Al Pacino and Helen Mirren Star in HBO Films ‘Phil Spector’ Debuting March 24
via press release:
AL PACINO AND HELEN MIRREN
STAR IN HBO FILMS’ PHIL SPECTOR,
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY DAVID MAMET,
DEBUTING MARCH 24;
JEFFREY TAMBOR AND CHIWETEL EJIOFOR ALSO STAR
HBO Films Presents A Levinson/Fontana Production;
Barry Levinson And David Mamet Executive Produce;
Produced By Michael Hausman
Academy Award® winners Al Pacino (HBO’s “You Don’t Know Jack”; “Scent of a Woman”) and Helen Mirren (HBO’s “Elizabeth I”; “The Queen”) star in HBO Films’ PHIL SPECTOR. Written and directed by Pulitzer Prize-winning and Oscar®-nominated playwright David Mamet (“Glengarry Glen Ross,” “Wag the Dog”), the film is Mamet’s exploration of the client-attorney relationship between legendary music producer Phil Spector (Pacino) and defense attorney Linda Kenney Baden (Mirren), who represented Spector during his first trial for murder.
Debuting SUNDAY, MARCH 24 (9:00-10:35 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO, PHIL SPECTOR is executive produced by Academy Award® winner Barry Levinson (HBO’s “You Don’t Know Jack”; “Rain Man”) and David Mamet and produced by Emmy® winner Michael Hausman (HBO’s “Recount”). An HBO Films presentation of a Levinson/Fontana Production, the film also stars Emmy® nominee Jeffrey Tambor (“Arrested Development”) as Bruce Cutler, the original lead defense attorney on the Spector team, and Golden Globe nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor (“Kinky Boots,” HBO’s “Tsunami: The Aftermath”) as a mock prosecutor.
Other HBO playdates: March 24 (3:40 a.m.), 27 (2:15 p.m., 9:30 p.m.) and 30 (4:15 p.m., 12:30 a.m.), and April 4 (12:30 p.m., 8:30 p.m.), 7 (8:15 a.m., 3:00 p.m.), 10 (11:30 a.m., 8:30 p.m.), 13 (12:30 p.m.), 15 (4:30 p.m.), 21 (11:30 a.m.), 22 (12:10 a.m.) and 25 (6:15 p.m.)
HBO2 playdates: March 26 (9:00 a.m., 8:30 p.m.), and April 1 (12:20 a.m.), 17 (9:00 a.m., 10:00 p.m.) and 27 (4:15 p.m.)
ABOUT THE STORY
In the hands of celebrated playwright, screenwriter, author, director and producer David Mamet, PHIL SPECTOR is a mythological story, and he approaches it as such, rather than as a news story. Mamet begins his film with the card, “This is a work of fiction. It’s not ‘based on a true story.’ It is a drama inspired by actual persons in a trial, but it is neither an attempt to depict the actual persons, nor to comment upon the trial or its outcome.”
Mamet chose to frame the story through the perspective of the Linda Kenney Baden character, beginning and ending the film with her involvement in the case. Her character’s journey is summarized by the question “How do I defend a guy the public does not approve of?” As Mamet explains, “The story is her coming to grips with the notion of what is reasonable doubt, and what is prejudice.”
Al Pacino says, “This is the first trial of Phil Spector – when he is first accused of this heinous crime. It’s all new to him in terms of the media – their reaction to it – and his introduction to Linda, who is played by Helen Mirren. And it’s their relationship, in the course of their preparation for the trial.”
Helen Mirren comments, “David sees this story in a more mythological way than as a documentary or docudrama. It’s certainly not a docudrama. We are not saying, ‘This is what happened, and this is what didn’t happen.’ We are not saying that. It’s a mythological story more than anything. I think whenever you have as extreme a personality as Phil Spector was with the kind of history that he had, he is already vilified. He is made into a monster before any trial begins, so I think that was very much the case with Phil Spector, and it does happen in other cases.”
Executive producer Barry Levinson adds, “Here is what the Phil Spector story is not about. It is not an investigation into whether he did or didn’t commit the murder. It is not about a trial and how it proceeded and what went on. It’s not that type of a film. In a sense, it’s really like a two-character piece: Helen Mirren is the defense attorney, and Al Pacino plays Spector. It’s the dynamic of those two people. And this woman, who is trying to put the information together, trying to proceed to trial with a guy who at times is half bouncing off walls. That’s really where the dynamic of the piece lives.”
