The writer/director of "Brassed Off" and "Little Voice" has crossed the Atlantic to make "Hope Springs", a romantic comedy starring Colin Firth, Minnie Driver, and Heather Graham. Mark Herman tells you about the difficulties of adapting for the screen and the even bigger challenge of giving up smoking.
"Hope Springs" is adapted from a novel by Charles Webb ("New Cardiff") which is mostly dialogue-based. Did that help?
I thought it would be an easy job. The style of writing that Charles uses in this particular novel feels very much like a screenplay, but as it turned out the restructuring of it was very complicated and still going on as we were going into the shoot. What I thought was an easy job was a difficult one.
Having done original work with "Brassed Off" and adaptations like "Little Voice", which do you find easier?
It's a different thing every time. I've just been writing an original one again, and had forgotten how hard it was to think of something original. But these last three adaptations have all been so different, working on "Little Voice" from the stage had its own set of problems; "Purely Belter" was from a long book - to boil that down was quite difficult - and ["Hope Springs"] had its own problems in that it felt like a screenplay and very easy, but some of the best scenes were 20 to 30 pages long, such as the undressing scene. I'd love to have had two or three weeks to shoot that, but we didn't have that.
The undressing scene was very discreetly filmed. Was that in an attempt to get a particular rating, or did the actress involved [Heather Graham] ask you to be discreet?
The latter. The last two or three films that she had done had had no problems with that part of the contract, but on this one it was a problem. It became a nightmare to shoot, especially the way she was moving around... at the end of the day if she had taken everything off, we'd still have had to cut it out. It was very difficult to shoot and a nightmare to edit.
There's a running gag about not smoking in the film. Was that in the novel or something that you added?
It existed in the novel but I elaborated a bit. I was trying to stop smoking when I was writing it. As a running gag it probably didn't appear in the book as much as it does in the film.
Did you succeed in giving up?
How did that gag go down in America?
It's interesting, the laughs it gets in different places. The smoking thing, they just don't understand - why would it even be a joke?