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    Bisexual Actor’s Real-life Romance Seen in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

    By Gary M. Kramer–

    Films Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, based on bisexual actor/author Peter Turner’s memoir, recounts his brief but intense relationship with actress Gloria Grahame in Liverpool, in 1979 and 1981. The film, which opens January 12 in San Francisco, has Grahame (Annette Bening) calling Peter (Jamie Bell) and asking if she can come to stay with him after a health issue arises.

    Director Paul McGuigan then flashes back to the couple when they first meet as neighbors in a British boarding house through their May-December romance and her eventual death. McGuigan spoke with me for the San Francisco Bay Times about making Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.

    Gary M. Kramer: How familiar were you with Gloria Grahame before you made this film?

    Paul McGuigan: I didn’t know her; it was just a name. I Googled her and suddenly, I saw her face and I thought: Of course! That’s who it is! I got to watch her movies over again, and fall in love with her again through her films. I knew In a Lonely Place and Crossfire and a few others.

    Gary M. Kramer: You’ve made a series of action films. What caused you to shift gears and film a romance?

    Paul McGuigan
    : Every one of us has met someone they fall in love with and who changed their life. I was fascinated by the silver screen femme fatale aspects. It’s a love story, but it can’t be about an old lady dying in a room. We tried to avoid the sentimentality in some way.

    Gary M. Kramer: Can you talk about your approach to the material?

    Paul McGuigan: Memory is more fluid than cinema allows it to be. It’s about establishing location and time, so I wanted the actors to walk through their memories and to take the audience with them. That was inspired by Peter’s book, and how he approached the writing of it. I liked the style of the book. It’s slim but condensed. My approach to it was always cinematic, but I had to push and heighten it. It was more like a play at times.

    Gary M. Kramer: How did you work with Annette Bening on her portrayal of Grahame? I like that she doesn’t mimic the actress, but just “becomes” her.

    Paul McGuigan: I think that’s interesting, how she approached it. She was interested in the Gloria that Peter knew, not who Gloria was on the screen, when she was acting in other parts. It was important that we didn’t get weighed down having her acting like Grahame. Physically Annette and Gloria are quite similar, and that helped a lot. Annette was interested in speaking with Peter about what she was like, what she drank, etc. She’s a real student of her characters. That’s how she was able to give this beautiful performance without pushing too hard for Gloria to come out. That enabled us to show the real Gloria.

    Gary M. Kramer: What can you say about working with Peter Turner, who has a role in the film? How much input did he have in telling his story?

    Paul McGuigan: Peter was great friends with Barbara Broccoli, who produced the film. She went on a double date with him and Gloria Grahame. Peter was important to us as the oracle of what actually happened. These are the days before the internet, so I was fascinated to see him piecing the bits together of who she was. It’s not a bio, but a love story between two people, one of whom happens to be Gloria Grahame. He said what Gloria was like, not what the film star was like. He adored her and she changed his life forever. 

    Gary M. Kramer: Did Peter work with guiding Jamie Bell on his performance?

    Paul McGuigan: Yes, Jamie and Peter spoke quite a lot. Jamie has his process, but he was happy to have Peter there when he needed him. But Jamie also didn’t want to cloud it too much with what Peter might have done, or said. As an actor, you have to take some control. Peter has been gracious. So, they got on really well. Peter Turner is so happy Jamie Bell played him.

    Gary M. Kramer: In the film, Peter discloses he’s bisexual. Can you talk about that scene?

    Paul McGuigan: Peter is now living as a gay man. That’s an important moment, where he tells Gloria he’s been with men. He didn’t want secrets between them. She was opening up her life; he felt it was the right thing to tell her. She embraced and loved that about him.  

    Gary M. Kramer: If you could take care of a dying film star, past or present, who would it to be?

    Paul McGuigan: Aahh! I’m a massive fan of Julie Christie. I would like to talk with her. She always makes me feel like I want to take care of her. She seemed fragile in her movies when she was younger. And I would love to take care of Robert Mitchum. Again, just sit and drink with someone like that. I think of them because they are like Gloria: enigmatic. They didn’t tell you much about themselves; there’s an air of mystery. In today’s world, we know everything about everybody. We know what actors have for their breakfast. There are few actors that keep that mystique.

    © 2018 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer