Crazy In Love – Beyoncé
May 2003. I’m back from the Cannes Film Festival hobnobbing and bullshitting in a villa with the producers of Red Light Runners. Director Nick Egan, Producer Michael Wearing and I fly back to London and have 3 more days talking in Claridges to thrash out some plot issues in the treatment I’ve successfully pitched. We receive the important information that the money available for this project will not be there for long. In other words, I have to write fast. Jenny and I fy to LA and set up a writing room in our apartment, overlooking our landlord’s back garden one floor below. In a reasonably concentrated mode I produce a screenplay and deliver it. (see My Pop Life #144). Within days, it is greenlit and we are go. It will shoot later in the summer – in a minute in other words !
Now the hustle begins. Director Nick lives up the road in Beechwood Canyon, a few blocks from us in Los Feliz. We have a couple of meetings, and a few drinks before he heads back to England for pre-production. The first deal I secure is like a bonus : Jenny and I are both cast, me playing Hancock, a Welsh forensics expert and Red Light Runner team member, Jenny playing Sharyce who opens the story and unwittingly becomes the first muslim suicide bomber on US soil since 9/11.
Offers are being made to actors. Mike Madsen is already attached as Killian. Harvey Keitel is offered MacNeill one of the CIA double-act but his people insist that he play the role of Sandy, the gay Fagin-esque priest (ex CIA). I’d really seen Greg Kinnear in that role. We’re shuffling now, Jina Jay is on board as casting director, it’s money v taste. For once I’m behind the curtain looking out. Sometimes in life things just fall into place. Yes !
Summer 2003 was Beyoncé’s. The mighty single Crazy In Love was everywhere with it’s bouncy beyoncé pumping brass riff, salsa congas, uh-oh uh-oh uh-oh you know hook and ridiculous video showcasing Beyoncé’s dancing. It was the first single off of her first solo LP and was widely anticipated since Destiny’s Child had been a huge hit in our house, and we’d followed them through various incarnations from Destiny’s Child (1998) through Writing On The Wall (1999) to Survivor (2001). They were the biggest girl group since The Supremes, and Beyoncé was destined, as destiny’s actual child, for stardom. The complete package – voice, face, eyes, body, moves. Managed by her father Mathew Knowles for years her rise from Houston child star to global superstar has seemed inevitable, effortless and meant to be. Inevitably, of course, things are never that simple. I wish. But surely this was my time too at last ?
Beyoncé wrote Crazy In Love with Rich Harrison, who’d been saving up the cracking horn sample from The Chi-Lites 1970 song Are You My Woman (Tell Me So). She was the first artist to respond to the blast of French Horn which creates that giant fanfare sound, and while she listened in her apartment, looking at her untidy hair and unmatched clothes in the mirror, singing I’m looking so crazy right now, they stumbled on the lyrics. Beyoncé though, was actually crazy in love for real with her new boyfriend Jay-Z. I know, none of us could believe it either. But this was the moment when she and her new love were hot on fire and it was pouring out of her, a pure juice chilli shake, an eruption of love, and the result was as intoxicating as being a teenager again. Yes !
Beyoncé and Shawn Carter (Jay-Z) in 2003
It’s hard to describe the feeling of that summer. How quickly I got used to talking about other actor’s careers in a judgemental way, seeing them or not seeing them in certain parts. My only IN to the process was via Nick and Michael since it was deemed from the other producers that I was not to be consulted. But I was in there all right. It felt like a rollercoaster ride, strapped in and ready to go, who will be the passengers? Thrilling mainly. For all the disappointments of my acting career (notably Seven and Speed), my first feature New Year’s Day, my 2nd screenplay High Times, my 2nd stage play The House That Crack built, now suddenly it had all seemed to come together, all the experience added up to being in the right place at the right time with the right people. There was vindication, excitement but lots of relief, because it appeared that I actually WAS who I thought I was. The evidence had appeared scattered up to that point.
