McGrath on Infamous Telluride/Venice Premiere
What begins as the humorous journey of the openly gay writer Truman Capote as he moves through the elegant circles of Manhattans sophisticated caf society, turns darker as he becomes increasingly consumed by a murder case.
Warner Independent Pictures presents Infamous, a Killer Films/John Wells Production, written and directed by Douglas McGrath (Nicholas Nickleby, Emma) from George Plimpton's book Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career.
Infamous is produced by Christine Vachon, Jocelyn Hayes, and Anne Walker-McBay; John Wells is the executive producer. The films creative team includes Oscar-nominated director of photography Bruno Delbonnel (A Very Long Engagement), Oscar-nominated costume designer Ruth Myers, production designer Judy Becker (Brokeback Mountain) and editor Camilla Toniolo.
In Cold Blood
Originally serialized in The New Yorker, Random House published In Cold Blood in 1965. Truman Capote claimed he had created a new genre of literaturethe nonfiction novel. The book quickly became a critical and popular smash hit, as well as its authors definitive work.
Everybody read In Cold Blood in high school, says Christine Vachon. For a lot of people I know who read it then, it was the first book they remember really enjoying. It was such a page-turnerpart mystery, part psychological drama, part tabloid journalism. To peel a little bit off the surface of a book that has this kind of resonance, the way this movie does, is just fabulous.
Doug set up a meeting with us to discuss a script he hadnt written yet about Truman Capote writing In Cold Blood, a few years after George Plimptons book had been published and excerpted in The New Yorker, explains Vachon. Killer Films was the perfect place for the film. It fit in with the kind of projects theyre so got at, movies like Far From Heaven, Boys Dont Cry, and I Shot Andy Warhol. Christine suggested we option the Plimpton book.
George Plimpton Book
Anchor Books published George Plimptons book in 1998. Written in the oral biography style, the book includes the real voices of Truman Capote's illustrious friends, lovers, colleagues and contemporaries, including Babe Paley, Bennett Cerf, Norman Mailer, Cecil Beaton, Gore Vidal, John Huston, Lee Radziwill, Marella Agnelli, Kurt Vonnegut, Diana Vreeland, Ned Rorem, Slim Keith, John Knowles and Joanna Carson, among many others.
It's a wonderful book, says McGrath. It's an oral history, so it's not written in strict narrative terms. It's a collection of interviews with people, and that style very much influenced the style of the film. I use interviews of the characters talking about Truman throughout the movie.
McGrath undertook massive research on Truman Capote, the writer and Truman Capote, the man, by reading biographies, watching television footage and pouring over his journals and papers, which are kept at the New York Public Library. Dick Cavett was kind enough to lend me several tapes of his show when Truman was the guest, says McGrath. Ive got everything on Truman Capote but his fingerprints.
Having drawn on multiple sources to craft a unique and as realistic portrayal as possible of Truman, McGrath remembers seeing him on TV when he first moved to New York: He was on The Dick Cavett Show, and a more appalling spectacle I had never seen. He was in his later years, quite bloated and not in particularly good shape. He had a quality like a slightly drunk frog. I had never seen anyone like him.
McGrath read more of Capotes writings, then more about Truman himself. He had a really complicated and interesting and sympathetic and tough life, explains the writer/director. I thought his story said a lot about what it is to be an artist, and in a much bigger way what it is to be in love and how hard that can be.
I chose to feature a wedge of Trumans life that essentially told the whole story of his life, McGrath says. Hes at his peak. He's just published Breakfast at Tiffanys. He is the king of his social world. He's in a very good place. The bulk of the movie covers a period of only about six to eight months, but I think both the triumph and the tragedy of Truman Capotes life is told in that period.
I think what I love most about the story is that it starts out as one thing, this light social comedy. It becomes something altogether different that you could never expect when you sit down at the beginning of the movie. And yet when you get to the end of the movie it seems inevitable. It seems the only thing that could have happened, McGrath continues.
After fine-tuning the script, the filmmakers then spent a year scouting locations, which included visiting prisons and the real Clutter house in Holcomb. It's very much like what it was, recalls McGrath. Its been privately owned by three families over the last 40 years. The nice man who owns the place took me downstairs to the basement. He pointed to a spot on the wall. He said, You see that red mark That's Herb Clutters blood on that wall. To think you come down to the basement to do your laundry past Herb Clutters blood mark every day They couldn't be less bothered by it, though.