Defense attorney Linda Kenney Baden serves as a consultant on the film. While many specifics of the trial remain bound by attorney-client privilege, she was able to review the themes that the filmmakers explored. Says Kenney Baden, “David Mamet has brought a unique perspective to this case, and it’s been fascinating to watch the process. Al Pacino and Helen Mirren give such amazing performances.”
Mamet says, “Like any dramatist, you’re just basically a thief, and you take things that you’ve thought, and things that you’ve heard, and things that you’ve seen, and try to apply some structure to them, so that what you’re doing is kind of like a psychiatrist – you take these dreams which are seemingly random, and re-order them so that they make dramatic sense.”
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
For the New York City-based production, Mamet assembled a gifted team, including Emmy®-nominated director of photography Juan Ruiz Anchia, ASC (“American Horror Story”), Oscar®-winning production designer Patrizia Von Brandenstein (“Amadeus”), Emmy®-nominated editor Barbara Tulliver, A.C.E. (HBO’s “Too Big to Fail”), Emmy®-nominated composer Marcelo Zarvos (HBO’s “Too Big to Fail”) and Emmy®-nominated costume designer Debra McGuire (“Friends”).
Mamet worked closely with production designer Von Brandenstein to imagine Spector’s fortress-like manor in the hills east of Los Angeles, juxtaposing a Jean Cocteau-like fantasy world with the very real world of the courtroom. Mamet says, “I thought, well, if basically, the story is ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ where Helen Mirren is the beauty and Phil Spector is the beast, how does someone decorate his mansion who has got all the money in the world and hasn’t left the mansion for 30 years?”
Von Brandenstein explains, “Like many talented people, he has his tremendous enthusiasms that were part of his life for a time and then faded away. But the props remained. So his home reflects that mindset. He collected trophies intensively. He collects – due to a great interest in T.E. Lawrence and his writings – painting, artifacts, furniture of the desert.”
Mamet adds, “Each room should be a different fantasy. So, we have one room that’s a Lawrence of Arabia fantasy, one room, it’s the Oxford University Boat House, 1890. One room is a carnival tent. One room is a Lincoln Room with nothing but Lincoln memorabilia. And as Helen goes in to her first meeting, she goes through a maze, in effect, all these different tests. Like, rooms with painted doors, and rooms with flickering lights, to lead her deeper and deeper into the cave of the Minotaur.”
Costume designer Debra McGuire was inspired by the palette of the production design in the creation of the wardrobe for Al Pacino. She explains, “The mansion was very important to me, because the tones for that needed to inform me of what tonally I needed to do with Phil’s character. And really without understanding sort of the depth of those colors and burgundies and the darkness, I don’t know that I would have been able to really imagine what I was doing.”
McGuire adds, “Phil’s character has about seven or eight changes. And then, in addition to that, are his interviews, and then the flashbacks. We had to get the eras — the ‘60s, the ‘70s, the ‘80s looks — nailed so that we could really express exactly from the photographs where they were.”
Another key element of the creation of Al Pacino’s character was Phil Spector’s collection of wigs. Mamet says, “Every time Al shows up, he’s got a different wig.” Pacino’s hair stylist Cydney Cornell and wig maker Renate Leuschner created the many different wigs and hair styles featured in the film.
Los Angeles, 2007. The trial of music producer Phil Spector (Al Pacino) for the 2003 death of actress Lana Clarkson is fast approaching. Attorney Linda Kenney Baden (Helen Mirren) arrives at a makeshift command center to meet with a team of defense lawyers, paralegals and assistants presided over by lead attorney Bruce Cutler (Jeffrey Tambor). Kenney Baden, who is battling flu-like symptoms, agrees to give her assessment of the case, though she seems convinced that Spector, accused of putting a pistol in Clarkson’s mouth and pulling the trigger, is guilty. Cutler debates her opinion and tasks her to use her expertise to find reasonable doubt about Spector’s guilt. Kenney Baden agrees to join the defense team but asserts, “I won’t attack the girl.”