The part of Spitzbergen, chief of the CIA, required an actor with cynical gravitas and an ability to be a switching predator. We were thrilled to bits when the Chief of Police of Amity Island (the mythical beach town in Jaws) Roy Scheider accepted an offer. Crispin Glover, perhaps best known for his work on Back To The Future and River’s Edge is cast as Hammett and his side kick MacNeill goes to Rich Hall, an American comedian based in London. The gallery was looking exciting. Next to sign up were Cillian Murphy a young Irishman tipped for greatness, and Kate Ashfield a young brit ditto. Then the casting started to get decidedly fizzy. I’d come across fizzy casting when my film New Year’s Day was being made in 1999. Fizzy casting is like pop stars, presenters, people with a different “audience”. Can they act ? Does it matter ? Will the fizz last longer than an average glass of Coke ? Nobody worries about these questions. The casting directors, who spend their spare time watching TV and going to the theatre now suddenly have to keep an eye on the charts and daytime TV. Or Youtube ratings. Whatever my private feelings about this as an actor, I had to acknowledge that we scored a good one with the casting of Tricky, erstwhile Bristol triphopper, as the getaway driver. Names being bandied around included Vinnie Jones (who I’d already worked with in 2000 on Mean Machine), Gary Kemp (also an old buddy), Mickey Rourke (who wanted a brand new Land Rover among other things), Eddy Izzard, Chris Penn, Dennis Hopper. It’s like top trumps actors all day long.
Beyoncé in 2003
The highlight for me was getting interest from Peter O’Toole to play the role of Baptiste, a mysterious highly moral character who meets Killian outside Salisbury Cathedral to discuss the Shroud of Turin. We’re never sure who Baptiste works for, but he is both religious and a scientist. One scene. One conversation. O’Toole wanted to talk rewrites on what he had read – so I had a call one morning from Mexico. It was Peter. He was concerned with the reality of his character’s words first, then with believability. He was straight to the point. It’s a complex scene and the plot changes as a result, one of those scenes that spins the film around, but he liked it and after 40 minutes on the phone with Lawrence Of Arabia, I hung up and crossed my fingers. And then I went back to the computer. The only time I’d seen him in the flesh was an infamous production of Macbeth at the Old Vic with Brian Blessed as Banquo, the worst reviews ever written and it sold out in minutes. Later that day a rewritten scene was pinged off to Michael Wearing, the artistic producer, and thence to O’Toole’s agent. A few days later Peter O’Toole was on board. Yes !
I think we skipped around a bit that night.
Further rewrites came and went. We went to see Tori Amos live at The Greek Theatre, a marvellous open-air venue in Griffith Park. I think we walked there from our treetops apartment. Ben Folds was in support. Jenny’s sister Mandy came over for a holiday and stayed with us. It was a glorious summer, sunbathing on the roof terrace with swallowtail butterflies flitting about, and others that resembled the Camberwell Beauty.
We did the touristy stuff, Venice, Malibu, Melrose and Santa Monica and went for a meal in Topanga Canyon at The Inn Of The Seventh Ray, sitting outside in the balmy California night air. We also did that great drive up Highway One from LA to San Fransisco, through Santa Barbara, The mental Madonna Inn, Carmel, Monterey, California at its finest…
Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo, California
And we made plans to fly back to England for the shoot of Red Light Runners. Jenny was offered a short series of The Vagina Monologues in the West End. She would take the last week off now that we had a schedule – her character worked in week five in Wiltshire and now everything was in place, the designer, the director of photography and his team, the editor, the costume designer, make up, locations were scouted, and the money and the cars and the P&A provided by Audi. We had a ten million pound budget. Huge for a British film. We were shooting in London and Salisbury Plain (for the Iowa cornfields). It was exciting yes, OF COURSE IT WAS EXCITING but I also felt ready. Happy. Yes.
Play That Tune ! Crazy right now.