Believe in Miracles: A Conversation with Oscar winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman
Set in a mythic New York City and spanning more than a century, “A New York Winter’s Tale” is a story of miracles, crossed destinies, and the age-old battle between good and evil. The film stars Colin Farrell (“Total Recall”), Jessica Brown Findlay (TV’s “Downton Abbey”), and Oscar® winners Jennifer Connelly (“A Beautiful Mind”), William Hurt (“Kiss of the Spider Woman”), Eva Marie Saint (“On the Waterfront”) and Russell Crowe (“Gladiator”). “Winter’s Tale” also introduces young newcomers Ripley Sobo and Mckayla Twiggs (both from Broadway’s “Once
The film marks the directorial debut of Academy Award®-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (“A Beautiful Mind”), who also wrote the screenplay, based on the acclaimed novel by Mark Helprin. Goldsman is also producing the film with Marc Platt (“Drive”), Michael Tadross (“Sherlock Holmes”) and Tony Allard (Showtime’s “The Baby Dance”). The executive producers are Kerry Foster and Bruce Berman.
So this has been a very long and emotional journey for you making this movie. Can you tell us about the story of making the film?
It’s a long story. I fell in love with the book in the ’80s. Very remarkable book. It’s deeply loved by not that wide a group of people. It’s a fascinating object. If you like it, you love it. I loved it. I love magical realism. I love this idea of the fantastic and the mundane intertwined. And it stayed with me for years.
And then how did you actually end up making the film?
I was writing it to produce and I lost my wife suddenly. And it became a way of trying to understand the idea of destiny, of meaning behind loss, which Mark writes so beautifully about. And so I was very drawn ever more deeply to the story. I guess it went from something I cared about to the only thing I cared about.
Over some years I then proceeded to call in every favor that I’ve ever had. And I worked with a lot of people who I’d worked with before to try to sort of put together what is actually kind of a smaller movie in sort of studio context — which Warner Brothers was kind enough to pay for. And off it goes into the world.
Well at the heart of the film, it’s a, it’s a deep love story. But it is, as you said, surrounded with that mystical thing, which meant C.G. and other things involved.
So can you talk about the two worlds of this film and how you made them fit together?
Well, you know, I mean, the, there’s a lot, there’s even more C.G. in the movie than is apparent in that, you know, we never actually went to a frozen lake. And that bridge is not actually the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s inside of a stage at Long Island. But part of what has always been attractive to me about this object is exactly that which I think confounds some people, which is: you can have a dramatic scene and then you can have a flying white horse.
And those things can actually be in the same context. So for me, that was fun. I like C.G. I mean, I don’t like necessarily the doing of it, because it’s really slow, but I like magic. I like the idea of magical transformations. And, you know, they’re fun to do.
What were some of the most difficult scenes and why? Was there weather involved, was there logistics?
Well we had a short schedule and we had our production laid out — you know, you sort of have to do it relatively mathematically, because it’s all not sequential – not here, then there, then there.
You’re renting locations and then, as you know, Hurricane Sandy hit. We had been shooting two days. We shut down because of the storm as did much of the city. Quite frankly there were a lot of people having really hard times. And we were a movie, you know, so our issues I think were obviously relatively minor. Having said that, we were down for a week and when we came back, many of the locations were flooded or gone. One of our main stages was actually then being used by F.E.M.A. to support people and house people who had lost their homes. So the movie, as movies do, tried to figure out how to wind its way through the city in a suddenly redefined environment.
So talk about these favors you called in, otherwise known as your amazing cast. What was your relationship with everybody in this film and why was it important for them to play those roles?
Well, it’s not just the amazing cast. It’s amazing behind the scenes too. Michael Kaplan who did the costumes, which were so stunning, I go back to Mr. and Mrs. Smith with. And Naomi Shohan who’s the Production Designer did I Am Legend and Constantine. Hans Zimmer, I’ve known through movies for nearly 20 years. But the cast is an array of characters with whom I have worked for the most part.
Russell and I four times. I wrote Pearly really with him in mind, because although Russell is a leading man in the real world, I delighted in the idea of him being a bad guy, especially such a verbal one. And Jenny I’ve known since Beautiful Mind. We’re friends. I’m, she and her, she and her husband met on the show and we’ve all remained friends. And William Hurt, I’m still trying to get to forgive me for Lost In Space.
Eva Marie Saint was just a “Hail Mary” that worked. Colin and Jessie were both people I hadn’t worked with, but came to in very different ways. Colin was almost typecasting. Peter Lake in the book is this sort of beautiful heart that’s sort of hidden behind this dashing exterior, but waiting to be revealed. When we decided to cast the role age appropriately, the Colin was the first person we went to — very different than Jessie, where we read a lot of actors. She’s a movie star. She’s something, that kid. I mean, she lights up the screen.
And was it a wig or did she dye her hair red and curly or…?
It’s my hair. (laughs) No — wigs are hard. You know, because wigs make your hair about four inches. Everybody says, “No, no, wigs are great now.” Yes, they are great for like a scene, but no — you can’t wig somebody for a whole movie, unless they’re going to shave their head. No, that was Jessie’s actual locks.
And what do you want people to get out of this film?
It’s a fairy tale for grownups. I’d like people to imagine that there’s a little bit of a world behind the world that makes things make sense.
And do you believe in miracles?
I think I do.
A NEW YORK WINTER’S TALE IS OUT NOW ON BLU-RAY AND DVD