After reviewing case details, Kenney Baden settles into her hotel room to relax, but within minutes is summoned by P.I. Nick Stavros (John Pirruccello) to ride to Spector’s mansion to meet the accused, who is out on bail. Passing through a phalanx of reporters and police, Kenney Baden heads into the mansion, a dark, forbidding fortress surrounded by a chain-link fence and ominous signage about sentry dogs. Inside, she walks through a foyer filled with stuffed owls, a suit of armor, ornate portraits and ancient weaponry, and steps into a room devoted to Abraham Lincoln.
As she takes in the peculiar decor, Spector enters, rambling a bit before explaining that he picked Cutler to defend him because he was the lawyer who got John Gotti off. The two move to a bedroom that contains a barred cell, on whose walls are the outlines of dozens of handguns removed after Clarkson’s death. Asked by Kenney Baden why he had so many guns, Spector replies, “How many pairs of shoes do you have?”
Cutting to the chase, Kenney Baden asks “Phillip” (as she calls him) whether he killed Clarkson. At first, the producer is elusive, changing the subject as he points out his prized possessions: the white piano on which John Lennon wrote “Imagine,” the place where Lenny Bruce used to rant about the Fourth Amendment. Pressed about the killing, in particular his chauffer’s damning testimony that Spector said, “I think I just killed somebody,” he responds that the man barely spoke English, and that what he actually said was, “I think I should call somebody.” Kenney Baden disputes his description of Clarkson as a “hophead” with the fact that the autopsy results revealed Clarkson was definitely not high on drugs.
After likening his plight to that of Christ and T. E. Lawrence, Spector adds that he can’t even play piano anymore because of severe hand tremors and doesn’t understand how anyone would think that he could hold a gun. Kenney Baden is intrigued by Spector and the challenges of the case, and decides to continue working with the defense team to take another look at the evidence.
The scene outside is a madhouse, chaotic with police, media, angry protesters and onlookers. Spector is unnerved by the crowd as he is taken into the courtroom. However, as the prosecution outlines its case, he seems lost in musical thought, scribbling notes to an unheard song on a legal pad.
Back at the defense team headquarters, Kenney Baden watches through a one-way mirror as Dr. Fallon (Rebecca Pidgeon) shows members of a defense focus group video of testimony that emphasizes Spector’s proclivity for erratic, gun-wielding behavior. Cutler and Kenney Baden deliberate how to get a jury to consider the possibility that reasonable doubt exists.
While exploring the forensic evidence in the case, Kenney Baden’s team organizes an elaborate demonstration to test a theory that might work towards showing Spector’s innocence. However, Kenney Baden realizes the judge will not allow such a demonstration inside the courtroom. Kenney Baden and Cutler rehearse a forensic expert, Dr. Gerhardt Spitz (Matt Malloy), to testify about the gunshot wound.
At the mansion, Spector tells Kenney Baden that he wants to tell his story on the witness stand. “I was drunk,” he insists, adding that when he took Lana home, she asked to see his guns, claiming that they excited her, which led to the gun going off accidentally. Later, Kenney Baden tests Spector’s claim to determine if there is any plausibility to his version of the events that happened that fateful night.
Despite having given his prior consent, Spector is livid when he learns that Cutler is leaving Kenney Baden to handle the final trial preparations. She considers the merits of putting Spector on the stand to testify and stages a dress rehearsal, complete with a badgering mock prosecutor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who presents video testimony of Ronnie Spector, Spector’s onetime protégé and former wife, describing his repeated cruelties and assaults. Unhinged, Spector erupts and abruptly puts an end to the faux trial, eventually calming down enough to assure Kenney Baden he’ll be fine during the real thing. But the experience is enough to give her pause as to whether she should allow her star witness to testify in his own defense.
On trial day, when Spector shows up at the courthouse wearing a huge, over-the-top Afro wig, Kenney Baden realizes she cannot put him on the stand, despite the knowledge that Spector’s silence could spell defeat for the defense team and prison for her client.
The cards at the end of the film read:
“On September 26, the jury reported itself deadlocked, ten to two in favor of conviction, and incapable of reaching a decision. The Judge declared a mistrial. On October 3, the Prosecution announced that they would retry the case.
Due to her illness, Linda Kenney Baden was unable to participate in the second trial, whose jury, on April 13, 2009 found Phil Spector guilty of Second Degree Murder and sentenced him to 19 years to life in Corcoran State Prison, where he resides today.”