By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist October 18, 2011 at 7:03AM
'360' Writer Tells Us Freddie Mercury Biopic Is Waiting For Sacha Baron Cohen, Motor Racing Won't Be Focus Of Ron Howard's 'Rush'
Exclusive: Getting two Oscar nominations in two years tends to make your inbox a little fuller than it was before, so it's no surprise that picking up nods in 2007 for "The Queen" and 2009 for "Frost/Nixon" has made Peter Morgan one of the busiest screenwriters around. The British director has since worked with Tom Hooper and Clint Eastwood, as well as penning Fernando Meirelles' latest, "360," which opened the BFI London Film Festival last week.
He somehow found time in his schedule to sit down with press in support of "360," spilling the beans on his involvement in the latest James Bond film, as well as an original heist movie that he's writing on spec. But that wasn't all, the writer also talked about the Meirelles project, which stars Anthony Hopkins, Rachel Weisz, Jude Law and Ben Foster (look out for more on that next week), updated us on some of his upcoming projects, and set the record straight on others.
First up is "Rush," which sees the writer reunite with "Frost/Nixon" helmer Ron Howard for the based-in-fact tale of James Hunt and Niki Lauda, two great rivals in Formula 1 racing in the 1970s, with "Thor" star Chris Hemsworth as Hunt, and "Inglourious Basterds" actor Daniel Bruhl as Lauda. Morgan told us that, as with previous biographical work, it wasn't the world of the film, but the people and the relationships that were the draw.
"The racing part is not why I wrote it," the British writer told us. "I see Niki Lauda on a fairly regular basis in Vienna (where Morgan now lives) and I think he's a pretty remarkable character, and I felt he would trust me to do this. But would I write about Niki Lauda without James Hunt? No. It's the same as would I have written about David Frost without Richard Nixon? No. Somehow the combination of this exceptionally beautiful English man with this virtually disfigured Austrian man (Lauda was horrifically burned in a crash in 1976), and their relationship of mutual envy and admiration, the racing is actually a backdrop."
Indeed, Morgan suggests that the film could have been made without any specially-shot racing footage at all. "I insisted to Ron Howard that we could make the film for $10 million, and actually have the racing as a total backdrop, rather like we did in [the soccer biopic] 'The Damned United,' where we said 'We're not even going there.' I said, 'We could do it with archive [footage].' The drama from the men is so strong, that if you get the racing, great, if you don't do, fine."
As for the recent talk that Russell Crowe might be making a cameo as acting legend Richard Burton, who ran off with Hunt's wife, Morgan's as in the dark as the rest of us, although he does say that the name of Howard's "A Beautiful Mind" star has come up. "I don't know. I read that on the internet. I know that Ron Howard thought it was a good idea, but whether they've had a conversation or not, I don't know. "
Another biopic that Morgan has been linked to recently is one of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, which has Sacha Baron Cohen attached to star. It seems that, while the film was initially on the fast-track, it was supplanted on the "Borat" star's dance card, and Morgan wasn't sure of the status. "I haven't heard anything for a while," he said. "Projects have great momentum, and then they slow down. I wrote it, they've got it. Maybe they're sneakily rewriting it, I've got no idea. They were in a great hurry to do it, and then Sacha committed to doing 'The Dictator.' So at that moment, all our afterburners were slowed down. 'Cause at one point, we were frantic, but Sacha had been working on the other one for four years. So I think he's up to his eyeballs at the moment."
Away from the based-in-fact world, it was reported last year that a Morgan script named "Riptide" was casting up at Summit, with Brad Pitt and Shia La Boeuf being courted for the thriller, but the writer was unaware of any movement on the project, and downplayed his involvement. "That was a rewrite I did about eight years ago. News to me." One that he did punch up, however, is serial killer thriller "Solace," which is set to star Anthony Hopkins.
Morgan said that he became involved "because Anthony Hopkins and I became friends on '360.' They said, 'Would you consider doing it?' And I said 'Only if I know what to do.' I almost never do rewrites, I like doing my own stuff. So I read it, and said, "Look, I'll tell you what I think is wrong with it.' It's nice, because you don't feel so emotionally invested. You can just say 'Look, I'd do this and this and this.' I always make it a condition for something like that to ask the writer if it's ok."
Finally, Morgan rose to fame with his trilogy of films focusing on former British Prime Minister Tony Blair: "The Deal," "The Queen" and last year's "The Special Relationship." Blair has now been out of office for several years, but Morgan suggested that he may not be totally done with Blair yet. "I think once all the truth comes out about his Libyan investments...My instinct is, there's treasure there. I still think there's something there, but we may have to wait. Not least because Michael would like a break too. But at some point I can imagine myself ringing him up and saying, 'Don't you think we should catch up with where our friend is.' Don't forget, he stepped down as a young man. He's not 60 yet, and he's fit as a fiddle. He stepped out of the political scene with almost twenty years of his life to go, and what does an energetic, ambitious man like that do? Cause trouble."
Something to look forward to, then, albeit not just yet. "360" was picked up last week by Magnolia Pictures for a U.S. release next spring, while "Rush" will likely hit theaters at the end of next year, or in 2013.