Simon Curtis returns to the director's chair this week with new film Woman In Gold, which is based on the remarkable true story of Maria Altmann's fight for justice.
The movie is just the second feature film for Curtis and sees him team up with both Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds for the very first time.
We caught up with the director to chat about Women In Gold, working with these two great actors, and how the film is being received.
- Woman In Gold is set to hit the big screen at the end of the week, so can you tell me a bit about the film?
Woman In Gold is the story of Maria Altmann, played by both Helen Mirren and Tatiana Maslany at different stages in her life. Maria was a woman who was forced to flee Austria when the Nazis invaded in 1938, and lived most of her life in California.
When she was in her eighties, she decided to try to reclaim a famous painting called Woman In Gold by Gustav Klimt, which was a painting of her aunt and was stolen by the Nazis. The film is the story of Maria, played by Helen, and her lawyer Randol Schoenberg, played by Ryan Reynolds, fighting to get this painting back after all of these year.
- The movie sees you back in the director's chair, so where did this project start for you? And how did Alexi Kaye Campbell become involved with the film?
I saw a documentary on the BBC and it just seemed like an incredibly touching and emotional story about someone - towards the end of her life - trying to make amends for some of the wrongs of the past.
Alexi Kaye Campbell is a playwright that the producers and I much admired. We started working with him for this project and we were very impressed by what he did.
- What sort of research did you do into Maria - who was a woman of incredible strength and determination but also into the Second World War period when artwork was confiscated by the Nazis? Was there a lot of material for you to get your hands on?
There is actually a lot of video of Maria herself that was incredibly useful. Then, of course, there is a lot of evidence of what happened during those terrible days when the Nazis first invaded Austria. We tried to recreate some of the research material when we were filming in Vienna. The people in Vienna were incredibly supportive of us when we were filming there and it was an amazing experience.
- Some directors perhaps would not have had German spoken in the historical flashbacks but I was reading that you were adamant about that. Why was language so important to you in this film?
Yes. It was incredibly important because it was part of the identity of Maria; she was born in Vienna speaking German and was forced to leave and reinvent herself speaking English in America.
- Helen Mirren stars in the central role of Maria, can you talk about getting her on board? What did you see in her that you thought would make her perfect for the role?
Helen, like most actors, was very driven by the script and I think she responded to the character and the story. Like Maria, Helen is a very strong, witty, and original person. She is also a European who has lived in California for many decades. I really do think that she connected with the part in many ways.
- Ryan Reynolds also stars as underdog lawyer Randol Schoenberg - this is not the kind of role that we are used to seeing him tackle.
Yeah. He is a very brilliant actor. He is also a very intelligent man who brings a lot of warmth and wit to his character. I was thrilled to get the chance to work with him.
- Mirren and Reynolds make a great team and provide some of the film's best moments of humour. How did you find working with them? How much were those comedic moments scripted or were they something the actors produced in the moment?
Helen and Ryan had a great chemistry between them from the very moment that they met; they had never met before we started making the movie. That was really a great bonus to the shoot. They did enjoy finding moments of humour and levity in many of the scenes; a lot of it came from what they were doing on the set.
- The movie played at the Berlin Film Festival and has opened in the top ten at the U.S. box office over the weekend. How have you been finding the response to the film? The Holocaust is a very emotive subject.
It is a film that lots of people find different things in. It is a film about family, which is universal. It was very exciting to play this story in the heart of Berlin for two thousand people that did really enjoy it.
I have just been touring America and seeing it play all over the country. I am thrilled that audiences are both laughing and crying at the end and are very gripped by the story. It has been very exciting.
- This is a very powerful account of a true story, but what do you think is Maria's legacy?
She says in the film 'people forget, especially the young.' This film is a reminder that we who are living in this troubled century should remember some of the mistakes of the past.
- While you have worked extensively in television during your career, Woman In Gold is only your second feature film. How have you found the transition from TV to film?
The kind of TV that I was doing, like Cranford, had a gigantic cast and so it was not so different from making a film. The way a film goes into the world is very different from television; that has been the main different.
- This is your second feature and second project that is based on a true story. This genre of film really does seem to be hugely popular at the moment.
Yeah, I agree. People really are driven by true stories. However, if you look at some of the most recent films likes Boyhood and Birdman, they were both fiction projects.
- Finally, what's next for you going through 2015?
Not really sure at the moment. I am just hoping that Woman In Gold goes well and that people enjoy it.