BFI Film Event ~ The Southbank, London
8th Oct 2007
This event was a screening of Withnail and I followed by a panel discussion that was recorded for Radio 4, with Sue McGregor asking questions of Bruce Robinson (the director), Richard E Grant (Withnail), Ralph Brown (Danny) and Paul (the 'I' of the title).
It was a wonderful evening. Paul was charming and funny, and obviously enjoying himself. The audience clearly enjoyed seeing the film on the big screen once again and were laughing throughout.
Sue McGregor had interviewed Richard Griffiths a few days beforehand, and his comments were played in on audiotape from time to time during the chat. Comments and reminiscences were also played in from various members of the crew. At intervals they showed wonderful photographs taken during filming by Murray Close on the screen behind the panel. More of these photos are still on display in the NFT as part of the 20th anniversary celebrations, and they are great, well worth seeing.
The interview was very entertaining. It did go on a little long (and I think some of the panel were very hungry as they hadn't eaten before the event which started at 6.30!), but everyone understood the BBC needed to sort the technical side out and re-record some bits. They will of course edit it down for the radio transmission.
During the interview we learned how the key characters had been cast, and some of the other actors who had been considered who didn't get the parts (eg Kenneth Branagh and Bill Nighy both read for Withnail). Paul and Bruce laughed about how Paul had been hired the minute he walked in the room, but was then sacked and (thankfully!) quickly rehired by Bruce in the space of the first week.
Paul said this was the first time he had watched the film and been able to truly enjoy it as a movie, appreciating it from the movie-goers perspective rather than as though he were looking back through a set of 'picture postcards' with each scene reminding him of where they'd been and what had happened on and off set that day.
Richard E Grant - a famous tee-totaller - revealed how Bruce had made him get hideously drunk during rehearsals so he would have a chemical memory of how it felt both being drunk and suffering the aftermath.
Richard and Paul explained what had happened to their famous coats. At a charity auction, Danny Baker bought Paul's and Chris Evans bought Richard's, only to trash it shortly afterwords by wearing it whilst lawnmowing - it caught in the mower and was ripped apart!
Ralph desribed how he'd turned up for his audition as Danny the drug dealer dressed and made up for the part, and how it was Bruce's idea to introduce Danny's famous rolled r into his vocal performance.
During his audio interview extracts, Richard Griffiths said lovely things about how he'd been so impressed by Paul who at the time was obviously appearing in his first feature film, and he told us what fond memories he had of the cast, crew and the film in general. It was interesting to hear how Bruce had encouraged him not to 'camp up' Uncle Monty for laughs, but to play it as realistically as possible and allow the script and situations to generate the comedy.
Bruce Robinson himself was very entertaining, astonishing us with stories of how much the producers had wanted to change so much of the film from the script to the lighting, as they simply didn't get it and were so worried it would fail. Bruce even resorted to surreptitiously shooting some of the scenes they'd removed from the script, so that he could put them back during the edit later. Thankfully he succeeded, and his judgment has been proved to be right by the film being so well-loved and successful, but it caused him and the cast a lot of stress at the time.
Fortunately, they all agreed they'd had a marvellous time making it and were very proud and happy to have been involved. They were also very grateful to all the talented and dedicated crew.