Hyde Park on Hudson: Interview with Bill Murray and Laura Linney
Directed by Roger Michell from a screenplay by Richard Nelson, “Hyde Park on Hudson” is scheduled for a limited release in theaters on December 7, 2012.
In June 1939, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Bill Murray) readies to host the King and Queen of England (Samuel West and Olivia Colman) for a weekend at the Roosevelt home at Hyde Park on Hudson, in upstate New York – marking the first-ever visit of a reigning British monarch to America. As Britain faces imminent war with Germany, the royals are desperately looking to FDR for U.S. support. But international affairs must be juggled with the complexities of FDR’s domestic establishment, as his wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams), mother Sara (Elizabeth Wilson), and secretary Missy (Elizabeth Marvel) will all play a part in making the royal weekend an unforgettable one.
Seen through the eyes of Daisy (Laura Linney), Franklin’s neighbor and intimate, the weekend will produce not only a special relationship between two great nations, but, for Daisy – and through her, for us all – a deeper understanding of the mysteries of love and friendship.
Humanity in the Script
Murray: Roosevelt is the most formidable character I’ve ever been asked to play, and this story that I hadn’t known about showed his personal side. There was a humanity to Richard’s script. After I read the script, I called up [director/producer] Roger Michell and we had more conversations on the phone. He then said, “I’ll come visit you [in America],” and we went to the beach and kept talking about what we could do with this story.
Exploring the Tension in a Historic Moment
Linney: At the time of their visit to America, the royals were vulnerable. There was anti-British feeling in the United States. It was the first time that British royalty had set foot in the United States. Given the two countries’ histories, this was a big deal.
Murray: It was brave of the King and Queen to come and put themselves at the mercy of the American populace – to let themselves be gawked at, touched, and spoken about. They had to bring the idea to the American people of conceivably joining them in the war, but make it as if they were neighbors coming over because they needed a cup of sugar. They changed what people thought the royal family was about.
Linney: When I heard the movie would be shooting in the U.K., I thought, “I see how that could work.” We would be re-creating a different era and time. Also, it looks like Hyde Park; there’s the occasional odd tree. After we finished shooting, I missed England; everyone was terrific over there.
FDR, Brave and Forthright
Murray: My sister had polio, so I grew up with her wearing a brace. She’s had some of what they call post-polio effects that you have much later in life. It was extraordinary how FDR’s will overpowered that. You never saw self-pity from the man. He was very straightforward about how there were not to be pictures of him being carried around on his crutches, or in his wheelchair. There was an understanding; in exchange for that, he would present an openness and have regular press conferences, which [the preceding U.S. president] Herbert Hoover had not. [FDR] rebuilt his upper body. He rebuilt his abdominal muscles, which had been lost, and got back movement in part of his upper thighs and the tops of his legs.
Linney: What that man accomplished in his life…! He was charismatic, vibrant, handsome, intelligent, and was skilled in political intrigue…People liked him, and liked being around him.
Murray: I feel that at the heart of FDR and Eleanor’s relationship was the education which formed them. He was taught to be fearless, and Eleanor had that famous quote; “Do one thing every day that scares you.” At the dinner table, growing up, they were told that they had to accomplish something. They weren’t a traditional husband and wife. They both knew that they were about something else, that they could better achieve what they each had to do by staying with each other and working with each other.
Preparing for the Roles
Murray: The physical things were important. I also listened to his voice a lot, to his speech. In terms of upbringing, this was a man who grew up in New York City, in Hyde Park, and on Campobello – off both the U.S. and Canada. He’d travel to England; he went to school in Groton, Connecticut. So there were a lot of different vocal influences in his tones, yet his voice was very distinct. You’ve got to be able to have a twinkle in your eye to get people to do what you want. He knew you had to be willing to give and take. He made people believe in him.
Linney: I’ve always had a deep fascination with the Roosevelts, particularly Eleanor, and their era. I’ve visited Hyde Park many times. When this script came along, I felt grateful that this movie was getting made at all. By 1939, Daisy’s family had lost a good deal of their money. Her father had passed away, and she had a number of siblings, so Daisy became responsible for the family. Daisy went to go work for her aunt [Mrs. Woodbury Langdon] as a secretary and paid companion. The small amount of money that she made was handed back to her family to help keep their home – the large mansion they lived in – going. I spent a little time on the property, with its entire history of Daisy’s family, and was able to learn about her and her disposition. I visited her bedroom. I saw the books on her bookshelf, and got a sense of her interests.
Murray: As the first president to use radio as a force, Roosevelt would give these very conversational addresses from home, at the dinner table with the mikes moved in after the family had eaten. He’d talk to America as if he was a father speaking at the head of the table. He would make a decision, and it would change the existences of millions of people. In a leadership role, he had to walk a very fine line of involvement and detachment in what was happening overseas, as well as trying to rebuild the American economy from the Depression. He had to balance fiscal responsibility and military responsibility. He knew when the time was to compromise, and he knew when the time was to be strong.
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