McGrath also spoke to Clifford Hope, Herb Clutters lawyer, and his wife. Both he and his wife were very helpful to me during the research of the movie, says McGrath. A number of other resources were public record. It was a big, public case, points out Jocelyn Hayes. It was a famous murder trial, and so there are court transcripts. There are a lot of people still alive who we interviewed. We found a lot of the people who worked in the jail and lived in the town.
The filmmakers considered shooting in Holcomb, Kansas, where the film adaptation In Cold Blood was filmed. But the Austin area, with its small towns and plains reminiscent of Kansas, which is also home to a thriving film community, was chosen instead, with supplemental filming to take place in New York City. The question that now loomed over the production was who would, or rather, could play Truman Capote
Casting Jones as Capote
Toby was the first person who was mentioned to me by several people when I finished the script, recalls McGrath. He had been in a play in New York, an English play called The Play What I Wrote. Many people said to me, Oh, it's too bad you can't get the guy who was in The Play What I Wrote. He looks a lot like Truman and he's a great actor. But I thought, I'm in show business and I haven't heard of himthe studios never going to let me hire him.
The filmmakers narrowed the field down to about eight or ten actors, who were then tested on camera and McGrath traveled to London to test Jones. He was great. We needed an actor who could play light comedy and tragedy convincingly. There arent that many. When you add the physical requirements of the role, there are even fewer. Toby exceeded all my hopes, says McGrath.
As for the startling first impression his subject makes, McGrath says, Truman determined at an early age to make himself interesting. I think a lot of his life and of his own personality was calculated to make himself interesting. Some people found him small and cuddly and other people called him the Tiny Terror. So he's full of contradictions that make him quite fascinating.
Casting Bullock as Harper Lee
Nelle Harper Lee is the still, accessible anchor next to the busy and slightly loony Truman, explains McGrath. I wanted someone for Nelle who had what I believe Harper Lee has, which is an innate decency and honor about her, a lack of vanity, a sense of right and wrong, and a sense of humor and intelligence. You can't read To Kill a Mockingbird and not see those qualities throughout. Sandy brings a wonderful kind of warmth to the part, and most surprisingly a certain melancholy that helps round out the characterization. “Every role in this film is written so beautifully, anyone would rush to be a part of this project,” Bullock praises.
McGrath says the character Nelle represents in the film is a moral force for Trumanbut not a moralizing force. She stands for telling the truth and doing things right, he says, but also having fun and getting her cocktail at dinner and smoking her cigarette and enjoying herself.
Daniel Craig as Perry Smith
Craig joined the cast as convicted murderer Perry Smith. Producer Jocelyn Hayes says, We knew who he was, because he turns in great performance after great performance. We knew he could do it. He has both a sensitivity, and a more dangerous side to him. You have to believe that Perry was capable of killing people. You see the sensitive, vulnerable side of Perry, but you also have to know that he slit those people's throats.
The British actor recently starred in Steven Spielbergs Oscar-nominated Munich, as well as Road to Perdition and Sylvia opposite Gwyneth Paltrow. Craigs leading man status was recently confirmed when he was chosen to play James Bond in the latest installment of the legendary blockbuster franchise, Casino Royale.
Capote and Perry Smith
“There are similarities between Capote and Smith, “says McGrath. “Both had mothers who committed suicide. Both had fathers who deserted them. Both had artistic yearnings and were raised in places where those yearnings were not automatically encouraged.”
McGrath elaborates, Truman himself said in many ways Perry Smith and he were the same person, and they walked the same road. Truman got luckybecause Capote's mother married and moved to New York and brought him with her, and he was sent to a good school. But until that fork in the road, he said he and Perry were walking the exact same path. Perrys fork went off where he didn't get the opportunities Truman did. No one recognized or encouraged the dreams that he had. Little by little, a giant rage built inside him.
Eccentric Gallery of Characters
Jeff Daniels inhabits the role of detective Alvin Dewey, the Kansas lawman assigned to investigate the murders.
Babe Paley, the wife of former CBS Chairman William Paley, is played by Sigourney Weaver, whose father, Sylvester Pat Weaver, ran NBC in the 1950s and created such television institutions as The Tonight Show and The Today Show.
