarily determined by yours truly):

1)     Any of JN’s costars in movies, TV shows or the theater are eligible. (The original game uses movies only.)

2)     The “target” actor should be roughly a contemporary of JN. (I’ll leave trying to connect JN to stars of yesteryear such as Charles Laughton and Rita Hayworth to the more advanced players.)

3)     Neither targets nor “link” actors need still be living.

In 'Three Sisters' with Vanessa, Lynn and Jemma Redgrave

4)     Directors can be used to make connections, but only under dire circumstances. (Using Steven Spielberg as a link feels like cheating somehow.)

5)     In keeping with Jeremy’s sensibilities about separating his personal life from his professional life, in 6D of JN only professional relationships are used. You can link Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, for example, only because they have acted together in several films, most recently The Woodsman (2004), and not because they are married. But, if Corin Redgrave never worked with either of his actor sisters, Vanessa and Lynn, or with his daughter, Jemma, then you can’t use their family relationship to connect them. (If that were indeed the case, JN could link him to the other members of his family: he and JN appeared in Enigma together and JN was in a production of Chekov’s The Three Sisters with the three female Redgraves.)

With Kate Beckinsale in 'The Golden Bowl'

Here’s an example of how a game of 6D of JN goes. I saw a wonderful, quirky little film a few weeks ago called The Maiden Heist (2009). Its stars are Christopher Walken, Morgan Freeman and William H. Macy. Macy’s easy: he and Jeremy co-starred in Happy, Texas. Freeman took a moment’s thought before I remembered he and Northam were both in Amistad. So, 1 Degree of Jeremy Northam for each of those terrific actors. As for Christopher Walken, he required a bit more pondering. Then I remembered his turn as a crazed remote control salesman in the Adam Sandler movie Click (2005). Kate Beckinsale played Sandler’s wife in that movie, and we know Beckinsale was in The Golden Bowl with Jeremy. Walken to Beckinsale to Northam: 2 degrees. And there you have it!

With Toni Collette in 'Emma'

After successfully linking Jeremy with many of the actors in the movies I watched, I then started thinking up Big Hollywood Names and trying to connect him with them. Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts, Jack Nicholson, and George Clooney were the first four off the top of my head. I thought I was picking someone worlds away from Jeremy with Bruce Willis, until I had a “Duh!” moment: Bruce was in The Sixth Sense (1999) with Toni Collette who was in Emma with Jeremy! As for Julia Roberts, I remembered how Duplicity (2009) had disappointed me. I had so wanted the pairing of Roberts and Clive Owen in it to be an electric one. Oh well, at least the film gave me a connection to Jeremy! (Owen and Northam were in Gosford Park together, just in case you’re having a temporary brain freeze.) Jack Nicholson starred in The Bucket List (2007) with Morgan Freeman, and we’ve already seen how Freeman links to Jeremy. George Clooney was in Michael Clayton (2007) with Tilda Swinton, who starred with Jeremy in The Statement. That makes 2 Degrees of Jeremy Northam for each of those four big Hollywood hitters. Pretty impressive, Jer!

With Tilda Swinton in 'The Statement'

Two actors who take three degrees to get to Jeremy: First, Heath Ledger was in Brokeback Mountain (2005) with Anne Hathaway who was in Becoming Jane (2007) with Helen McCrory (she played gothic novelist Ann Radcliffe), who was in a 2004 staging of the Harold Pinter play Old Times with Jeremy. And then there’s Will Smith—this one took me a while! Smith was in a movie called Hancock (2008) with Charlize Theron, who was in The Cider House Rules (1999) with Michael Caine, who of course starred in The Statement with Jeremy.

As I pulled actors’ names from things I read, saw or heard I sometimes made 6D of JN more complicated than it needed to be. I was wending my way towards Harry Connick, Jr through Northam costar Ewan McGregor (Emma) via Renee Zellweger (McGregor and Zellweger were in Miss Potter, 2006), who was in a romantic comedy from last year called New in Town with HC,Jr, when I realized the shorter route was to just go through Sandra Bullock (The Net); she starred in Hope Floats (1998) with HC,Jr.

Sometimes a very small Northam role reaps big rewards. Those scorching seduction scenes with Emma Thompson in Carrington were the source I drew from to connect Jeremy to Queen Latifah (Stranger Than Fiction, 2006), Arnold Schwarzenegger (Junior, 1994), Denzel Washington (Much Ado About Nothing, 1993), and the above-mentioned Laura Linney (Love Actually, 2003). Thompson’s versatility links Jeremy to the wide array of her costars.

