Wash Westmoreland had to laugh when asked how he and Richard Glatzer went from writing and directing their debut film The Fluffer to The Last of Robin Hood, a biopic about Hollywood’s most insatiable fluffee, Errol Flynn.
“I guess the pattern is there is no pattern,” Westmoreland concedes. “Each of our films are completely different. Which is kind of the Ang Lee thing. Everything he does is something you can’t predict. I think that’s a great model to follow.”
A handful of TV documentaries and video shorts separate their first and second film, Quinceañera, a comedy about pregnant teenager nervously facing the celebration of her 15th birthday. It’s been seven years since the duo last directed a commercial feature, and the one thing this Robin Hood and Quinceañera have in common is the age of their female characters.
Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning) was 15 when she and Flynn (Kevin Kline) began their relationship, much to the approval of her starry-eyed stage mother Florence (Susan Sarandon). It could be the most entertaining film ever made on the subject of statutory rape. (Publicists, please feel free to quote me in any and all advertising.)
The film opens Friday, September 5 at Landmarks La Jolla Village Cinemas. We spoke via telephone. Glatzer has ALS and used an iPad to communicate through Westmoreland.
Scott Marks: Which Flynn films in particular did you consult during your research?
Wash Westmoreland: Aside from the classics — Captain Blood, The Adventures of Robin Hood — what really interested us were the late-period Flynn movies that were taking place at the same time as our story. The Sun Also Rises gave us a good key into the character. Also, Too Much, Too Soon, which was a biopic about John Barrymore that he was making at the time he met Beverly. Then his final film, Cuban Rebel Girls, which is featured within our movie. We really focused on the late films, which are not as well known.
We also looked at some of his late television appearances that are quite revelatory as well. And Richard also wanted to throw in Roots of Heaven, which is also mentioned in our film. That was another great reference point for his character.
SM: What was the name of the 16mm short that Flynn shot on his boat? It’s on The Adventures of Robin Hood supplementary disc.
WW: Oh...yes...I know the one you’re talking about...Cruise of the Zaca, which Flynn made in 16mm.
SM: There is one shot in the film where we see the actual Errol Flynn.
The Last of Robin Hood Official Trailer #1
WW: I’m glad you spotted that. That’s taken from unlicensed footage that we managed to get ahold of. At that point, we wanted Kevin’s performance and his portrayal of Flynn to be so close that most audience members wouldn’t notice.
SM: You both receive “thanks” on the HBO version of Mildred Pierce. How much of an influence did Todd Haynes have on Robin Hood? He seems a logical fit for this material.
WW: Todd has been a great mentor and influence for both of us for many years, and a very good friend. He really helped get Last of Robin Hood rolling. We wouldn’t be here without Todd Haynes. He introduced us to Christine Vachon and Pam Koffler at Killer Films, and they went on to produce Robin Hood. We worked with them for years getting it going. Todd is just a wonderful, creatively generous person. His own projects are so brilliantly realized, but he brings that same intensity of focus to your project, too.
When we were in the editing room he was a really great sounding board for developing and arriving at the final cut. He gave us frame-accurate notes. He’s like a dream creative godfather. And Richard wanted you to know that all we did on Mildred Pierce was say, “Bravo!” (Laughter.)
In Far From Heaven, Richard actually had quite an influence on one of the scenes. When Dennis Quaid is talking to Julianne Moore about what’s happened with his love affair with a guy, Richard advised Todd never to use the word homosexuality. It just wouldn’t be spoken of in that era, and Todd took the word out. Removing the obvious word, having it not be said, made that scene all the more powerful.
SM: The joke goes if there was no Errol Flynn, Hollywood would have invented one. Agree or disagree?
WW: I don’t know. He had such a unique story. I think Hollywood seized on what Errol Flynn was, in his youth and his life, and made him famous. I don’t know whether the archetype existed before the man. No, I don’t think there would’ve been an Errol Flynn without Errol Flynn. He was too much of an idiosyncratic mix of elements. They would’ve had another action hero, but he never could’ve been as nonconformist as Flynn.
SM: This isn’t a case of the two of you concocting a story made up of whole cloth. The situations are real, but there is no way that anyone was privy to the scenes between Errol and Beverly or Errol and Florence. Beverly Aadland must have been a great help when it came to reconstructing the dialogue.
WW: We became friends with her in 2003. For the last seven years of her life, we would visit her regularly. She had an incredible memory recall. Certain scenes in the script came almost verbatim from her account of how they went. As far as capturing Flynn’s voice, we turned to My Wicked, Wicked Ways, which he wrote during this period of his life. It doesn’t feel like an overly processed autobiography. It feels almost like this is how he spoke. There’s almost an unedited flow of consciousness feel to it.
We also got to know Tedd Thomey. He co-wrote The Big Love with Florence. He also alluded to the existence of the “Aadland tapes,” which were the original recordings of Florence. It took many years to track those down, and it wasn’t until after Beverly passed away that her husband found the shoebox in the bottom of their closet that had the original recordings. We could listen to those and hear Florence’s real voice. We put them on an iPod for Susan. Before coming onset she could listen to Florence’s voice in her trailer.
SM: Florence Aadland was quite a character, a feisty, one-legged stage mother whose 15-year-old daughter comes equipped with a forged birth certificate. She’s a cross between the suffocating Maureen Stapleton in Bye, Bye Birdie and Baby Jane Hudson.
WW: She’s a character with a capital “C.” That’s what we love about her. She was extreme in every way. Speaking of Baby Jane, did you know that Robert Aldrich tried to make The Big Love into a movie called The Greatest Mother of Them All, starring Bette Davis? You were pretty close.
SM: Why did you assign narration duty to Florence?
WW: Because her voice is so fascinating. She’s the one with her nose pressed against the glass wanting to get into the party. We thought it was a new way of looking at fame that said a lot about the absence of morality in Hollywood and the permission that fame allows for people to behave badly.
SM: Very well stated. It would have been fascinating to see Flynn take on Humbert Humbert in Kubrick’s Lolita.
WW: It absolutely would have. That meeting is real. It is not concocted.
SM: You even cast Errol Flynn’s grandson in the role of Kline’s rival. How did that happen?
WW: We had been in touch with (his daughter) Rory about the project. Close to the time of shooting she asked if there’d be a part for (grandson) Sean. We immediately looked him up and found that he’s really a talented young actor. And wouldn’t it be perfect to work with him in the role of this young fellow in Cuba who Beverly goes up in the motorbike with? In real life, the guy with the motorbike was in Jamaica. He was the guy who ran Island Records. I’m drawing a blank...Chris Blackwell. Anyway, they went off on a motorbike and Flynn got very jealous. We thought, Who better to play this role than Flynn’s real life grandson? Sean got along so well with Kevin that he felt that he finally met his grandfather, which is a great compliment.