“It was weirdly enjoyable to do.”
Digital Spy – The Father unintentionally became the most-talked-about movie of this year’s Oscars after Sir Anthony Hopkins surprisingly won Best Actor over Chadwick Boseman, leading to a muted end to the ceremony as Hopkins wasn’t in attendance.
However, it won’t be long into watching The Father that you realise Hopkins deserved every award coming for his sensational performance as a man living with dementia. He steadfastly refuses any help from his daughter Anne, who is planning to move to Paris and needs to ensure her father will be looked after.
Fellow national treasure Olivia Colman takes on the role of Anne and is equally brilliant as a person trying to do her best in an almost impossible situation. Talking to Digital Spy, Colman credits her co-star for making her job “easy” when they’re both dealing with heavy subject material.
“When the camera’s mainly on Tony, I’m standing next to the camera going, ‘Wow’. It was amazing. Lots of people ask what’s it like to meet him, and I was really nervous and terribly excited, but you know within five minutes, he’s just a really, really lovely, generous man,” she reflects.
“So all of that can go and you can really enjoy scenes together. Looking into each others’ eyes, he’s feeling everything which means it easy for me, I just react to him. There were moments where you just go, ‘Oh, he’s really good’. You can’t help but be a little bit aware that you’re working with him, but he’s so adorable [and] lovely.”
The Father – which is finally out in UK cinemas – marks Florian Zeller’s directorial debut with Zeller adapting his own play, Le Père, for the screen, along with co-writer Christopher Hampton.
Hampton has translated all of Zeller’s plays for their English-language runs, and the director enthuses that their “trust and friendship” means that The Father has lost nothing in translation. Hopkins was always in mind for the lead role which was why Zeller chose to do the movie in English, but the idea of Colman as his daughter came later.
“I hadn’t started the process of imagining the rest of the cast because, somehow, somewhere, it seemed unrealistic to me that it will one day happen. As soon as I met Anthony, I started the process of dreaming that maybe it could happen,” Zeller recalls.
“I have always adored Olivia as an actress and I was so excited about this idea that it could be her, so we met just after I met Anthony, and I was so happy that she was open to joining us. I think the film is what it is really thanks to her, and I know that.”
The genius of The Father is that Zeller truly puts you in the point of view of a person living with dementia. Throughout the movie, there are subtle background set changes, characters showing up played by different actors and events don’t always seem to flow chronologically, with moments repeated and seen from different viewpoints.
It’s a disorientating experience that leaves you questioning what you thought you saw or knew, and it’s extremely effective as even if you wanted to put things in order, you won’t be able to – much like Hopkins’s character in the movie.
Despite the unique approach to the movie, Colman didn’t need to have her own timeline of events to make it work.
“What was great that we didn’t need to. Particularly, Tony didn’t need to check where he was because the confusion was all a part of it. I just had to turn up and play the scene and knew that it was Florian’s job to put it all together,” she explains.
Colman adds with a laugh: “Maybe I should have done that, but I didn’t do that. Thanks for bringing it up now.”
At times, The Father fills you with a sense of unease that even the best horrors can’t match, and it just adds to the emotional impact of the movie. This is not a movie for an easy Friday night watch, it’s tough and devastating and will linger with you long after the credits have rolled.
Without going into spoilers, the finale is truly heartbreaking to watch and highlights the power of Hopkins’s performance. Colman was just glad she wasn’t on set the day it was filmed – co-star Olivia Williams shares that scene with Hopkins – as if it’s this hard to watch, imagine how affecting it’d be to watch it play out over several takes.
“I’m pleased that was Olivia Williams because she’s much braver than me. I don’t think I’d have coped with that at all,” she notes, although Colman is involved in some tough scenes too that she was kind of “excited” to film them.
“It was always an honour to do it. Hard and upsetting. The upset is real, but it’s hard to describe it. It’s real, but we know also that we’re regurgitating an upset… I don’t know how to describe it, I’ve never been good at talking about acting,” she concludes.
“It was weirdly enjoyable to do.”