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InDepth InterView Exclusive: Stephen Daldry Talks BILLY ELLIOT: THE MUSICAL Fathom Event, WICKED Movie, THE AUDIENCE & SKYLIGHT On Broadway, Netflix's THE CROWN & More

Today we are talking to one of the most powerful directors on Broadway, in the West End and in Hollywood all about the breathtaking screen-to-stage-to-screen adaptation of his Tony Award- and Olivier Award-winning Best Musical BILLY ELLIOT: THE MUSICAL, coming to Fathom movie theaters nationwide this week for three special showings, the affable and gifted Stephen Daldry. Discussing originally adapting the hit British indie alongside composer Elton John and screenwriter/lyricist Lee Hall into the worldwide sensation that the musical eventually became, Daldry reflects on how many iconic elements of the original production came to be as well as comments on the enduring impact of the musical since its debut more than 10 years ago. Additionally, Daldry sheds considerable light on how the Fathom filming of BILLY ELLIOT was designed to showcase the exceptional entertainment value of the enterprise and its incredible cast of actors, as well as overseeing the unforgettable finale staged especially for this special 10th anniversary performance, including an awe-inspiring dance sequence involving 26 actors who have notably essayed the title role over the course of the show's run on Broadway, in the West End and around the world since its debut. Additionally, Daldry also touches upon his other two recent Fathom Events seen in movie theaters worldwide, SKYLIGHT and THE AUDIENCE, both of which will also be arriving on Broadway later this season in new productions. Plus, Daldry comments for the very first time on the feature film adaptation of stage sensation WICKED and working with Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman on bringing it to the screen, as well as offers his thoughts on the importance of properties such as BILLY ELLIOT and WICKED in targeting the youth demographic in general. All of that, his early career success directing Caryl Churchill's remarkably prescient and powerful A NUMBER and FAR AWAY as well as an update on his new Peter Morgan TV series collaboration created especially for Netflix titled THE CROWN, the Sondheim musical he would love to direct most of all and much, much more in this compelling chat with one of the industry's best!

More information on BILLY ELLIOT: THE MUSICAL LIVE in Fathom movie theaters nationwide on November 12, 15 and 18 is available at the official site here.


PC: I have to say that I was completely blown away by BILLY ELLIOT on film - it truly feels like a real cinematic experience as well as a perfect distillation of the stage show.

SD: Oh, do you really think so? I have to say, we were a bit amazed by how well it works - to be honest, I was really amazed. As you know, these broadcasts can sometimes feel like a bit of a strange hybrid, but I was overjoyed at how well it works for the cinema. I was thrilled by that. I mean, we did do a lot of work preparing for the broadcast, but I was just amazed at how close you can follow the story - it feels much more filmic than I ever imagined it could be based on the stage show. I was thrilled by how it all came across.

PC: How many cameras did you utilize all together, including the awesome shots from above the stage?

SD: I think we used something like 12 total.

PC: This almost precludes a full-out movie musical adaptation of BILLY ELLIOT it is so well-preserved, yet would you venture to adapt it back to the screen or perhaps let someone else direct it someday?

SD: Well, Working Title are obviously very keen now to think about a movie version of it because of the success of this live event, but whether we will ever actually do it or not I don't know - we are certainly having conversations now.

PC: Were you thrilled to see it hit #1 at the UK box office?

SD: I know! Can you believe that?!

PC: Anytime Ruthie Henshall is made a top box office star you know you've done something right!

SD: [Laughs.] Right!

PC: Did you ever consider adjusting the entrances and exits through the audience at the beginning at the end of the show for the film? Also, is the boy at the beginning meant to represent Billy?

SD: No, that's not meant to be Billy - it's just a small boy. Just a little kid that's left there. Billy leaves at the end, though, of course. But, to answer your other question, yeah - we always wanted to keep them coming through; we didn't want to change that. We always wanted to remind the audience and make sure that you understood that it was an actual live event, but actually cutting into it to make sure that, you know, it didn't always feel like they were watching through the portal of the proscenium.

PC: Opening it up, but with always with a particular dramatic focus.

SD: Yes, exactly - actually getting into the them all; getting into the characters and staying close to Billy.

PC: About as close as one can get, in this case.

SD: You probably have all of these statistics, but I think the kid playing Billy - Elliott Hanna - is actually the youngest kid ever, worldwide, to play the part.

PC: He's the youngest of the 26 onstage at the end, then?!

SD: Yes, he is - and, remember, worldwide, there have been more than 75, too!

PC: How old is he in real life? He is talented far beyond his years.

SD: Elliott is just 11.

PC: Wow.

SD: I know - I know. It's just amazing that an 11-year-old can do that, isn't it?!

PC: "Electricity" is so brilliantly staged and such a perfect song for its vital moment in the show. What was your first memory of hearing that song? Did Elton send you a demo?

