Exclusive: RT Visits the Set of Dean Spanley
We talk the transmigration of souls with Peter O'Toole and Sam Neill.Toa Fraser calls cut and asks his crew to set up another shot, Peter O'Toole strolls past RT in what would be complete Edwardian period costume were it not for a pair of comfy-looking Ugg boots on his feet, and then disappears into a plastic hut only marginally bigger than himself. It's quite the most anachronistic sight one can describe, but when you consider that the practitioner of this odd art is Peter O'Toole everything seems to make perfect sense.
Welcome to the set of Dean Spanley, a quirky period comedy based on a book by Lord Dunsany. O'Toole is the father to Jeremy Northam's narrator who stumbles upon the titular Dean - played by Sam Neill - as the trio attend a lecture on the transmigration of souls given by a swami, Art Malik. Intrigued that a man of God would entertain the notion that a soul can jump from being to being, the narrator attempts to strike up a friendship with the Dean, discovering that lubricating him with his favourite drink provokes unusual conversation. When the Dean sips an Imperial Tokay wine he starts channelling memories from his former life as a dog...
"Surreal" barely covers it, and that synopsis reveals little about the themes of the book, adapted for the screen by Rob Roy scribe Alan Sharp. O'Toole's curmudgeonly father and his relationship with his son is the true heart of the story, brought to life by the sheer force of personality the 75 year-old actor injects. Indeed, as O'Toole returns for the next set-up opposite Neill, he ad-libs at the end of the line and forces his co-star to burst into laughter. As they go for the next take, O'Toole delivers the line as written, but Neill is gone again.
Catching up with RT after the shot, Neill explains the hazards of working with someone as notoriously devilish as O'Toole. "You just have to see a twinkle in the corner of his eye and you crease up," he laughs, "He's a very funny guy. Such a naughty and adept man; he's extraordinary."
Holkham Hall in Norfolk - the site of RT's day on the set of Dean Spanley.
For director Toa Fraser that personality, present in the entire cast, is what will make the film both funny and heartfelt. "It's an emotionally compelling movie at its heart," he explains, "but it's been fun to play with these comedic elements and the period and the fantasy. And it's really a performance-driven film so we were incredibly lucky to get the cast we've got."