Joel Hopkins is a 38-year-old writer/director. The leading man in his latest film, Last Chance Harvey, is the 71-year-old living legend Dustin Hoffman. In Harvey, Hoffman plays a character that is probably not too far away from turning 70.
So the question is, how does a man not quite over the hill chose to write about someone in the autumn of their life?
"I'd like to say there's a romantic answer, but it always ends up being quite practical in a way," Hopkins told B OXOFFICE. "I mean, I do find that older people are more interesting as a dramatist. They've got more baggage in a way. It seemed to me to be a bit of no-brainer that they might be more interesting and there's more layers to peel back."
Harvey centers around a a jaded jingle writer named Harvery Shine (Hoffman), who travels from New York City to London for his daughter's wedding. Unfortunately, his job is on the rocks and his daughter isn't exactly thrilled to see him. While there, he strikes up a spontaneous relationship with a lonely census taker named Kate Walker (played by Emma Thompson).
Hopkins admits that the film actually began with the character of Kate. From there, he sent the idea to Emma Thompson and ultimately suggested that Dustin Hoffman would be perfect for the Harvey role that developed during the creative process. Thompson had worked with Hoffman on 2006's Stranger Than Fiction, and the two formed a friendship.
For Hopkins, the experience of directing two of the greatest actors working today turned out to be a matter of just letting the cameras role.
"We had two cameras going at the same time and we just let them go as much as I could and as much as time allowed," said Hopkins about a crucial scene in which Harvery strikes up a conversation with Kate at an airport bar.
When it came to directing Hoffman, Hopkins went back and looked at one of the actor's best films, Kramer vs. Kramer. The comparison makes a great deal of sense considering that Harvey is just as vulnerable and emotionally wounded as the recently-separated Ted Kramer is in that Oscar-winning film.
Hopkins also acknowledges the similarities between Harvey and other recent successes such as Lost in Translation and About Schmidt. All three films focus on men who are past their prime and are desperately searching for some kind of redemption or a new form of happiness. Interestingly enough, Hopkins admits that he wrote the treatment for Harvery before Translation came out and that the success of Sophia Coppola's film convinced him that his idea could be turned into a reality. The result, thanks in no small part to the contributions of Hoffman and Thompson, is the work of a writer/director that is wise beyond his years.
Last Chance Harvey
expands its theatrical run this Friday.