The Leading Man is a complex story about relationships, power,
love and manipulation. Felix Webb (Lambert Wilson), a successful
English playwright with a new play in rehearsal, The Hit Man, is
dithering whether to desert his perfect wife Elena (Anna Galiena)
and family, for Hilary (Thandie Newton) a beautiful feisty young
actress, who has just been cast as the star of his play. He loves
both of them and his decency holds him back from walking out. The
director, Humphrey Beal (Barry Humphries) has also cast a better
known American star, Robin Grange (Jon Bon Jovi), in the
co-starring role. Grange is a charismatic but dangerous young
man, who quickly exploits the situation by offering to seduce
Elena, as a kind of love therapy. But if that weren’t
enough, Grange proves to be an expert manipulator who insinuates
himself into all their lives, like some corrupting fluid.
Q: How come Jon Bon Jovi?
A: He wasn’t on my list of candidates initially: he
was suggested by the casting director who’d seen him in
Moonlight and Valentino. I had a look at the small part he played
in that film and thought he had real presence. So I went over to
Los Angeles and sat down with Jon. I was immediately impressed by
the fact that for him acting is a really serious intention -
it’s not something that he’s come to lately. He’d
been having private acting lessons for five years, in Los Angeles
and New York, from very good acting teachers. He’s
completely serious about it. As soon as we started to read
together, I could see that this was an extremely talented guy.
And I thought he would be great for this because he’s
already an established star, albeit in another medium. So the
idea of him coming over to England with all that flavour of
success from Hollywood is going to ring true.
I think it was quite difficult for him in the early days
when he came for the beginning of the rehearsal period because we
had a cast of well established and experienced actors. I remember
on the first day, the first read through, there we were at this
table with all these quite big names from the British theatre scene and I knew they were all quite curious why we’d chosen
to cast somebody from a music background in this very difficult
role. Jon came and took his place quietly and the read through
began. The atmosphere became quite electric because Jon had
prepared already and he knew his part verbatim. So he was
performing the lines already. By the end of it, I could hear the
other actors getting together in a group, their approving
murmurs. They were thinking, this guy is really good."
Q: What elements attracted you to Virginia’s script in
A: The different levels of reality…the writer, Felix,
manipulates people in his fantasy world on paper, then tries to
do it in real life and they behave unexpectedley. Under the
duress of his problems he’s unable to discriminate between
the two. The other characters also start to blur between life and
fantasy…to use lines form the play in their relationships,
so that the lines take on extra meanings. It becomes difficult
for us to tell reality … perhaps Grange really does fall in
love with Elena…I also found the irony and the humour very
appealing. It’s obviously a Faustian story in some ways;
Felix does a deal with a Mephistolean character…and
it’s also a tragedy.
Q: What about the casting of Barry Humphries?
A: Barry is a friend of Virginia’s, and he’s a very
urbane and sophisticated guy, who’s done a lot of straight
acting before Dame Edna, especially in England - he’s
currently back on stage as Fagin - and he enjoyed doing it.
Q: The film has a solid atmosphere that is distinctly
A: Yes, it has a strong sense of place: I was conscious of the
fact that not many films have been shot lately in the centre of
London. We didn’t have to invent reasons to show central
London because it’s set in the West End, and Grange has just
arrived here from the US, so he takes an interest in Westminster,
the Parliament, and so on. It sets up the film is the same way as
filmmakers use aerial shots to set up Manhattan…I wanted to
use London as a silent character.
Q: I found Felix an unlikely man to have two women so in
love with him…
A: Well, he’s emotionally vulnerable and that’s
attractive to women. Also, remember he’s a huge success, a
big artist in the league of a Pinter, say, clearly an important
man. And that’s also attractive. I wanted a man in contrast
to Grange…he’s the opposite of Grange’s
methodical, calculating persona.
Q: Virginia’s script was originally set in New York, I
gather, and you suggested the change to London.
A: Yes, I’d seen the script develop and eventually I said
I’d like to direct it, if it could be relocated.
Q: Why to London?
A: It’s a sophisticated script, so it would have been harder
to finance it in America. It’s not conventional. And it
didn’t require too much adaptation. Both Virginia and I are
familiar with the London West End scene…the Grange character
became American, to remain an outsider.
Q: In that context, what do you think of American
A: I think it’s pretty widely recognised that the wit,
finesse and character development that was evident in American
films in the 30s, 40s and 50s has vanished under the perceived
requirements of frantic pace. It is assumed that if you ask the
audience to engage with characters, they switch off. But that
becomes a self fulfilling prophecyu and you tend to breed
audiences who can only deal with that sort of film. The hope is
that the success of films like The English Patient and Shine, to
name two recent examples, will inject more awareness into studio
moguls that there are audiences seeking complex cinema
Q: With a home in London and Sydney, are you likely to
make any more films in Australia ?
A: Yes, I’m seriously thinking of returning to the central
character in The Year My Voice Broke and Flirting, and I’m
talking to Kennedy Miller about that. But next year I would like
to make a film called Head in the Clouds, about a relationship
between two people, one of whom is extremely idealistic who
believes political and social roles are important. The other
believes that the primary duty is to explore the self and to
maximise its potential, with political and social action as
secondary. The tension between them is exciting…
Q: Is that your own script?
Q: After the premiere of The Leading Man, can we have a
A: Yes, come and find me at the Marble Bar.