SD: Yeah, actually - you've got it. It was a demo. You know, I think that I first heard it... [Pause.] I remember I was in my kitchen and Elton had just started plugging away writing it and he rang me rather excitedly after he was fiddling around on the piano and said, "I think I've got something that you should listen to now." So, I put him on speakerphone while I was cooking dinner.

PC: And, what a full-course meal it was!

SD: [Laughs.] Yes, it was.

PC: Was there any particular moment you guided into being musicalized or a moment you felt had to be expressed in song?

SD: I'm trying to think. Hmm. You see, what I always loved so much about the score is that it is such a tribute - it uses so many working class traditions; from anthems to ballads to vaudeville. I mean, I just love the diversity of it - and, I thought it was something really special. I loved that each number was always so different to the last. It never felt like you were stuck in one world - it was actually exploring every world, every musical world, that in fact is explored by the real characters in the real situation in the story.

PC: Both fantastical and realistic simultaneously.

SD: I'm trying to remember, but I'm sorry that I can't remember now which song was written first, but I do know that as soon as I heard that anthem at the end as the men go back to work that it was just so, so emotionally brilliant and devastating and wonderful.

PC: Without any question.

SD: Each number is just so fantastic, though - the score goes on from there.

PC: "Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher" is a new holiday showstopper waiting to happen. Have you seen anyone do it yet around the holidays?

SD: Jeez, what a good idea - and a good question. But, sadly, no, I have not.

PC: Did Margaret Thatcher ever see the show as far as you know? Was she ever invited?

SD: No. Margaret Thatcher never saw the show. But, I will tell you, the Queen of England saw the show.

PC: No way!

SD: Yes. She came privately and she came unannounced, but she had been invited. Of course, everyone was fascinated about her reaction to that song since there have been stories about a certain level of which they did not get on - whether it's true or not, who knows?!

PC: Actual history meets drama head-on.

SD: Certainly, as you have probably heard, there was a great debate on the day that Margaret Thatcher died on whether we should include the song on the actual day she died. In the end, we put it to a vote to the audience - we told them what the song included and asked the audience whether they wanted to hear it and we put it to a vote.

PC: What was the final result?

SD: Actually, 99% of the audience said, "No, we want to hear it," even though it was a song about Margaret Thatcher dying, on the day that she actually died.

PC: Speaking of that number, one of the many coup de theatres of the production occur during it - how did the idea for the gigantic puppet come about? Set designer Ian MacNeil?

SD: I can't remember now, to be totally honest, how we came up with the puppet. Now that I am thinking about it, though, I think it was me, actually. I think I said, "How about we have a little puppet show earlier on and then we'll have another at the end?" but I can't be totally sure about that.

PC: It certainly dovetails brilliantly with the outsized dresses that dance with the boys during "Individuality".

SD: That's right - yes. They are both sort of pantomime - the use of pantomime was in the story anyway, which is a very working class tradition.

PC: Another brilliant stage image is the spinning chair effect - which actually elicits a round of applause in the film, as a matter of fact. How did that idea come to be?

SD: Definitely [choreographer] Peter Darling - it's all Peter Darling.

PC: On the topic of Peter Darling, did you work closely with him on the integration of the police into the ballet school during "Solidarity" and some of the complex musical staging...

SD: Of course.

PC: Then you didn't hand over any of the dance-heavy songs to him to stage, as some directors do?

SD: No, not at all.

PC: Would you say it was a close collaboration then?

SD: Oh, yes. We did several workshops over about a year just trying to work out all of those different numbers - yeah.

PC: It's so well-integrated and moves so smoothly in the context of the show itself. Were you heavily involved with the editing of the film as it was being shown?

SD: Do you mean the live broadcast, as well?

PC: Of course.

SD: Yes. What you're seeing this week is essentially something that was broadcast live from the theater.

PC: Did you post-edit that cut a bit for the Fathom release? You have had a few weeks to tweak it - is it exactly the same, would you say?

SD: Not exactly. We fiddled around with it a bit - of course, we removed all of the shots that we obviously thought were terrible. But, actually, what you're seeing is basically what was broadcast - we didn't do much massaging at all, believe it or not.

PC: Having done THE AUDIENCE and SKYLIGHT as Fathom Events before this, did you find it was a natural progression to do a more technically complex production such as BILLY ELLIOT?

SD: It was very useful having done it before - yes. This was my first musical broadcast, so it was very useful having done it before with those.

PC: Given BILLY ELLIOT is set to be released on Blu-ray and DVD later this year, would you consider releasing THE AUDIENCE and/or SKYLIGHT as well or is that not possible for legal reasons?

SD: Honestly, I don't think that those are contracted, so they can be released on DVD. I mean, it's interesting, though - they have been unspeakably popular; THE AUDIENCE, SKYLIGHT and now BILLY ELLIOT. If I could, I would, but I don't think it is legally possible - I think they were both just contracted to be those live performances and that's it.

PC: What are your thoughts on both of those plays first appearing stateside via Fathom and National Theatre Live before they come to Broadway? Would you consider unveiling a musical that way in the future?

