LAST CHANCE HARVEY
An Interview with Director Joel Hopkins
By Harry Haun
December 22, 2008
It’s been some time, almost seven years, since Joel Hopkins directed his first feature, ‘Jump Tomorrow’. Although it was an independent film and didn’t make a ton of money at the box office, the film did receive a batch of positive reviews. Flash forward to the present, Hopkins is back on the scene with a new film that he also wrote and with two Oscar winners in the cast. The film is ‘Last Chance Harvey’ and it stars Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson.
In London for his daughter's wedding, a rumpled man (Hoffman) finds his romantic spirits lifted by a new woman (Thompson) in his life.
In speaking with blackfilm.com, Hopkins spoke about putting this film together and working with Emma Thompson.
How did the project come about?
Joel Hopkins: I met Emma for another job. I went up as a director for her film Nanny McPhee, which she wrote—a children’s film. She met me as a potential director, and I didn’t get the job. I think I came in second [to Kirk Jones], but she took a meeting with me. She saw my first film, Jump Tomorrow, and she told me she really loved it.
JH: It’s a film I’m very proud of. It was my first film. Unfortunately, not many people saw it. Maybe, on the back of this, people will see it. It’s a really nice film.
How was your conversation with Emma?
JH: Emma said, ‘Sorry, Nanny McPhee’s not for you, but I really liked your film, and I’d love to work together.’ So I sorta went away thinking I should do something because it doesn’t happen every day that Emma Thompson says that.
How was working on the screenplay?
JH: So I went away and started to think of an idea that she could play, and I came up with this character, Kate. I was living in New York at the time and being from London originally, I wanted those two worlds to come together in the story. I lived here for 12 years, and I was very much looking for a story that could show off those bits of my life.
Wasn’t there another script you were working on?
JH: So Harvey being an American came quite naturally. In a very, very early stage, he was Japanese. At the time, I had been writing another script—it’s a three-hander—and in it one of the characters is this Japanese businessman. It’s a film I’m trying to get made—I haven’t got financing yet, but I’ve got Ken Watanabe. It’s called Moonwalk. It’s something that I need to revisit. I might have the opportunity to make it now after this film. I wrote it quite a while ago, before I wrote Last Chance Harvey.
How old are you now? 38. I made Jump Tomorrow when I was just turning 30, so it’s taken me a bit to time to get this one made. Often, that came be the way with your second film. We’re all allowed to grow up a bit slower. I think 40 is going to be quite a big one for me. 30 just seemed—not a lot changed in my life, apart from making that film.
So you decided to go with an American in this role?
JH: The Harvey character sorta began to evolve. The trouble with a Japanese character is that the film would have gotten bogged down in miscommunication because their culture and their language obviously aren’t the same—and I didn’t want it to be about—too much about—cultural differences.
Essentially you pinned these characters on the actors?
JH: Yeah. I think they saw the opportunity in these characters to play characters that they draw on stuff from their own lives. I mean, Emma and Dustin—maybe Dustin more so than Emma—wanted to do it like that, and I was flattered that I had written something that they saw the opportunity in which to do that. It’s the sort of film that you can do that do because it’s not a complicated movie. A lot of it is two people talking, and you do have a real opportunity to explore things like that and do things in different ways.
Was it dangerous for them to play something so close to themselves?
JH: I think Emma would be the first to say she’s not Kate, but they drew on stuff from their lives. They are both very brave. They are both at a stage in their careers where they’ve made it. There are four Oscars between them.
What do you think happened to the two characters after the end?
JH: I don’t really know. I don’t think it’s set in stone. The tone that I wanted at the end of the movie was kind of a fingers-crossed sort of thing. You send these two characters off into the sunset, for wont of a better phrase, and you just hope the best for them. I wanted it not to be absolutely neat and tidy. I wanted there to be a little bit of doubt and ‘let’s see what happens.’ Hopefully, we got close to that tone.
Was it intimidating to direct these major stars?
JH: Yeah, it was, but they were very sweet. In the prep, I had worked quite a bit on the script with Dustin so I had spent quite a lot of time with him, so, by the time we came to shoot, I was feeling quite comfortable, and then we did a read-through, and I remember it sorta dawned on me that this was actually going to happen and I was going to get to make this film with Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, and I had a bit of a panic.
But once the thing is up and running, it’s so logistical—it’s so ‘got to make our day, got to get that shot, haven’t got enough time, hurry, hurry.’ You haven’t got time to go, ‘Omigod, that’s Emma Thompson’ or ‘That’s Dustin Hoffman.’ It’s ‘Just get on, get your day,’ and so very quickly it becomes about a group of people trying to get a film made.
How long did it take to make and what was the budget?
JH: Eight weeks sounds about right. It was a medium budget. I mean, for me personally, it was a huge step up—ten times what my other film cost. It’s interesting with money. Everything moves up, and it doesn’t necessarily mean more money equals more time because everything becomes bigger—bigger actors, and they require more things—so it felt like we were as much under the gun as we were with my tiny low-budget film. Everything sorta equally shifts up, and you still have got enough time. Ang Lee was talking about how with The Incredible Hulk and this huge budget, it was still as run-and-gun as The Wedding Banquet was. You will never have enough time.
What are you most proudest of this film?
JH: I’m just proud of the piece as a whole. I feel it has really come together from all these different elements—the tone and the acting—as a piece, it feels quite of a whole. That’s the goal. All these elements—you’re trying to sculpt them and make sure they all fit. It’s not going to be the best movie around, but it’s a really solid movie. It works, and it feels of a piece. That makes me feel I’ve done my job.