An Interview With Chris Noonan
Outlook: That was an interesting role for Ewan McGregor. Syrupy, almost. Quite a contrast to (one of his earliest roles in) "Trainspotting."
CN: Yes, he really did well with this role. I object to the term "syrupy," though. I have quite an aversion to anything that smacks of sentimentality. In fact, I'm allergic to it. I start breaking out in a rash. I don't enjoy it in other films, and I won't have it creeping into mine. What Ewan did was a to play a character who was in love. It was from the heart, and very sincere.
Outlook: Too bad you had to write out the part of the Vicar in the life of Beatrix Potter.
CN: Well, I didn't write it out, but I did collaborate with the writer, Richard Maltby, who was quite open to suggestion. That's the lot of the screenwriter, I'm afraid; many others are going to want to alter your work. In the end, it was just too many characters, which creates obstacles for the viewer. In point of fact, Miss Potter's Vicar (Hardwicke) Rawnsley was very influential in her life. But we were able to include that outside influence in the boyhood association with young William Heelis, who of course re-appears at a later point, establishing character continuity with the audience.
Outlook: As a "vicar" myself, I have to say I was disappointed that he was not included, but as a critic, I have to admit that the way you did it was more seamless. I noticed that her younger brother was written out, as well.
CN: He was six years younger, and really didn't have that much influence on Miss Potter's writing, because he was gone (to boarding school) by then. The part about the influence of her editors, though, was quite accurate, historically, including Ewan's role, as the youngest of the three brothers who owned the publishing company.
Outlook: Were there other significant changes in the script?
CN: Well, originally, it was written as a musical. It was the influence of David Kirschner, who produced "Chucky," believe it or not, that moved Richard away from the idea of a musical. David is quite a Beatrix Potter fan himself; owns a collection of her original works, and was very keen on the idea of this movie being made, but not as a musical.
Outlook: And you're a Beatrix Potter fan, as well?
CN: Oh, yes, I've read all her works. And she was ahead of her time in buying up all that land for the public trust---something like 158 family farms--- so the developers wouldn't turn it all into something urban. It's beautiful countryside, right along the border between England and Scotland, and looks right now the way it must have looked in those days. There's no way I could participate in such an all-consuming project like this for literally years and not believe in what I'm doing. I can't ask other people to commit themselves to it if I don't believe in it myself.
Outlook: Kind of like a vicar?
CN: Well, I've not thought of it like that, but since you put it that way, yes. I think of making a movie like getting into a boat, and all the other people get in there with you, and as the Director, you want everybody pulling in the same direction, so you don't wind up going in circles, you know, but you also have to lead people gently, in order to bring out their best qualities.
Outlook: Kind of like a vicar?
CN: (smiling) Well, you keep making me into that, don't you?
Outlook: As a vicar myself, I just empathize with your analogy. It rings true to me.
CN: If I'd tried to yell at Renee every day, for instance, criticizing everything she did, she couldn't have had the kind of relaxed performance that she delivered.
Outlook: I really enjoyed her in this role.
CN: Yes, she is quite a serious actor, and really did her homework. I thought I'd read everything there was to read about her Miss Potter's life, but Renee was always surprising me about things she'd run across that I hadn't.
Outlook: Were any of the English people upset that Beatrix Potter was played by an American?
CN: Not really. In fact, they seem to be sort of rooting for her. She trained very hard with a voice coach, and of course she'd already done the Bridget Jones role, so the English people, I think, have kind of adopted her. Originally, I was going to cast Cate Blanchett, whom I happened to already know. But just when I was ready to start production, one of her other projects got green-lighted, so she had to back out. She tried to get us to postpone for her, but it just couldn't be done.
Outlook: Thinking about Cate Blanchett in "The Good German" and "Notes On A Scandal," it seems like she would have brought something quite different to the role of Beatrix Potter.
CN: Yes, Cate is more of a classic beauty, but can come off a bit icy on the screen, whereas Renee is all warmth, very approachable.
Outlook: Sort of the girl next door.
CN: Yes, very much so. But with a side to her that includes some dark humor, such as appeared in Miss Potter's writing, with the line about not going into Mr. McGregor's garden because the last rabbit that did that ended up in Mrs. McGregor's soup.
Outlook: I think that church audiences will enjoy this film.
CN: I hope so. I know it's going to appear to some to be one of those "chick flicks," designed for female audiences, but it really isn't. We're releasing it slowly, with limited markets at first, hoping that word of mouth advertising will help build its following.
Outlook: Good luck with that!
CN: Thanks very much.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Terrell, Texas