Stephen Frears Doesn't Really Care If You Want To Interview Him

For all the gentility and good natured humor in the work of filmmaker Stephen Frears the 76-year-old director was a bit more reserved in our interview during the Toronto International Film Festival for the debut of his new movie “Victoria And Abdul.” Set in the late 1800s “Victoria & Abdul,” centers on the untold story of the hush-hushed relationship and special bond between an aged Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and her Indian servant, Abdul Kareem (Ali Fazal). Sent from India to for medal ceremony as a stand-in for a day, the two opposites click so well that pretty soon the normally cantankerous Queen is happier than ever, learning Urdu and all about the Koran. Of course, her bigoted entourage is horrified, especially her successor Teddy, the Prince of Wales (Eddie Izzard) which has the royal household conniving their way to dismantling Victoria and Abdul’s affectionate friendship.
By definition a crowd pleaser, “Victoria And Abdul,” is a mix of comedy, period costume drama: the kind of film Stephen Frears can pretty much craft in his sleep. While it has its issues (read more about that in our review), the movie largely delights, and should please fans of his previous efforts such as “Florence Foster Jenkins,” “Mrs. Henderson Presents,” and “Tamara Drewe.”
I was excited to speak with Frears, a director whose films I have loved for many years now (“My Beautiful Laundrette,” “High Fidelity,” “The Grifters,” “The Queen,” “Dirty Pretty Things,” “Dangerous Liaisons”), and what follows is our amusingly short, to-the-point conversation.
How did the movie fall on your lap?
I was sent the script.
Had you read the book it was based on?
No, I read the script.
Uhh… did you know this story existed?
No, not until I read the script.
Ok, then, what was it about the script that enticed you to make a movie out of it?
The script was funny, sad and interesting.
[Trying hard] How about Judi Dench, she must have been a joy to work with!
That’s easy she’s a brilliant woman and a brilliant actress.
[Stymied and a long pause] Some of the highlights in this movie are the opening scenes in India. Had you ever been to India?
I’d never been to India before.
How was it going to India? It’s a very different world out there.
I’m not very good with India.
What don’t you like about it?
There’s too many people, I find it so confusing and so bewildering.
It’s easy to find yourself lost or confused in that country.
That’s me.
This is basically a movie about a culture clash.
Yeah, but I’m glad that she’s on the side of the angels.
What do you mean by that?
She’s a liberal, she’s in favor of liking Muslims.
I actually heard that the Victoria and Abdul story was unearthed and discovered because somebody wondered why the queen liked curry.
We left that off the script, but curry fits in somewhere.
[Desperate to connect in any way possible] Leaving this movie all I wanted to have for lunch was curry and a mango.
Mango is a wonderful fruit. I had one late in life, probably in the last 20 or 30 years. In fact, I believe pineapples happened before mangos in British culture. Mangos happened much after.
Been eating mangos my entire life, but I’m only 31.
I had a deprived childhood.
Anything else coming up for you?
I’m going to make a film about a British politician who was a secret homosexual and who tried to have an early lover of his murdered.
Sounds lovely.
No, it’s a great story.
Who was the politician?
Jeremy Thorpe.
Thank you, Steven.
“Victoria and Abdul” is being released this Friday, September 22nd.
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