Indie filmmaker Matt Brown recently directed Freud’s Last Session, based on the stage play of the same name. It’s a thought-provoking film that envisions an intriguing fictional encounter between two intellectual giants, Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis, portrayed by the legendary Sir Anthony Hopkins and the talented Matthew Goode, respectively.
The play itself draws its inspiration from Armand M. Nicholi’s renowned book, The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex and the Meaning of Life, effectively encapsulating the essence of the film’s storyline.
In a candid conversation with Casting Networks, Brown —who previously directed The Man Who Knew Infinity starring Jeremy Irons and Dev Patel— delves into the intricacies of casting his lead actors, collaborating with his trusted casting director and the unique experience of directing one of the greatest living actors in the industry today.
Your film is about two very famous figures in history. How do you begin to assemble actors to play historical figures Freud and C.S. Lewis?
I go with the best actor. Looks matter to a degree but I think it’s trying to find the right actor. Casting the role of Freud, there were a ton of actors we could have considered. You always have that one actor who is your dream casting. Very rarely has it been my experience that that dream comes true.
How did you get Anthony Hopkins for that role?
Anthony Hopkins is a very, very special person, actor, musician and painter. He’s just a genius. We tried to get him. He read the script but was in the midst of shooting The Father and politely passed. Then I did some more work on the script and came back to him about a year and a half later, maybe two years later. For whatever reason, he decided this time to engage. I felt like I won the lottery.
What about Matthew Goode as C.S. Lewis?
I was looking at pictures of C.S. Lewis, which goes back to what you said about looks. C.S. Lewis looked so much different in his late thirties than he did as we know him historically later in life, which was a chubby bald man. But he drank, smoked many cigarettes and had a lot of trauma and PTSD. So, he aged rather poorly. I don’t mean to be offensive to somebody who’s long gone, but he didn’t age well.
In your film, this is C.S. Lewis before the effects of aging.
He was quite dashing and handsome when he was in his twenties and thirties and he actually looked a bit like Matthew. So that was in our favor. But again, it goes back to trying to find the best actor. Matthew’s somebody that I’ve been tracking and following. During the pandemic, I watched his vampire show with my wife, Discovery of Witches —every single episode of it.
That’s where he’s a vampire who teams up with a witch to fend off creatures?
It wasn’t my kind of show necessarily, but I was like, “This guy is so good.” I’d been watching him for years, but I felt like I lived with him through the pandemic. So I was like, “Can we please go to Matthew Goode?” Miracle of miracles, he said yes! I got an incredible twosome with Mathew and Anthony.
Who was your casting director to fill out the rest of the roles?
Reg Poerscout-Edgerton in London. I worked with Reg on My last film, The Man Who Knew Infinity. With Freud’s Last Session, we were looking for those kinds of actors that really could go deep with this. Like, casting Anna Freud. I watched [the TV series] Babylon Berlin and I had been saying, I wanted to work with Liv Lisa Fries. We had to balance the name game, which often happens on an independent film, but I got lucky and we got her in.
What’s your relationship like with your casting director?
The thing is about casting directors – and it’s really unfair for them in many ways — they’re doing the role of a producer. I see this on films I’m developing. They’re asked to go and perform miracles and deliver that A-list actor. There’s no money to offer them [during development]. It’s “Can you get that person and maybe we’ll pay you a pittance.” It’s not fair.
I really encourage the producers I work with to hire the casting director early. It’s important they are paid for their work because it’s a lot of work! As far as Reg and I go, I only want to do movies with him and [casting director] Lillie Jeffrey, his wife. She’s amazing.
When you work with Reg and Lillie, at what point do you bring them on?
I send them everything, ask them to read it and start coming up with their ideas of who they think would be in it. Not to think about the money-name game [imposed by financiers], even though it’s always in the back of their heads.
Most of my work is in the independent realm and foreign sales matter, but we think about it in terms of balance. Like, if we have this actor, then maybe we can have that actor. That’s how it worked with Liv on this film. It was like, we have Tony, so now we have the space to have Liv. It’s always a balancing act.
When do you personally start watching tapes, reading people, etc.?
Not until the movie’s really going. I would love to do it sooner. But, on a film I am developing now, one of the approaches I did was to meet with a ton of actors ahead of time. I did about 40 meetings. Sometimes that’ll happen if the casting directors are brought on properly and they’re paid and do their jobs. On Freud’s, it was all a bit later. We were really focused on casting the first five main roles. Then we were doing meetings and watching tapes.
Okay, so please dish on Sir Anthony Hopkins. What was it like to work with him? What’s his process or method?
He and I were engaged for months leading up to this film, working and talking every day. The amount of preparation he put in was astounding. I think people take (his talent) for granted. He’s an actor that prepares and wants you to be involved and have a vision. It’s not, ‘Hey Tony, go off and do this and then we’ll film it.’ I guess you could, but it’d be a very different movie.
He’s somebody that wants to engage with you. Other actors might not, so you let them do what they need to do. But I think Tony enjoys that interaction. He is so special. There are levels of special and then there is Hopkins. He is on another planet floating around.
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