Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Spall Studied Painting for 2 Years to Take on Titular Character in 'Mr. Turner'

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Spall Studied Painting for 2 Years to Take on Titular Character in 'Mr. Turner'

Article excerpt

'Mr. Turner' years in the making for Leigh


TORONTO - When acclaimed filmmaker Mike Leigh was 14, he plastered postcards of Picasso on his wall and immersed himself in surrealism and the work of Salvador Dali.

He most certainly wasn't obsessed with the subject of his new film, J.M.W. Turner, noting that he associated the Romantic landscape painter with "chocolate boxes and biscuit tins."

"When I was a teenager, I don't think I really thought about Turner," Leigh said during an interview at September's Toronto International Film Festival. "I don't think I really appreciated Turner until I was at art school in the '60s ... and then once you start visiting the London galleries you kind of start to look at Turner as part of your culture."

Opening on Christmas Day, Leigh's "Mr. Turner" has already been garnering Oscar buzz for Timothy Spall, who plays the titular character as a grunting, emotionally detached oddball. Co-starring Dorothy Atkinson and Marion Bailey, it also depicts Turner's conflicted relationship with critics and art buyers, who frequently misunderstood Turner's work.

To Leigh, the material was irresistible.

"There hasn't been a feature film about Turner and I thought it was a good idea to make one for that reason," he said. "But also ... the tension between this flawed eccentric but passionate individual and the sublime epic nature of what he created ... was in itself potentially fascinating."

The director -- whose long list of film credits includes "Secrets and Lies" and "Another Year" -- is known for his unique movie-making method, which usually involves casting from a trusted stable of actors and developing a script through months of improvisation.

But like 1999's "Topsy Turvy," the historical epic "Mr. Turner" required a bit more planning.

"Obviously this film has been a long-term project," said Leigh. "I've obviously been a Turner fan for a long time. And then after I made 'Topsy Turvy' I got the idea that Turner was maybe an interesting subject."

Spall's participation also proved to be a long-term endeavour. The actor, known as Wormtail in the Harry Potter movies, studied painting for two years to prepare for the role. …

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