Death of Superman

Hollywoodland Director Allen Coulter Discusses His Feature
Debut

by Roger Durling

hollywood.jpgHollywoodland is a uniquely
compelling exploration of fame and identity, inspired by one of
Hollywood’s most infamous real-life mysteries: the death of George
Reeves, the actor famous for playing Superman on television. Though
his death was officially ruled a suicide, many of Reeves’s friends,
family, and fans believe his death was a homicide. That speculation
was fueled by the detective Reeves’s mother hired, a man named
Louis Simo who believed that the actor’s torrid affair with Toni
Mannix, the wife of MGM studio executive Eddie Mannix, might hold
the key to the truth.

The film stars Academy Award winner Adrien Brody; Diane Lane in
one of her most memorable roles as Toni Mannix; and Ben Affleck,
who resuscitates his acting career with a moving portrayal of
George Reeves. The film is also the feature directorial debut for
Allen Coulter, the Emmy Award-winning TV director of The Sopranos
and Sex and the City, who recently discussed the making of
Hollywoodland.

Hollywoodland has such a complex narrative. There are three
versions of the possible death of George Reeves’s murder, and then
you also have the investigation by Louis Simo, the detective played
by Adrien Brody. Was it daunting for you to tackle such a difficult
script? I think during the work on the screenplay, it was a
constant struggle to figure out when to move from one story to the
other. Also, one of the things that I tried to do was deepen and
enrich the role of Louis Simo. We wanted that story to resonate
with the story of George Reeves. I thought that their two lives
should have something in common — the theme of their belief that
their lives were somehow not all they could be because they had not
received the acclaim and the kind of celebrity they felt they
wanted or deserved. In George’s case, he felt that he was
constantly missing despite the fact that he was famous with 30 or
40 million children and much beloved and so on. It was not the kind
of fame that he really felt would somehow give his life the meaning
he wanted it to have.

One of the things that I got out of the film was that these two
characters are fixated on what they don’t have, so then they don’t
see what they do have in front of them. That’s one of the themes
for me. The poignant thing about the story is that it really is the
tale of people who can’t … be happy with what life has dealt them.
And I think that in this age of celebrity cultism, that is a common
theme, and that’s what I thought made the story so modern and so
interesting — that there’s this notion that you’re only as valuable
as you are well-known.

The film features a change between two time periods, highlighted
by differences in camera work, sound, and more. Can you talk about
that? When we set about making this movie, we knew that we were
following in the path of others who had done a really exquisite job
in this genre of Hollywood mysteries — one of course being
Chinatown and the other being L.A. Confidential. It was important
to us that we try to come up with a look that was our own.

I had discovered a book called Americans and Kodachrome, which
was a series of still photographs, of amateur photographs taken in
the 1940s and 1950s. They’re really just snapshots, and that became
the guiding principle for the way we wanted the Louis Simo side of
the story to look — to look as, we often thought, like a box of
photographs we might find in someone’s garage. We were really
interested in trying to say, “What if we had photographed this in
the ’50s on cheap Kodak stock; what would it look like?” And we
sort of thought this was it.

And with the George Reeves side of the story, I felt it was
important to suggest what George aspired to in old-world Hollywood,
and so we shot it in a more lush way. … The palette was different
and the camera, as you point out, was very still — well, relatively
still — and moved with certain grace. Whereas on Louis’s side of
the equation, it’s much more handheld and grittier and more, I
guess you could say, modern.

Please talk about Ben Affleck, because it’s his best performance
to date. Ben was interested in the role for some time and we met
and he seemed to have some understanding of the guy and interest in
what the guy had been through. I can say that Ben was deeply
devoted to the role and was one of the hardest working actors I’ve
ever worked with. He always had a headset on listening to a CD of
George’s voice.

In the film, you make a contrast between nostalgia and the
present, and the dialogue between the two. Yeah, it is meant to be
that. It was a lengthy process and took a couple of years to really
get to the point where we were all happy.

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