He’s top director who’s worked with big names on Oscar-winning films - but John Madden has never forgotten his roots in Portsmouth. MISCHA ALLEN talks to John Madden.
Filming in New York, Oscar-nominated director John Madden seems to live at the heart of showbiz. It’s 10 in the morning in the Big Apple, and he’s just finished filming a night shoot for a new pilot movie he’s doing on sex researchers in the 1950s.
John even spent eight weeks last summer in India, and was joined by some of the most iconic names in British acting, including Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkson, Ronald Pickup, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, and Dev Patel.
Having just hit our big screens on February 24, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was number one at the box office in its second week of opening, and is still pulling in audiences.
So it’s surprising to learn that John Madden, who also directed blockbuster multi-Oscar winning Shakespeare In Love, hails from our very own city.
Born in 1949, John grew up in Southsea and went to Boundary Oak School in Fareham.
And even if though he is a sought after director who produces multi-million pound blockbuster movies and regularly travels between England and America, he still finds time to visit his hometown.
John, who’s based in London, says: ‘I have family in Portsmouth still. My father and mother both died, but my step mother Prue Madden lives in Emsworth and I go there regularly.
‘My brother Peter has lived in Portsmouth all his life, and my sister Annie, she lives in that area too. I seem all of them and we remain close.’
Currently filming a pilot film for American TV in New York, the nostalgic era of the 1950s it’s set in reminds him of his youth in the city.
He adds: ‘It’s particularly provoked memories with the pilot I’m doing at the moment, because at that time I was growing up in Portsmouth.
‘It’s provoked a lot of memories of my younger years and it also happened with Marigold. I’ve been looking back for the past six months or so from a perspective I never imagined I’d get too.
‘I have very happy memories of my childhood.’
John says he looks back at the city with fondess. But he never had a burning ambition to direct, but just wanted to do something he enjoyed.
He explains: ‘You just aspire to doing something you like to do. I never imagined that this would happen. Maybe some people are driven to reach the top, they’re probably those people you read about.
‘I just aspired to make it possible to do what I wanted to do.’
John went on to study at the University Of Cambridge, before moving America to develop radio plays.
He says: ‘I think perhaps you get an opportunity and you find that you know that’s where you seem most connected. I’ve been around theatre most of my life, and acted at schoool and university.
‘It seemed very likely I would end up in that world, not that my family is remotely connected to it. But I was very sympathetic to that world.’
Although he enjoyed acting, he believes his mindset was always more towards being a director.
John adds: ‘I’m not very well equipped to be an actor. I think you need to be very singular and I’m very plural in my point of view. Directing talent is something to do with seeing different aspects and those creative impulses.
‘It’s about orchestrating something – something I very quickly found that I enjoyed more.’
He started working in television including directing Prime Suspect 4, and episodes of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Morse.
John even went on to direct Mrs Brown with Judi Dench, but a film that brought him to worldwide attention was the seven-Oscar winning 1998 Shakespeare In Love.
It followed a young Shakespeare as he suffers from writers block, and then falls in love with a young woman (played by Gynweth Paltrow) who ends up performing in one of his plays.
John says: ‘I had grown up with Shakespeare and I did it, starred in it and acting in it before. The business of putting on a play seemed brilliant and it was simply brilliant. I was aware there was something iconic about Shakespeare and how important he is culturally seemed.
‘It was wonderful. but I we had no idea it would grow into the success it did. We were walking a tightrope because it’s deemed to be quite bold but it was wonderfully funny. It was quite a difficult balance, but it was very gratifying.’
John carried on working in films, and directed 2001’s Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and 2005’s Proof, starring Hope Davis, Gynweth Paltrow, Jake Gyllenhaal and Anthony Hopkins.
The following year in 2006 the University of Portsmouth awarded him an honoury degree of letters.
Talking about the ceremony, John says: ‘That was pretty gratifying. I was very honoured and felt it was undeserving. I feel my job is very demanding and I would love to spend more time back in the UK.’
More of his credits include Killshot in 2009 and The Debt, starring Helen Mirren and Sam Worthington, was released last year.
But a box-office success that has just hit our big screens is The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
With Judi Dench only agreeing to do it because John was directing, he jumped at the chance to direct it.
John explains: ‘When I was first approached about it I wasn’t available to do it but two years later they came back and then I was clear and able to start working with OP, and then we set about casting it.
‘It’s a very unusual piece. It looked at the people in society who are pushed to the side in some ways.’
He adds: ‘They were on the film for the whole run, and with actors of that calibre they’re usually only on set for a couple of days. It was challenging, but a rewarding film to shoot.’
John believes it’s important to cast people you have fun working with on a film,