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FOG! Attends LEGEND Premiere at Los Angeles Beyond Fest

Written by Sharon Knolle

The opening night of Beyond Fest in Los Angeles on October 1 was also the Los Angeles premiere of Legend, in which Tom Hardy plays both twins of the famously brutal gangster brothers who ruled London in the ’60s. Writer-director Brian Helgeland (who shared a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar with Curtis Hanson for 1997’s neo-noir L.A. Confidential) was there for a Q&A after the film with moderator Jeff Goldsmith.

When Goldsmith asked Helgeland about what he learned by working with directors from Clint Eastwood to Richard Donner, a loud voice was heard warning Helgeland, “Be careful what you say.”

It was Dick Donner himself, who received a round of applause after being pointed out. Helgeland said that when he was working with Donner on Conspiracy Theory, he wasn’t happy with the way Donner was directing a scene. Donner advised him that the only way a writer could get a project done the way he envisioned it was to direct it himself, and promptly handed Helgeland his first directing assignment on an episode of Tales From the Crypt.

Goldsmith cited the 1990s film The Krays as one of Helgeland’s possible points of research, but the writer-director never acknowledged whether he’d seen it or not.

Here are the highlights from the Q&A.

Q: How did you first get involved with this project?

A: Right after L.A. Confidential, I got asked by Warner Bros to go on tour with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page to do a Led Zeppelin biopic. It was a disaster. Robert Plant wouldn’t speak to me because he didn’t want a movie made. So after three days of this, it was over. But they had a manager who was missing a finger. He was very tough, East London guy. I asked if he would tell me where his finger was. Because, since I was little, if anyone is missing a digit or an ear, I gotta know where it is.

He held up his hand and said, “That was the Krays. Krays did that.”

He explained that they came to ask for money once backstage at a club in London and he’d refused to pay, so they cut his finger off. I thought, “Well, I gotta check these guys out.” I read about them, but never thought of writing anything about them until I was contacted by Working Title. I put that scene in the screenplay and we got a letter from the guy’s lawyer that said we couldn’t include it because it never happened.

He’d actually made the story up. He’d lost his finger in an accident. But he’d been telling that story for years. It became a theme of the Krays, that everything you heard about them was a lie or a gross exaggeration.

Was Tom Hardy always going to play both brothers or just one?

I wasn’t sure, because I didn’t want it to be a gimmick.

By the same token, if I cast one, I’d be limited to casting someone else who looked like him. Tom read the script and I wanted him to read it for Reggie, Reggie being the lead.

I figured I’d get Reggie first and see how it goes from there. Maybe he doesn’t even want to play both parts.

We had dinner and all he talked about was Ron and all I talked about was Reggie. And we had this moment of sort of staring at each other.

And Tom said, “I’ll give you Reggie if you give me Ron.”

And I said, “That’s a deal.”

From there it became, how do we make Tom go away and get nothing but Reggie and Ron?

You picked an interesting entry point into their lives when they’re on the rise. There was a lot to skip  about them growing up tough, being in the army, being in jail in the army, dishonorably discharged. 

The thing I don’t like about biopics is cradle-to-grave stories where you have little kids playing them and then teenagers playing them and then if they can get away with playing themselves at 19 and so on. And those movies always feel like they stop and start for me. I was always very keen for it to stand on its own as a film as just a story of these guys.

In The French Connection, you don’t see Gene Hackman as a little boy at the beginning, watching cars go by and wishing he could hop in. [Audience laughs]. So it’s a thing I prefer not to do if I can get away with it.

How hard was it to differentiate the two brothers? As a writer, you don’t want all your characters to sound alike, but these are identical twins. 

Yeah, but there were enough differences in real life between them, it was fairly easy to delineate them. I found it was hard to sort out the heart of Reggie, in a way. Ron is very straightforward, he’s very honest. He does what he does, he makes no apologies 

And Reggie is one thing to one person at a moment and something else to another person the next moment. That’s what I found in my research. It was very hard to pin him down. Ron was easier to write than Reggie.

What kind of research did you do beyond the book [The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins by John Pearson]?

The book itself is a journalistic account as far as a timeline goes with dates you could count on as being accurate. There’s probably 50 books written about them. I think there’s two new ones this year. And every year, there’s two more or three more. A lot of them are very schlocky and tabloidesque.

Any event, like when Ron kills Cornell, everyone knows when happened, but there’s 25 reasons why it happened. I had to take all that and try to forensic their motivations. But luckily, there’s about six people who were their contemporaries who I met with, who were all very helpful to fill in some blanks.

What was the most interesting piece of research you came across?

