Richard Curtis, Paul Mayhew-Archer, Judi Dench, Dustin Hoffman, Hilary Bevan Jones and Dearbhla Walsh on translating Esio Trot for the screen
Esio Trot comes to BBC One this coming New Year's Day, 1 January 2015, at 6.30pm.
We caught up with the cast and creative team to find out how this less well-known Roald Dahl story made its way from page to screen...
"I was visiting Richard Curtis one afternoon and he had just finished reading Esio Trot to his youngest son. He told me that it was such a sweet story that we should make it as a film for television. I immediately bought the book and devoured it. I phoned him the same day to tell him we had to make it into a film! That moment was around five years ago. We approached Paul Mayhew Archer to write it with Richard Curtis. Once we had a clear idea of how we wanted to adapt Esio Trot, we went to the BBC and saw Matthew Read (Commissioning Editor) and Ben Stephenson (Controller Of Drama) and they commissioned a script from us. We were delighted to have it green-lit and the rest is history!"
"Roald Dahl is one of the most read out loud authors in my house; the family love Boy and I’ve read The Witches numerous times to my children. In my opinion, Roald Dahl is this generation’s version of Charles Dickens. There is something completely extraordinary and unique about him as a writer.
It never occurred to me that I might one day adapt a Roald Dahl story, but after reading it to my youngest son, it struck me that this was a perfect romantic comedy. Not only that, it was about an older generation which I had been interested in writing about for a long time... In a funny way, Esio Trot is the film I always wanted to write about my parents. They loved each other since they were in their twenties and were very happy, but it made me wonder about the people who didn’t find love until a lot later in life."
"No one had been cast when I started work on the film, but we always had Judi Dench in my mind to play Mrs Silver. When Hilary rang to tell me she had been cast, we were both jumping for joy! Dustin Hoffman came to mind because there is something so warm and engaging about him. When you meet Dustin, he is quite a shy man so he is much more like Mr Hoppy than you would imagine. They both must get sent so many scripts to choose from, but they must have connected with the characters. It’s a last chance love story about hope and being happy."
"Mrs Silver is a retired mid-wife who lives in a block of flats with her pet tortoise Alfie, whom she adores but is worried about how small he is. After she strikes up a relationship with Mr Hoppy (Dustin Hoffman), romance and tortoises blossom. Although she is quite a dotty woman who seems to not notice her tortoise grows massively in an unbelievably short time!"
"Sometimes when you take apart a character, you know more of what you don’t want to do than what you do. I knew I didn’t want to play a “character” like the one in the book. I didn’t want Mr Hoppy to be British because I am terrible at accents and the audience would be aware that they were watching a performance. I began to think about what my life would be like if I hadn’t become successful? What if I didn’t have a partner to live my life with? It isn’t a big jump in the imagination to see yourself living alone like Mr Hoppy."
"When I started working on the script, I saw it as a charming little love story. Somehow Dustin and Judi have turned it into an epic romance. One day a publicist came on set and watched Dustin do a monologue and was wiping tears out of her eyes by the end of it. To elicit that emotion from a single take really proves their ability to convey emotion; there is a real sense that this is Mr Hoppy and Mrs Silver’s last chance for love and companionship."
"It’s a device that Richard and Paul cleverly created to tie the story together and to make it feel more magical with the sense that someone is guiding you through the story."
"30 tortoises were used for Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot, most of which were rescue tortoises that had been abandoned. When we selected the tortoise stars, we trained them to make sure they would be happy on a set with strangers - and the tortoises had their own dressing rooms!"
Watch the trailer for Roald Dahl's Esio Trot here.
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