Florian Zeller on The Father: ‘Anthony Hopkins took me in his arms. We knew the miracle had happened’
The French director and dramatist reveals how he pushed Hopkins into giving one of the most wrenching performances of his career in an unflinching dementia drama also starring Olivia Colman
When Florian Zeller set out to turn his harrowing hit play The Father into a film, he made a minor, talismanic tweak to the main character. André is an elderly man with dementia, who suspects his daughter of plotting to steal his flat. This meatiest of roles – which demands sudden waves of confusion, charm, rage, terror and sobbing helplessness – has been quite the awards magnet: Kenneth Cranham won an Olivier in 2016 for his performance in the London production, while Frank Langella took home the Tony in New York.
Zeller had a dream actor in mind for the movie version so, as he embarked on the screenplay, he switched the character’s name from André to Anthony. “It was a way to make my unrealistic idea a bit more realistic,” says the 41-year-old, Molière award-winning French playwright, with the sheepishness of a grown man confessing to penning Anthony Hopkins fan fiction.
The Father is about what it means to lose everything, including your own bearings