Jon Baird is the Aberdeen-born filmmaker who began his feature career with 2008’s football hooligan tale Cass. He followed it with the ambitious Irvine Welsh adaptation Filth (2013), as well as directing episodes of the Danny Boyle-produced Babylon and the Martin Scorsese-produced Vinyl. He returns to the big screen with Stan & Ollie, a loving tribute to Hollywood comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, starring Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly.
ASFF: The script for Stan & Ollie was written by Jeff Pope. How did you get involved?
JB: Filth and Philomena [which Pope scripted] were out at the same time, and we were bumping into each other at different events. At that point, it was a TV movie for BBC1. It was very different to what the film has turned out like. Then it grew and grew and it became a movie, and BBC Films took it over and then E1 came in and financed the whole thing. But it was very much a TV movie script early on and then it evolved from there.
ASFF: Did Jeff’s involvement automatically mean Steve Coogan – his co-writer on Philomena – was on board to play Stan Laurel?
JB: He wasn’t attached before I was. I had to go and meet him and talk to him about it. I think Steve is very brave and saw this as an opportunity to do something very special, that a lot of comedians would want to do. A lot of people were really interested in doing this.
ASFF: The film fuses Laurel and Hardy’s on-camera bumbling characters with their off-screen personas. How did you direct the actors towards this?
JB: We had a very simple form of direction. I said to the boys: “Think of it as a slide rule. You’ve got Stan and Ollie this end – it’s a hundred percent Stan and Ollie, hundred percent off-screen personas. Then you’ve got Laurel and Hardy at that end and you’ve got hundred percent on-screen personas, but you’re playing them at different levels.” So, for example, the bit where the trunk falls down the stairs, you’re somewhere in the middle – you’ve got to react like Laurel and Hardy would do.
ASFF: The opening tracking shot through the studio is remarkable. Was that in the script?
JB: The original script had nine pages of dialogue, set in the dressing room. Not very cinematic. So we decided to get it up on its legs, and start moving around. The following scene, we were in the studio for the Way Out West dance, so we thought, “Why not just show the journey?” That was the whole idea – to open with something a little bit special. We put a lot of resources behind it. So the producers got their chequebooks out for that one – there are about a hundred extras and all that dressing. That took a lot of doing.
ASFF: Do you feel this is a much more ambitious project than 2013’s Filth?
JB: I’d learned a lot in those four or five years. During those years, I’d got to work with Danny Boyle, I’d got to work with Martin Scorsese. And I learned a lot about filmmaking, about storytelling. And the budget was double what Filth was, which really helps.
Stan & Ollie opens in cinemas on 11 January. For more details, click here.
1. All stills from Stan & Ollie.