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'The Father': First time filmmaker scores 'the greatest living actor' Anthony Hopkins for Oscar-nominated movie

Elisabetta Bianchini
·4 min read
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Movie theatres may be closed but there is still some time watch the 2021 Oscars nominated movies (ahead of the Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday, April 25), including the film The Father, starring Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman.

"I'm really grateful to receive this recognition," director Florian Zeller told Yahoo Canada. "I take it as an encouragement and, of course, I think the joy is even more powerful in this context because I think it's not the best year to get your first movie released."

The Father is based on the play by the same name, written by Zeller. Simply put, the story works through the relationship between Anthony (Hopkins), who has dementia, and his daughter Anne (Colman), but it's so much more. The Father is far from linear as Zeller takes the audience on through a maze of changes so that as Anthony tries to figure out what is going on and shifting around him, the viewer is too.

"I kept the narrative of the play, which is basically to try to tell the story from the inside and to put the audience in a unique position, as if they were going through a labyrinth," Zeller explained. "I think they were experiencing disorientation, as if they were in the main character's head."

Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman in
Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman in "The Father," (Elevation Pictures)

"I didn't want The Father to be just a story, I wanted The Father to be like an experience, an experience of what it could mean to lose everything, including your bearings, as a viewer."

While you may think that transitioning a story from the stage to the screen would allow the filmmaker to expand the set, part of this "labyrinth" is that things are seeming shifting, almost playing tricks on you, within the confined space of Anthony's apartment.

"I remember when I started to write the script, for example, I [drew] the layout of the apartment as if it was one of the main characters, and I made a decision to shoot in a studio so that, as a filmmaker in a studio, you can do whatever you want, you can remove a wall, change the proportions, the colours," Zeller explained.

"At the beginning of the story we are in Anthony's apartment, there is no doubt about it, you recognize his space, his knickknacks, his pieces of furniture, and step by step always in the background, there are some small changes or small metamorphosis... You are not quite sure of where you are or where you're not anymore. To me it was a way to see that set as a labyrinth and to make you feel not lost, but to make you experience this feeling of disorientation."

Zeller found that people really connected to the journey of a father-daughter relationship managing dementia. Zeller shared that he was raised by his grandmother who started suffering from dementia when he was 15.

"It was not about telling my personal story, it was more about trying to share those emotions," he said. "When the play was first on stage...people were waiting for us after every performance, not to say congratulations, but just to tell their own story."

"It's also about his daughter trying to do her best because she's a loving daughter, but she doesn't know what to do anymore... There [are] no right answers. She's at that moment when she's becoming the parent of her own parent, and it's so difficult and painful."

Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman in 'The Father.' (Elevation Pictures)
Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman in 'The Father.' (Elevation Pictures)

'The greatest living actor'

Now it's not a coincidence that the lead character's name is Anthony, Zeller always envisioned Hopkins in the role.

"It's true that when I wrote the script I had Anthony in mind, because I think he's the greatest living actor," the director and playwright said. "To me, that's clear, he's so powerful and intense but he's also very humble and generous."

"He was really here to serve something else [other] then himself, to serve the story to serve the emotions, and in a way, he really allowed me to do exactly the feeling I had in mind... Olivia Colman is the same, by the way. They are amazing actors, of course, but they are also wonderful human beings and it matters, and I think that the film is what it is thanks to that."

This is not the end of Zeller's star studded filmmaking. Earlier this month it was announced that his play The Son will get the movie treatment, set to star Hugh Jackman and Laura Dern.