Roger Michell Interview
Roger Michell Interview
The director of Hyde Park on Hudson, Roger Michell, tells View about the story behind the film, working with great actors like Bill Murray and Laura Linney, and the intriguing personal life of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
What attracted you to the project and how did you get involved?

Roger Michell

I was sent this as a radio play by the writer, Richard Nelson. Richard Nelson lives in Rhinebeck, which is pretty close to where the film is set and he, years and years ago, used to see Daisy Suckley, who's our kind of way into the film – she lived in Rhinebeck - wandering around town, as an old woman. And then she died when she was nearly a hundred and under her bed was discovered this trove of letters and diaries, which, after a few years was edited and published.

Richard read the book, read the letters and wrote a radio play, which he wrote for BBC Radio Three and sent it to me with a question, 'Do you think this is a film?' and I said yes. I've worked with him a lot in the theatre, he nearly always writes about the Special Relationship in some way, between his country and our country, and I thought this was a great collision of stories, it was wonderful.
What kind of research did you do on top of what was in the script?

Roger Michell

Well, obviously I went to Springwood, to the house, of course went to Top Cottage and to the libraries and to all the environments of the story. Spent a lot of time there, spent time with Richard and just read and read and read. I read every biography I could, both about the Royals and about FDR. I mean, FDR's a very complicated man, as you can see from the film. He was secretly paralysed, that was a secret kept from the world, all the way through the war, all the way through three Presidential terms. And there are only two pictures of him in a wheelchair, both taken by Daisy. So this was all new to me, I just thought of FDR, New Deal, big grin, jutting chin, bit of a hero, but in fact he was all that, but had this complicated hinterland of this sort of harem of women, who all, rather like sort of Mormon wives, all seem to rub along very happily with each other and all seem to know about each other. So I thought that was pretty gripping and fascinating.
You have a fantastic cast, obviously. Can you talk about the casting process?

Roger Michell

Well, it started with Bill. I had to get Bill. I really wanted to get Bill. I didn't want to make the film without Bill. He was hard to get hold of as he doesn't have an agent. So that was tricky and it took a year between first contacting him and sort of planting a flag in his brain to landing him. And once I got Bill, then everything fell into place reasonably quickly. And I was really lucky to get Laura Linney, because if I'd cast that part wrongly, I think the film would have fallen at the first fence. If Laura was the wrong age or if she was too glam – do you know what I mean? I didn't want it to be Lost in Translation, because it starts with a bloke getting a handjob on a hill and I knew I'd lose the whole audience if that chemistry felt wrong, or he felt too much like Dominique Strauss-Kahn or she felt too much like, I don't know, some starlet, it would have been total mayhem. But once I got that into my head, it became a bit easier.
Since you mention the handjob scene, I thought the way you shot that was really great, with the car shaking up and down from behind. Can you talk me through that scene?

Roger Michell

Oh, that was great fun, doing that kind of scene. It's good fun. I mean, it's like it's so obvious in my mind, how to shoot it, that it's delightful. It was a nice day. I mean, the first shot of that scene was from the back of the car, with a fixed camera. So the cameraman fixed the camera in position and of course Bill was driving and Laura was next to him and the sound man rigged up a radio mic and so I go into the back of the car and lay down with a monitor and my headphones on and we drove right up to the top of that hill and it was just the three of us up there. And that's pretty exciting, as a director.
Is there any historical evidence to support the Presidential handjob scene?

Roger Michell

Well, there's no entry in the diary saying, 'My God, I gave him a handjob', 'Dear Diary, I gave him a handjob...', but I mean if you read the diaries and letters with some artistic intuition, then it doesn't seem ridiculously unlikely.
They went on a lot of ‘drives’, etc?

Roger Michell

They went for drives, yes. And there was a particular day when they went for a particular drive to the top of a particular hill, at which point something happened, which they both referred to for many, many years afterwards.
Did you cut anything out that you were sorry to lose?

Roger Michell

There are always bits that you want to keep, but there's one bit which will be on the DVD, which is a scene in the middle of the night where the King and Queen phone home; they're so homesick that they phone to speak to their daughters and it's a phone call that goes terribly awry, because the daughters get upset. So that's a lovely scene, but it didn't fit in with the rhythm of the film.
What's your next project?

Roger Michell

I finished shooting a film in Paris, called Le Weekend. It's a film about a couple who go there to celebrate or not their 30th wedding anniversary, with Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan and Jeff Goldblum.

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