Now, if it takes you more than three degrees to get to any actor in the British Isles, you’re just not trying! In fact, with actors from this part of the world there’s often more than one route to get to Jeremy. For instance, Irishman Gabriel Byrne. He was in a film called Dark Obsession in 1990. Douglas Hodge and Judy Parfitt were both in that movie, so you can get to Jeremy through A Fatal Inversion or Dean Spanley. How about Keira Knightley? You can use either Romola Garai, her costar in Atonement (2007), who was in Glorious 39 with Jeremy, or the trusty Emma Thompson again to reach him through Carrington, she and Knightley were in Love Actually together. And Colin Firth, who will likely receive his second consecutive Academy Award nomination come January. Two of my favorite Northam costars have also starred opposite Firth: Jennifer Ehle was in both Possession and the mini-series Pride & Prejudice (1995), and Julianne Moore was in An Ideal Husband and last year’s A Single Man. All roads may have once led to Rome; nowadays they seem to lead to Jeremy Northam.

With Judy Parfitt in 'Dean Spanley'

And Mr. Bacon himself? Easy peasy, folks! Jeremy starred (as we know) in Happy, Texas with William H. Macy, who played a District Attorney in a film called Murder in the First (1995) which starred, ta da!, Kevin Bacon.

I’ll leave you with three to try on your own: link Jeremy to Johnny Depp, Mikhail Barishnikov and Steve Martin. In each case, it should take only two degrees to get you there.

*Just in case there are some Jeremy newbies reading this, here are the characters I referred to and the films they come from, in order: Dean Martin in Martin and Lewis, Sir Thomas More in The Tudors, Jack Devlin in The Net, Col. Roux in The Statement, Mr. Knightley in Emma, Lane Woolwrap in Guy X, and Morgan Sullivan and Sebastian Rooks in Cypher.

I used information from the Wikipedia entries for both Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon and the six degrees of separation concept. Both are worth checking out if you’re so inclined:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_Degrees_of_Kevin_Bacon

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_degrees_of_separation

There’s a site called Cinema FreeNet Movie Connector (http://www.cinfn.com), which will provide links between actors—and also directors and producers if you need them. Just type in your “source” and your “target” and voila! However, there is one huge drawback to this site: it isn’t current. It seems to have been last updated in 2003 and doesn’t list any JN film after The Golden Bowl! That’s a full ten years of Northamness missing! But if you find yourself awake at 3am wondering how to connect Jeremy to someone, you might find your answer there.

Please note that I omitted the dates of Jeremy’s movies and TV programs. It was getting too cumbersome to include them with all the other movie names and dates. Here’s the link to his IMDb listing for any Northam information you haven’t already committed to memory:

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000562/

Finally, my thanks to Joan for bringing the Laura Linney article to my attention.

by LauraP

Ed. Thanks to Debra, Skippy and Joan for images.

Happy Birthday to Jeremy Northam!

1 Dec

Big, big, BIG Happy Birthday to Jeremy!

This time last year, a few of us pondered how to mark Jeremy’s birthday, and whether or not a gift should be sent. After putting ourselves in his position and suspecting that a gift from some possibly slightly unhinged complete strangers would probably not be deeply appreciated, instead we composed a silly birthday poem, posted it online and sent the link to someone who was working with Jeremy. It’s highly likely that he never got to see it (we never heard), but working on the premise that it’s the thought that counts and remembering that it was fun to do, it’s all fine.

This year, needless to say and rather wisely, the slightly unhinged strangers have not been invited to Jeremy’s birthday party, so we’re having our own celebration right here!

To kick us off in style, here is PrincessAmerigo’s latest video, made especially for Jeremy’s birthday, on behalf of all of us who frequent Jeremy Northam Chat. Thank you Agi!

As it’s close to Christmas, I’m thinking of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ (it should be illegal not to watch that movie at this time every year). Can you imagine what might have been had the wonderful happenstance of Jeremy’s birth not taken place? ‘Emma’, without Jeremy as Knightley? They might have cast Hugh Grant instead, the actor that David Thomson describes as ‘an incipient sneeze looking for a vacant nose’*. Or ‘The Winslow Boy’ without Jeremy’s Sir Robert Morton? The whole subtext of sexual attraction between Sir Robert and Catherine would not have been there (that was Jeremy’s suggestion). I can’t even bring myself to imagine ‘Miami Medical’ without Jeremy as Proctor, that would break my heart … Actually, this whole exercise breaks my heart, so I’m going to stop before I become the party’s maudlin weeping drunk! I only want happy tears at this party!

So, let’s get tipsy on reasons to celebrate that this wonderful actor was born 49 years ago today!

Robert Altman, Director ‘Gosford Park’, of Jeremy as Ivor Novello:
I think this performance by Jeremy Northam is one of the, really, best performances I’ve ever seen in a film.

As Ivor Novello in 'Gosford Park'

Norman Jewison, Director of ‘The Statement’:
I just wanted him so bad. I went to him and told him, I didn’t know why, but I desperately wanted him to play this role. He was one of the first people I cast.