The guy who was really helpful was a guy named Chris Lambrianou, who went to prison with them. They all went to prison. I spent the day with him. I could never work out a lot of things about Frances (Reggie’s wife, played by Emily Browning in the film). People couldn’t really remember her except as a pretty face. And he told me, “Frances was the reason we all went to prison.”

He told me after she died, Reggie just shut down. He always used to sort everything out, if anyone in the neighborhood was seen talking to the police, he’d be talking on the door the next day. If there was an investigation going on, he’d bribe the police, he’d pay off jurors. And after she died, that all stopped. Lambrianou described him as just sitting around waiting for the police to come get him.

After he told me that, a bunch of things I’d been scratching my head over just made sense. I don’t think I could have written the script without that conversation.

You originally wanted to shoot half the movie with Tom Hardy as one brother and then go back and reshoot with him as the second brother. How would that plan have worked and at one point did you realize you needed to abandon it?

The idea was to just concentrate on Reggie and then he’d go away and gain weight to be Ronnie. And then it quickly fell apart, because we couldn’t hold the locations. Split screens in cameras are all locked off and we couldn’t guarantee we’d get our camera positions back. And Tom had to go to start shooting Revenant and he had a hard out.

[On having one actor play both parts]

It was almost like you had two lead actors who hated each other and wouldn’t come on set for each other. Reggie would stay in his trailer while Ron worked and vice versa. He and I would rehearse in the morning, much longer than I would normally do. A couple hours, as opposed to just walking through it.

I learned that from Dick [Donner]. Just bring them to set, rehearse, and they’ll tell you where to put the camera. In this case, it wasn’t going to work out that way. So we’d rehearse, we’d record Ron’s dialogue so we could play it back in Reggie’s ear. We had to get it down very tight so he could overlap himself. That turned out to be the thing that helped sell it. The strangest thing was on the overs. We had a body double for Ron. The back of Ron’s head is almost always a body double. But on the overs onto Reggie, Ron moved his hands a lot and waves around cigars and Tom had to decide what all that was going to be, teach it to the body double and then Tom would come in and do it after the body double had established it. If it didn’t all sync up, we couldn’t cut back and forth. That was the trickiest thing, to do all that and have it feel spontaneous.

[On Ron wanting to kill their business manager, Leslie Payne (played by David Thewlis)]

Thewlis and Hardy take a selfie

Yeah, he’s self-destructive in that way. But also, he’s jealous of Payne because he’s Reggie’s guy, so it’s another barrier to his brother is the way I looked at it. In all the research, I never came across that Jack the Hat had gone after Payne on Ron’s behalf, until the very end I found a book that Leslie Payne had written. I think they printed 400 copies. He’s the one that described how Jack the Hat came to his house to kill him. And that’s what sent him to the police and that’s what put the nail in the coffin. He was another guy who was keeping Ron from being a gangster.

[Audience question about the cinematography by Dick Pope]

We wanted to make the camera unaware that one guy was playing two brothers. We tried not to do anything too tricky or fancy like pan from one face across to another face and come back. We tried not to do anything where the camera was showing off. There’s a kind of classicism to it, especially when it’s Reggie and Ron. And then we’re a little freer when one of them’s not there.

The big shot that we were very proud of was the Steadicam shot in the club, where Reggie takes Frances on their first date. It’s a gangster movie, so you want to be brave enough to try to do your own Steadicam shot and get compared to the one that you can never get compared to. I also thought it showed Reggie in all his different forms. You see him with the doorman, you see him at the bar and you see him with showing her around and dealing with Jack the Hat and punching him out and going back and continuing his date. It felt like we could do all that in one shot, it would really show all the things about Reggie that were going to be a problem.

[Audience question about how he handled the “gay content” concerning Ron’s character]

That’s part of who Ron was. Until 1964, it was a criminal offense to be gay in Britain and he was always upfront about it. Somebody said to me, “He thought he could get away with it because he was a gangster,” and I said, “I think that made it a little harder, even.” We just showed it … he’s got his boys with him. I don’t have a love scene with him and anyone and I don’t have a love scene with Reggie and anyone. You can see the affection between him and his guys, but the way we played it just seemed like the way to play it.

Why did you decided to call it Legend? 

One of the first images I saw was [Reggie’s] hearse and there was a huge arrangement on it in carnations that spelled out “Legend,” because that’s what the wiseguys, so to speak, thought of him. Especially in London, it’s such a mythic story. It builds and and gets stranger and stranger with every year that goes by to the point where it’s like the legend of Robin Hood or King Arthur. So “legend” seemed as good a title as I was going to come up with.

Legend opens in U.S. theaters November 20, 2015

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