The New Adventures of Old Coward
BY Brandon Voss
May 20 2009 12:00 AM ET
What can contemporary audiences take away from a story about stuffy British aristocrats in the 1920s?
When Coward wrote the play they'd just come out of a hugely unpopular war. There was a mass unhappiness with the government and a huge recession looming. If you look at the times then and the times now, they're almost frighteningly identical. Coward said he wanted to write it for a younger audience, and at the time it was a dangerous, modern piece of work. So we wanted to contemporize it with the use of music, special effects, and the casting of Jessica Biel. Inevitably we'll piss a few purists off, but younger audiences think it's absolutely hilarious.
What inspired the film's eclectic soundtrack, which mixes Cole Porter standards with songs like "Sex Bomb" by Tom Jones and "When the Going Gets Tough" by Billy Ocean?
I knew I didn't want to use an underscore in the film -- you try making a movie with no happy music during the happy parts and no sad music during the sad parts -- so we created a band like the one at the Kit Kat Club that played all the songs throughout Cabaret . We got some brilliant boys and girls together, started throwing ideas around, and just jammed it. I said, "Think 1924, but open up your brain at the same time."
Some might call your casting of Jessica Biel not only controversial but also a bit risky. Were you a fan of her film work, such as I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry ?
No, I was very unfamiliar. Being out of the industry for such a long time, I've paid no attention whatsoever, so it was good to have a blank canvas. But I'd seen Jessica in The Illusionist , which is a fine piece of work from her. I was looking for something different. We did see quite a lot of girls for her part, but when Jessica walked in the room there was something very fresh about her that nobody else had. She has the weight of that beauty, and people make a lot of assumptions when they look at her. Sometimes it's a gamble, but you decide to give someone a shot who's hungry, and she worked her butt off. I think she's extraordinary.
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