frears hampton wilder

Source: Andriy Makukha / Grigory Ganzburg (licensed under CC by 4.0)

Stephen Frears, Christopher Hampton, Billy Wilder

Stephen Frears’ Billy Wilder And Me is looking at a 2024 shoot due to other commitments from cast and crew, according to writer Christopher Hampton.

Speaking to Screen in Doha, Qatar, where he is a master at the Qumra incubator, Hampton said, “We’re in a good space because Stephen Frears is going to direct it, and Christoph Waltz is going to be playing Billy Wilder.”

He said didn’t believe that a shoot this year would be possible, with next year looking most likely. 

First announced by Screen in May last year, Billy Wilder And Me is an adaptation of Jonathan Coe’s 2020 novel Mr. Wilder And Me, about the struggles of the legendary US director to make his penultimate film Fedora.

The film is being co-produced with Germany’s Pandora Film, and received €75,000 in development funding from regional film fund FFF Bayern last year.

It was “one of those scripts that almost wrote itself, which is always a good sign,” Hampton said. He knew Wilder personally, after the director gave him encouragement for the writing of a Hampton’s play Tales From Hollywood, about German emigres in the Los Angeles film industry. Born Samuel Wilder in Poland in 1906, Wilder lived in Germany but left on March 5, 1933 - the day that the Nazis acquired power through federal elections.

Hampton gave updates on several other projects to which he is attached. Alongside director James Kent, he is “still trying to put together” Heart Of A Soldier, about a British and an American soldier who journey through conflict and peace from the Vietnam war to 9/11.

Having grown up in both Egypt and Yemen, Hampton is still planning to direct the long-gestating semi-autobiographical White Chameleon, with Mohamed Hefzy producing through his Cairo-based Film Clinic. The film was set to shoot as a UK production as far back as 2010, but was put on hold due to the Arab Spring uprisings.

The filmmaker also has a completed script for Dalila, about asylum seekers in the UK, which he describes as “a Ken Loach-y kind of film, very angry.”

One project he could not provide an update on is the film version of the Sunset Boulevard musical – itself based on Wilder’s 1950 classic film. “Search me!” said Hampton of the latest on the Paramount Pictures title. “I wrote the script and never heard from them again.”

Glenn Close is attached to the role of Norma Desmond, reprising the role she originated on stage in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical. Last year Close said the film version is “getting closer”.

Man of letters

Hampton gave a two-hour masterclass on Monday morning (March 13), at which he was introduced by Qumra moderator Richard Pena as “a true man of letters”.

He recalled starting his career writing for theatre, which was “happening at that point and quite prestigious in Britain, whereas it seemed difficult to break into movies. If I’d been French, perhaps I’d have gone into film.”

His breakthrough screen work, 1988 romantic thriller Dangerous Liaisons, secured its leading man in an unorthodox manner, involving Hampton “waiting for John Malkovich outside a stage door” and stuffing a script into his hand.

Based on Hampton’s 1985 play of the same name and directed by Frears, the film won its writer a Bafta and Oscar for adapted screenplay in 1989. He repeated that double 22 years later for Florian Zeller’s The Father.

The Qumra audience consists mainly of the emerging filmmakers presenting their projects to industry guests. Hampton’s advice for those coming through was to learn “hire the very best people for the job and let them do what they do best. And intervene as little as possible.” He also recommended that writers maintain rights to their work, and ask for a producer credit whenever possible.

Qumra continues tomorrow with a masterclass by US costume designer Jaqueline West; the event in Qatar runs in-person through March 15 and online from March 19-21.