One of Britain's most versatile performers, Stephen Fry has tried his hand at everything from television sketch shows (A Little Bit of Fry and Laurie) to stage acting, writing novels, and big screen turns in Gosford Park and Wilde. His latest project is an adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's novel Vile Bodies Bright Young Things, marking Fry's debut as a feature film director.
What was it about Waugh's novel that grabbed you?
The delight in the idea of a period film that had pace and energy, and the sparkle of youth, rather than the usual more languid, drawn out elegance with which we associate costume drama. I also thought that one of the main concerns of the book - celebrity and gossip, and lives lived in the public glare - was something that was naturally relevant.
Were you nervous about directing?
On the first five minutes on-set, on the first day of shooting, there's a little bit of, "ahhhm, what are people expecting me to look like?". But it very rapidly goes, and you learn to look at the toes of your shoes a great deal with a very thoughtful and intense look, and let everyone get on with their jobs.
How difficult was the casting process?
One of the things I always banked on was that I would be able to pull favours to get big names to play the 'grown ups'. We picked a whole series of peaches in the garden of elderly casting, people like Peter O'Toole and Dan Akyroyd, Stockard Channing, Jim Broadbent, and so on. That allowed 'the money people' to feel secure, so I didn't have to cast vapid, shallow Americans in the lead roles. Not that there are such people of course!
Did you ever see yourself as a 'bright young thing'?
I had a period - it's hard to believe - when I was of a young age, and would dance in my tweed party gear. I love the fact that they make everyone around them feel hopelessly middle class. I think it's rather admirable to be someone who's never owned a lawnmower. That's the modern equivalent.
If you went into a nightclub now and said: "Hands up, who owns a lawnmower?" nobody would, because they don't. They're bohemian. It's the antithesis of The Daily Mail, and it is the absolute opposite of being bourgeois. On the one hand it's very appealing - on the other it's very dangerous. In the end, it's self-destructive. But there is something about it that's, if not admirable, then at least somehow attractive.
What would Evelyn Waugh say about the film?
God, I wouldn't like to guess. He was a pretty curmudgeonly old sod and he would no doubt have grumbled about it. He hated anything modern, so God knows.