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Lesli Linka Glatter

Lesli Linka Glatter

Articles - Directing

When watching Lesli Linka Glatter’s
new film, The Proposition, you wonder how a sophomore feature
director so quickly perfected her balancing act. After developing
a compelling script she elicited superb performances from her
cast and still maintained a visually stunning palate.

"I guess it comes from my
background as a dancer and choreographer," she confesses. "Either
your leg is up or it’s not, there’s simply no way to cheat in
dance. I try to bring that sensibility to filmaking."

There’s a refreshing honesty
about Lesli Linka Glatter that puts you completely at ease. It’s
a sentiment echoed by her film’s co-star, Neil Patrick Harris.

"She’s one of those warm,
personable individuals who can stay true to each actor’s needs
and still get the job done. She’s very collaborative in the truest
sense of the word."

Madeline Stowe and Kenneth Branagh
in The Proposition (1998).

ERICH LEON HARRIS (ELH): When I heard the
names of your cast, I was sold. Tell me a film stars Kenneth Branagh,
Madeleine Stowe, William Hurt, Robert Loggia and Neil Patrick Harris,
and I don’t need a story pitch. I’ve been a William Hurt fan since
I saw Altered States as a kid. You got a fabulous performance from

you. He’s such a tragic hero in this film. Every character has
their bridge to cross, but his is the one character whose arc
you can’t see at the beginning.

ELH: Could you tell MovieMaker
readers about the story?

LLG: I approach every
story in terms of themes. The theme of this story is about how
we as humans think we have so much control, but in reality we
have so very little. The story itself takes place in 1935. It’s
about a very wealthy couple played by Madeleine Stowe and William
Hurt. He’s an industrialist on President Roosevelt’s advisory
cabinet. She is a feminist writer and they have everything money
can buy except for one thing-he is infertile, and they want a
child more than anything. Together they decide to hire a surrogate
to impregnate her. As a result of this act, everything in their
lives spins out of control.

ELH: The story seems simple,
yet the characters are rich and complex. How did you come to
find this script?

LLG: It had an interesting
incarnation. The writer, who has become a wonderful friend, is
named Rick Ramage, and yes, that’s his real name. The original
title of this script was "Shakespeare’s Sister," which
is a metaphor for Virginia Wolfe’s A Room of One’s Own, which
deals with gender equality. It takes the premise that if Shakespeare
had a sister, and she had been given the same opportunities as
he, would she have been as great? We’ll never know, because it
didn’t happen. Needless to say, when Kenneth Branagh became the
lead in the movie, the writing was on the wall that the title
would never happen. Polygram would have to explain that this
film is not about Shakespeare’s family life. I read this script
a long time ago. The producer Diane Nabatoff found the material
and the script went through 12 drafts but kept getting worse
through the development process.

ELH: Was the studio trying
to turn pomegranates into apples, since both fruits are red?

LLG: Exactly, but there’s
no way to do that. You have to embrace this story with all of
its complexities and oddities. It’s certainly an intelligent
pot boiler. So we went back to the original draft and worked
together. We had an amazing time. My only regret was that we
didn’t have more time. You see, it’s always feast or famine when
you’re trying to get something going. This came together, and
we had six weeks to prep. So either it was going to happen now,
or not at all. It had to do with Kenneth Branagh’s schedule.

ELH: Was it difficult
to put the ensemble cast together, then to direct such seasoned

William Hurt and Branagh

LLG: After Kenneth came on, it was not
difficult. He was a dream to work with. We had to have conversations
where I’d ask if certain things were okay with him. I completely
admire his work and he’s directed more than I have. He said that
he had been directing and starring in things back to back and wanted
the opportunity to come in, do his work, and when he leaves it’s
my problem. He was so funny and fun to work with; he was a real surprise.

ELH: Who else surprised
you in the cast?

LLG: Everyone, in certain
ways. Madeleine Stowe was incredibly smart and asked very pertinent

ELH: I thought Neil Patrick
Harris really held his own in his scenes with William Hurt and
Robert Loggia.

LLG: The story of casting
him was interesting. He was the first actor that came in and
read for this role. When he came in, and I hate to say this,
I saw Doogie Howser walking in. He did a wonderful reading, but
I thought I couldn’t cast him. He had everything, he looks like
a young Jimmy Stuart. Neil embodied the innocence and the American
idealism that everything’s possible, but I saw 40 other actors.

ELH: You’re great, but
you’re Doogie Howser.

LLG: I saw the same thing
that I’m sure he’s fighting to get away from, but the bottom
line was when I asked myself who was this character Roger Martin,
I felt it was Neil, and he did a wonderful job. Robert Loggia,
who’s worked with everybody, says Neil is a real talent.

ELH: One of my favorite
scenes occurs when Madeleine Stowe and William Hurt are discussing
the fact that she hadn’t gotten pregnant on the first try and
would have to hire the surrogate again. The emotion of the scene,
shot against the majesty of this gigantic mansion, had a real
impact as the actors walked across the expansive lawn. Was that
by design?

Loggia and Neil Patrick Harris.

LLG: You’re absolutely dead on. I loved
that juxtaposition. It must be from my background in modern dance
because I always come to the set prepared. I like to think through
every scene and see every shot beforehand. We didn’t have a long
shoot so we had to be ready.

ELH: How long was the
shooting schedule?

LLG: It kept getting cut.
We started with 55 and ended up at 42.

ELH: The strong performances
and the subject matter make me wonder why the film has a spring,
rather than a fall release?

LLG: I think with a smaller
movie they were trying to find a place where it could be released
and find its audience.

ELH: TV watchers might
recognize your name from directing episodes of "Twin Peaks," "ER," "NYPD
Blue" and "Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories." What
are your reflections on your TV career?

LLG: TV has been an incredible
training ground. Certainly working on something like "Twin
Peaks," which was a director-inspired show where you were
given a lot of freedom in terms of what you did, allowed me to
learn how to direct and work with actors. With The Proposition,
we only had a six week prep, I think without the training I received
in television, I don’t think I could of handled this shoot. MM

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