Film News South Africa

Subscribe

Elections 2024

Ebrahim Harvey responds to our last video with him.

Ebrahim Harvey responds to our last video with him.

sona.co.za

Advertise your job ad
    Search jobs

    Danny Collins is most definitely your man!

    Al Pacino astounds as Danny Collins, an ageing rock star who receives a life-changing letter and decides to find out what his life could have been like.

    Filled with pathos, humour and heartfelt passion, this inspiring film from writer-director Dan Fogelman shows how important it is to embrace a second chance in life.

    Following the journey of an almost-has-been wannabe, Pacino captivates in every second with great support from the magnanimous Christopher Plummer as his endearing friend and long-time manager, Bobby Cannavale (Blue Jasmine, Boardwalk Empire) as his son, and the sparkling Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right, American Beauty) as the woman who steals his heart.

    Danny Collins sizzles in the hands of writer-director Fogelman, who delighted us with his screenplays of The Guilt Trip and Crazy, Stupid Love.

    A few years ago, writer, producer and director Dan Fogelman heard an extraordinary story that captured his attention and just wouldn't let go. In 1971, he learned, fledgling folk musician and songwriter Steve Tilston had just released his successful first album: 'An Acoustic Confusion'. During an interview with a small music publication called Zig Zag, a reporter ventured the opinion that Tilston could be the next big thing on the music scene.

    Danny Collins is most definitely your man!

    The dreams of avarice

    "I was asked that if I received wealth and fame beyond the dreams of avarice, would it affect my song-writing?" remembers Tilston. "And being a kind of pretentious, precocious young songwriter, I said: 'Well, yes it would. It would have a very detrimental effect.' The article ran and I thought no more about it."

    In the ensuing four decades, Tilston went on to become a celebrated songwriter and musician, and a fixture on the contemporary folk-music scene. "He supported himself with his music for more than four decades," says Fogelman. "He never sold out. He stayed true to himself."

    Then in 2005 Tilston received an astonishing communication from a memorabilia collector in America who had purchased a letter addressed to Steve Tilston and wanted to authenticate it. The letter was from one of Tilston's personal heroes: ex- Beatle John Lennon.

    Lennon, it seems, had read the article in Zig Zag and wanted to assure Tilston that one could be rich and famous and still be true to oneself, saying: "Being rich doesn't change your experiences in the way you think."

    So whadya think of that?

    "It's quite a friendly letter," says Tilston. "It's not in any way castigating me for having these feelings. And then he asked me in the last sentence: 'So whadya think of that?' and included his home phone number."

    What, thought Fogelman, might have been different about Tilston's career and life if he and Lennon had connected? He decided to track down Tilston and find out what the musician's perspective on that question was.

    "Who could say?" Tilston says now. "Life is full of 'what ifs'. It would have been fascinating to have met him. We might have hit it off. Or he might have taken an instant dislike to me and shown me the door."

    Even so, Fogelman's imagination kept him wondering what might have been. "I couldn't stop thinking about what would have happened if things had gone a different way," he says.

    "What if he became very famous and very wealthy and very unhappy? This is what happens to Danny Collins, our protagonist, at the beginning of this film."

    Fogelman set to work on a script loosely inspired by Tilston's experience, one in which Danny Collins, who became a musical superstar with an early and beloved hit, receives the letter on his birthday and begins to re-examine his life.

    Danny Collins is most definitely your man!

    A song that gets in your head

    A hugely popular performer with a faithful following, Danny's anthem is a chart-topper called Hey Baby Doll, which he has been forced to sing at every show for 40 years.

    "It's the kind of song that gets in your head and you can't stop humming it," says Fogelman. "Think Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline. When we meet him at the beginning of the film, he is singing that song. He's incredibly wealthy, incredibly famous and incredibly miserable. He is depressed by where his music has taken him. He feels uninspired. Then he gets that letter and he begins to change."

    As he wrote, Fogelman had a very specific picture in his mind of who was going to play the role of Danny. "I always imagined Al Pacino," he says. "It was unreal to me that I was able to send this script to him and that he read it. He was in Merchant of Venice on Broadway and we went backstage to meet him. Suddenly I was hanging out with Al Pacino, asking him to trust me to direct even though I'd never directed anything before. I knew I had to do right by him, which was very stressful."