Vincenzo Natali, Director of ‘Cypher’:
I cast Jeremy not particularly because he’s British but because he’s one of the few leading men who is also a character actor. We needed those two things in the person who played Morgan Sullivan because he does transform so dramatically through the course of the film. I think if people who haven’t seen the movie were shown a scene from the beginning and then a scene from the end I don’t know that they would recognise Jeremy because he really did disappear into the role. I was very lucky to get him, he did an amazing job.

With William H Macy in 'Happy, Texas'

William H. Macy, co-star, ‘Happy, Texas’:
He’s completely charming, so good looking. He’s got this great mellifluous voice. There’s something compelling about Jeremy, it’s quite easy to watch him … I just loved dancing with him. He’s a tall drink of water. It was a little rough on the do-si-do’s ’cause he’s about 3 feet taller than I am.

Francesca Hunt, Literary Editor at Silksoundbooks, of working with Jeremy on audiobooks of ‘The Aspern Papers’ and ‘The Real Thing and Other Stories’:
We had a superb time working with Jeremy, as I imagine most do … Jeremy was a classic case of a very clever man suggesting some superb choices … He read the Henry James beautifully, he would read a railway timetable pretty well, obviously, but the fact that he knew and loved (the work of Henry) James quite as well as he did added immeasurably to the recording and to the pleasure of preparing the piece. It was such a good experience that we went on to record a second series of short stories with him all suggested by Jeremy himself … He is a lovely and an intelligent man and it was a great pleasure working with him.

Jeffrey Lieber, creator of ‘Miami Medical’:
He’s an incredibly talented man who brought a lot to the show. I, like you, look forward to what he chooses to do next.

And most recently, here is what legendary film writer David Thomson has to say about Jeremy in the 2010 edition of  ‘The New Biographical Dictionary of Film’:
… In the late 1980s, he had a great stage success in ‘The Voysey Inheritance’ and he played Stanhope in a TV revival of ‘Journey’s End’ (88, Michael Simpson). He is tall, dark and handsome in an old-fashioned way that has brought him a good many period roles. But he has a quietness and an ease that are not just unusual – they are intelligence itself. He is a star in waiting, increasingly versatile and inclined to take big gambles in his material. He runs the risk of making nearly everything seem easy, but proper recognition will come.

He was in the TV series Wish Me Luck (88-9) and then he played Hindley Earnshaw in ‘Wuthering Heights’ (92, Peter Kosminsky); Beacus Penrose in ‘Carrington’ (95, Christopher Hampton); went to America for ‘The Net’ (95, Irwin Winkler), with Sandra Bullock; ‘Voices’ (95, Malcolm Clarke), outstanding as Mr. Knightley in ‘Emma’ (96, Douglas McGrath); ‘ Mimic’ (97, Guillermo Del Toro); ‘Amistad’ (97, Steven Spielberg).

With Sean Hayes in 'Martin and Lewis'

He was funny with Parker Posey in ‘The Misadventures of Margaret’ (98, Brian Skeet) and with Steve Zahn in ‘Happy, Texas’ (99, Mark Illsley), but no one has really explored that potential. So he did ‘Gloria’ (99, Sidney Lumet); Chiltern in ‘An Ideal Husband’ (99, Oliver Parker); the barrister in ‘The Winslow Boy’ (99, David Mamet) – nearly comically cool; the Prince in ‘The Golden Bowl’ (00, James Ivory) – icily hot. He did ‘Enigma’ (01, Michael Apted); Ivor Novello – singing very well—in ‘Gosford Park’ (01, Robert Altman); ‘Possession’ (02, Neil LaBute); ‘Cypher’ (01, Vincenzo Natali).

Then for TV, he did his best work – suave but shy, as Dean Martin in ‘Martin and Lewis’ (02, John Gray) …

And finally, from me … you all know by now (oh please don’t yawn!) that I think Jeremy is an extremely talented actor, one of the very best, and one whose ‘great role’ is still to come (and it will come, I’m sure of that). I hardly need mention his great beauty and presence on screen. But what makes him so special for me? Why is it more than a fangirl crush? I could try to put it into some coherent form, but for me to be too analytical about it might destroy the magic; I’m not sure I really want to know! Whatever it is that Jeremy does and however it is that he does it, all I can say is that I know of no-one else whose performances affect me in the same way. Maybe this quote from my favourite writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, is worth adding: ‘Fiction is to the grown man what play is to the child; it is there that he changes the atmosphere and tenor of his life.’

So, time to top up those glasses and toast Mr Northam:

Jeremy, we wish you the Happiest of Birthdays, and many, many more, and we thank you for all your wonderful work and all that it gives us.

Please add your own birthday wishes and appreciation for Jeremy by leaving a comment. I can’t promise that he’ll see it, but it’s the thought that counts!

*2010 edition of  ‘The New Biographical Dictionary of Film’

by Gill

Thanks to Joan aka Hazel P, to Debra, to Martina, and to Linnie, all of whom have provided material used in this post



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