Colin Callender is busy to say the least. He’s just arrived in LA for a Starz FYC Emmys event to talk about Howards End, after that he’s flying back to New York. Aside from Howards End, Callender brought us Little Women on Masterpiece starring Angela Lansbury. People! She doesn’t have an Emmy yet! How is this possible?
Callender talked to Jazz Tangcay recently to discuss the contemporary feel of the classic, Howards End and what struck him about the book.
Read our chat below and consider both Howards End and Little Women in your Emmy voting.
What made you decide to visit Howards End in 2017?
I heard that the rights were free. Two producers Joshua D. Maurer and David Stern had been doing some excavating and they found the rights were free and wondered if I was interested in producing it. I actually went off to re-read the book. I had read it first in university and now being older with two teenage daughters, the story of Margaret and Helen really resonated with me and I was struck by it. I became interested in the story of the two sisters and that story that was at the heart of the drama. I thought that their journey, these two single-minded, independent women trying to make their way in a man’s world had a real resonance and had a very contemporary feel about it. That’s why I thought it would be interesting to revisit the story and book. People can talk about dealing with change and the social classes in England, but what Kenneth Lonergan has done, all those elements are part of his story, but the heart of his story is the tale of two sisters and how they depend on each other. It’s also about how men in their lives pull them apart and bring them back together again and it’s something I find very compelling. In the movie, Henry and Margaret are the two central characters, I feel in this adaptation, it’s Margaret and Helen who are the central characters. I think that in part is what makes it feel very engaging, emotional and fun, but also that’s why it felt so fresh and contemporary.
That was fun to see because it’s not something we see too often on TV.
That’s what four hours allows you to do. I also think, you see the sisters, but also the other characters grow up over the course of the four hours and I think that’s wonderful.
Was that what made you want to do it as a series rather than another movie?
I wouldn’t have done it as a two-hour movie. I think when you do a single movie you have to adhere to what is dictated and inevitability you have to let things go. The beauty of doing a series with a few hours is that you can spend time with all the characters and you can invest in the relationships in a way that you can’t quite in the same way over a single drama and that was at the heart in the reason to redo them.
Kenneth was fantastic, what made him the right person for this?
We heard he might be interested. He had re-read the book and came back to me. He said he loved it and said, “I think there are some things in it that might not quite work on screen.” He felt that he would have to maybe create more scenes or dig deeply into the characters and look for things that maybe we implicit in the book but weren’t stated. He felt that wasn’t an appropriate thing for him to do. I said the reverse and that he’d be brilliant at it because the very things he felt were needed were what made him the perfect person. The end result is on the screen.
Let’s talk briefly about Little Women. Angela Lansbury was such a great addition to the cast. Can she please get an Emmy!?
I am so keen to try to get her an Emmy. It was simply extraordinary on set because on one end of the scale we had Maya Hawke who is 19-years-old in her very first screen role, straight out of Juilliard and on the other end, we have Angela who is 92-years-old and as fit and as sassy and as smart and is as on the ball as ever. We should all be like that. She has aged so elegantly and with such dignity. She was a joy to work with and it was fun to see them working together.
The TV landscape has changed over time. How has that changed for you and having more options?
I think there are more options, but I think there’s a certain sort of literary adaptation and I don’t think it’s the core business of those new platforms. They’ve adapted a few books, but I’m not sure that this sort of classic adaptation is the world of Netflix or Hulu or Amazon. They do offer many new opportunities, I don’t think there are many opportunities for this sort of book.
You’re also doing Broadway with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
I have always wanted to produce on Broadway. Nora Ephron had written a script for Sony and they had it in turnaround. She brought it to me and I called her and told her it was a play, not a movie. She wasn’t sure and at the time, she was in the middle of Julie & Julia. She called me a while after and said she had actually turned it into a play and asked if I wanted to read it. That’s how I got into producing on Broadway. It was a glorious play about this very provocative journalist. Tom Hanks ended up playing the role in Lucky Guy, but tragically during the course of producing it, Nora died, but it was a wonderful experience.
What do you want to conquer out there Colin?
I have a wife and family who live in New York and I’d like to see them at some point. [laughs] King Lear is up next with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. He is extraordinary in the role, wait until you see that.