SD: Well, I think that you'll find that the popularity of them here is just extraordinary - it really allows the work to get into communities and allows people to see them who otherwise would never have access to them at all. I think that you'll find it is a growing business in the States, as well. So, yes - I think we'll be seeing a lot more of it.

PC: When BILLY ELLIOT was being developed 12 years ago, movie musicals were just coming back - CHICAGO had just been released. Now, we have 4 major movie musicals being released within 6 months - JERSEY BOYS, ANNIE, INTO THE WOODS and THE LAST FIVE YEARS. What are your thoughts on the new era and would you approach a full-out movie musical much differently do you think?

SD: Well, I think that the most important question of all is: who are you singing to? [Laughs.]

PC: Touche! What a provocative and illuminating answer!

SD: To answer you honestly, though, I am very excited about seeing Rob Marshall's INTO THE WOODS. I am really, really looking forward to it.

PC: On that note, is there a Sondheim property that particularly appeals to you that you would like to commit to film someday?

SD: [Pause.] I've always been dying to direct PACIFIC OVERTURES.

PC: What an event that would be - particularly a film!

SD: I'd love to do it.

PC: It's still early, but Stephen Schwartz recently did this column (available here) and confirmed progress is being made on the WICKED film and he also recently said you were the director of choice - alas, you can't tell me anything official yet on that, can you?

SD: No, nothing yet... except: I looove working with Stephen Schwartz and I looove working with Winnie Holzman. I mean, I just love them - love them.

PC: The youth demographic has become a formidable force in theatre and film marketing today, particularly in regards to musicals like BILLY ELLIOT and WICKED and their considerable success around the world. Do you think they are a vital group to target?

SD: That's true. Yes. And, I mean, look at how powerful WICKED has become within that age group, too - it's just a phenomena!

PC: To say the very least.

SD: I think that's really exciting.

PC: You directing a WICKED film would be the perfect fit, obviously.

SD: And, I just made TRASH - my new film - for that audience, as well. So, I think the world of younger audiences is very important - I mean, I've got kids who are growing up and I want to make works for them. So, yes, that is something that I am fascinated with right now - undoubtedly.

PC: Have you seen GLEE and the live TV musicals that are becoming more popular in the States?

SD: Well, I don't know enough about them to comment on them accurately, I'm afraid. I need to watch more TV. [Laughs.]

PC: THE SOUND OF MUSIC LIVE! last year, PETER PAN LIVE! next month and both GREASE and A FEW GOOD MEN are happening next year, so would you be open to directing a live TV event such those? The BILLY ELLIOT Fathom Event is sort of a similar idea in a way, especially since it was filmed and broadcast live first.

SD: That's right! It is! [Pause. Sighs.] But, gosh, that's a hell of a lot of work! [Big Laugh.]

PC: BILLY ELLIOT in movie theaters, your new movie TRASH getting rave reviews leading up to its upcoming release as well as THE AUDIENCE and SKYLIGHT coming to Broadway and a brand new production of THE AUDIENCE in the West End...

SD: It's a busy time! [Laughs.]

PC: Do you sleep?! Honestly, how do you do it all?

SD: Actually, we're sitting around right now doing pre-production on the Netflix TV series that I am doing next - THE CROWN. That's actually what we are busy doing right now, on top of everything else.

PC: What can you tell us about THE CROWN? Peter Morgan will be writing the script, yes?

SD: Yes, it's written by Peter Morgan. We will be sending out a new press release about it this week, actually. It's a big TV series - it's huge. Huge.

PC: Lastly, I have to add that A NUMBER and FAR AWAY are two of my favorite plays of all time. Would you ever consider adapting either or both into feature films?

SD: Gosh, what a good question! [Pause. Sighs.] To be honest, I've never thought about adapting the two as films. Goodness me - I've never even thought about it until right now. I'd have to put some time to think about that before I can respond, Pat!

PC: It would certainly be tricky, in both cases.

SD: I mean, I always thought they were theatrical metaphors, really, but maybe they could work as filmic metaphors... I don't know. I think that the metaphors between theatre and film usually work somewhat differently, don't they?

PC: They can.

SD: Yeah, so I'm not quite sure! I'm not quite sure. I have to think about it before I can answer correctly.

PC: 15 years later, are we seemingly heading into a FAR AWAY society, do you think [the allegorical play depicts a dystopian future in which humans are slaughtered en masse by the government, involving elaborate hat parades, with nature having declared war on itself]?

SD: [Sighs.] Oh, God! I know! I know. It's just terrible, isn't it?!

PC: And now to BILLY ELLIOT...

SD: [Laughs.] Right?! I know - it's all coming against us now!

PC: This was absolutely exceptional today, Stephen - you truly can do it all, and do it all so brilliantly. Thank you so much.

SD: Oh, thank you so much, Pat! Thank you for being so warm and kind and generous to me. I really appreciate it. Bye bye.

Photo Credits: Fathom, Walter McBride, Universal, etc.

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