Hope Davis was cast as New York socialite Slim Keith and says of her character, she ran with an incredible circle of people. Everyone Slim knew was famous. Frank Sinatra would sit at the table, drinking his coffee in the morning, while Ernest Hemingway was on the phone. She was supposedly the best dressed woman in America for a few years, and she was married to Howard Hawks, the film director.
Isabella Rossellini gives the Swans an international flair with her portrayal of Marella Agnelli, the Neapolitan princess married to an Italian tycoon.
British actress Juliet Stevenson plays Diana Vreeland, the iconic editor of Vogue in its early days. Stevenson also collaborated with Doug McGrath on Emma and Nicholas Nickleby.
Peter Bogdanovich plays Random House publishing company founder Bennett Cerf, Truman Capotes editor and publisher, who is also remembered for his many appearances on the popular television game show Whats My Line.
Three Distinct Worlds
Infamous presents three distinct worlds in terms of design. We had a middle class world in Kansas, a very upper class world in Manhattan, and the very poor world of Perry Smith's youth, says McGrath. Our production designer, Judy Becker, did it all just wonderfully.
Becker describes the worlds as the poverty stricken childhood that Perry had to endure; very plain, middle-class Kansas in 1960; and high society New York, which was very glamorous, colorful and textured.
Taylor, Texas, a small town about 35 miles northeast of Austin, became Holcomb. Traveling to Taylor felt like traveling back in time. I knew when we pulled into Taylor that we would be fine, says Becker. It really looks like any small Midwestern town in America in the late 1950s.
An old bank building was converted into Holcombs Hotel Windsor, where Truman and Nelle stay in Kansas while investigating the murders. Taylor also provided the backdrop for scenes of Perrys heartbreaking childhood and young adulthood as the son of rodeo performers.
Elsewhere in the Austin vicinity, a private home was used for the Deweys house, and a train station stood in for the bleak Holcomb depot. The Falls County courthouse in Marlin, Texas, a concrete, brick and stone edifice built in 1939, stood in for Kansas Finney County courthouse, where Capote first meets Alvin Dewey and gets his first glimpse of Hickock and Smith. A floor of Austins Travis County Courthouseused as a prison up until 1988 but deserted ever sincewas used for scenes just before the execution. Perrys cell, where his relationship with Truman develops, was filmed on a soundstage at director Robert Rodriguezs Troublemaker Studios in Austin.
For the scenes that took place in Kansas, Becker opted for drab, Sears catalog hues like muddy browns, faded greens and murky yellows. The furnishings were also very sparse at the Dewey and Clutter homes, she adds. Doug wanted Kansas to look washed out and going towardsif not a black and white filma much more monochromatic palette, echoes costume designer Ruth Myers.
For the New York scenes, the range of colors was vastly different. The tepid tones of the Midwest give way to luscious reds, dazzling golds, bright greens and vibrant patterns. New York restaurants and nightspots La Grenouille, El Morocco, and La Cote Basque, as well as Diana Vreelands lavish apartment, were recreated at Troublemaker Studios. La Grenouille was done in gold brocade wallpaper, while Truman's house featured flashes of bright red and green.
The effort was a creative challenge for the production design team. We recreated restaurants and apartments which no longer exist, explains Becker. We did manage to find some exteriors in Austin that really do look like New York in little bits and pieces. These exteriors were used for a brief scene between Truman and Slim Keith.
Ruth Myers, an Oscar nominee for McGraths Emma and The Addams Family, strove for the same kind of period authenticity with her costume designs. This is a fabulous costume job, she says.
The whole era is of great interest, Myers continues, and Truman Capote is a fabulous character to dress. You see in his clothes the way he wanted to present himself to the world, which is always with great panache, great style, and a lot of hoopla. He showed himself off rather than hiding himself, and he did that ever since he was a little boy.
The costumes were crucial to bringing the ambiance the Tony New York nightspots to life. The El Morocco scenes are probably the height of the film costume-wise, says Myers, who has worked with Doug McGrath on all of his previous films. It opens the film, and in this scene you come to understand what New York society was like. We wanted it to look a Vogue ad, with that gloss and polish and gleam. That was what El Morocco was supposed to be aboutincredible colors, incredible jewels, incredible furs.
related article 1: Capote: Two Movies in One Year.
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