Stephen Hopkins

The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers

Interviewed by Stephen Applebaum

“I felt Peter Sellers and I had similar way of looking at life ”

Stephen Hopkins took us into outer space in Lost In Space (many of us wish he hadn't), and into the hectic split-screen world of Jack Bauer in TV's 24. Now, in The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers, he attempts to take us inside the mind of one of cinema's most enigmatic and troubled figures.

Some people who had been close to Peter Sellers were originally opposed to this film being made. Why?

I think Britt Ekland and Michael Sellers [Peter's son] had a problem with it: they despised Roger Lewis' book [The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers], which was a very funny book, but sometimes also a very spiteful and imaginative book. Although we used the book's title, this film is not based on it. There's information in his book from sources that we have all used, including Britt's book and Michael's books. More importantly, I watched Peter Sellers' home movies and I studied his films, which I really think reflect him.

This is an unusual project for you. What drew you to it?

I'm a big fan of Sellers, I grew up with him. Also, scarily, I felt personally very attached to him, and I associated with the character so clearly it worried me. I think a lot of the stuff that he did in terms of mistakes in his life are really mistakes that exist in a lot of men, but he's just so extreme it takes it out of all context. But the same sort of dark impulses certainly exist in me and, I think, in most people too.

What was the most important and challenging aspect of the project for you?

I did so much research on this guy I felt I had a similar way of looking at life, but, fortunately, I have an adult emotional life and an editing system inside me which prevents me from being preposterously stupid. So, I wanted to try and gain an insight into how this guy saw life. The biggest clue for me was all these home movies - six or eight hours of them - he made. He constructed them very much like a movie and he shot take after take of, say, his kids, until they looked really happy. He wanted life to be like this Alice In Wonderland birthday party life.

Why did you want Geoffrey Rush to play Sellers? They don't look alike...

When I was thinking of casting this, I thought, What roles would Sellers be playing now? and I thought the roles he would be playing would be the character Geoffrey played in Shakespeare In Love, or he'd be playing in Quills, or in Shine, or in Pirates Of The Caribbean. Basically, you're trying to recreate an actor that took cartoon characters and made them real, and that is precisely what Geoffrey does, I think.

The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers is released in UK cinemas on Friday 1st October 2004.