    Pacino was both delighted and taken aback by Fogelman's offer. "I was the guy he wanted for this-can you believe it?" says Pacino. "He could get a lot of people to play this role, but Dan wanted me and when a director really wants me to play an unexpected part, I have to say, okay already. I did that with The Godfather. Francis Ford Coppola wanted me to play Michael Corleone when nobody else saw me in the role- even me. Here again, Dan saw something in me that would work in this part and I will be eternally grateful to him."

    Pacino was familiar with Fogelman's screenwriting ability through scripts including Tangled, Crazy, Stupid, Love and Last Vegas. "I knew he was a great writer," says the actor. "I learned he can direct, and I've worked with great directors. I'm always a little tentative with first timers, because they're unproven, but there was so much confidence in him. He just had the belief in it right from the start, so I did too."

    Danny Collins is most definitely your man!

    To get whacked and then lauded

    The script didn't disappoint him. "It was written with such heart," says the actor. "That's what I saw when I first read it. If you know Dan, you understand why this script is the way it is. The situation is funny and strange-and I've been there. I know what it's like to just get whacked and then lauded and then whacked again. You feel like you're in a ping-pong match and you're the ball."

    With Pacino on board to play Danny, Fogelman customised the role further. "I tailored this even more specifically for Al once he signed on," says Fogelman. "Things always need to be adjusted for great actors. You have this script that's existed for a while and it's like getting a new car. You think, oh, I didn't realise this car could do that thing."

    The writer-director says the most nerve-wracking moment of his life was the day he screened Danny Collins for Al Pacino. "I made a promise to him and I did my best to keep it, but you never know what somebody's going to like. Al likes to watch a first cut of a movie by himself in a theatre. Nobody was there but him. Waiting was agony and then I got a beautiful email from him. He might have been BS-ing me, but he said that the final scene in the movie is the first time he's ever cried watching one of his own films."

    Pacino says he is as touched by the finished film as he was the first time he read Fogelman's sensitive and affecting screenplay. "If this movie says anything, it's about what it is in life to have somebody, whether it's family or not," the actor says. "That was what moved me and continues to move me. I'm hoping it will affect other people the same way. It's the kind of entertainment you want to share with a group of people. It will speak to you about your own life and your own relationships in a way that really means something."

    Al Pacino is a brilliant choice

    And what does Steve Tilston have to say about the film that was inspired by his missed encounter with John Lennon? "I think the movie is great," he says. "It's very true to life and Al Pacino is a brilliant choice to play that kind of entertainer. From the moment he first appears on screen, you can't take your eyes off him."

    But making a living as musician for almost 45 years is Tilston's idea of true success. "The parallels with my life and Danny Collins' begin and end with the device of the letter," he notes. "I made a decision about the kind of music I wanted to make. I was never remotely interested in becoming a pop singer. I have no regrets about the fact that I didn't become fabulously rich and famous. I've done alright."

    Fogelman says one of his goals for Danny Collins was to make the kind of movie he himself enjoys watching. "It's a movie for adults that will make you laugh and maybe make you cry a little bit," he says. "Every scene, even the heaviest, has moments of humour in it. I like human stories that are about characters and dialogue and family. I love to see people who are getting a second chance. We're making fewer and fewer movies like that nowadays.

    "I also hope that people see this in movie theatres," adds the director. "I wrote it for a sophisticated adult audience that loves the movies I love, the kind that my friends and I complain don't get made anymore. The biggest compliment somebody could pay me would be to simply say: I loved that movie. Nothing more. That they just really enjoyed the two hours they spent in that movie theatre."

    If you are looking for a film you will never forget, Danny Collins is definitely one that will live in your heart long after you have left the cinema.

    Read more about Danny Collins and other new films opening this week at www.writingstudio.co.za

    About Daniel Dercksen

    Daniel Dercksen has been a contributor for Lifestyle since 2012. As the driving force behind the successful independent training initiative The Writing Studio and a published film and theatre journalist of 40 years, teaching workshops in creative writing, playwriting and screenwriting throughout South Africa and internationally the past 22 years. Visit www.writingstudio.co.za
    Let's do Biz