Today, Hollywood scandals are as common as street performers on the Venice boardwalk. People stop to watch for a second and then move on to the next. Back in the late 1950s, the circumstances were different. When the love affair between Errol Flynn and under-aged Beverly Aadland leaked, the press and public went wild.
In The Last of Robin Hood, writers and directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland focus on what was happening behind the scenes of the infamous affair. Kevin Kline plays Flynn, a solidified star known for his role as Robin Hood. Aadland, played by Dakota Fanning, is a hopeful 15-year-old actress who meets Flynn on set one day. He falls for her immediately and turns a blind eye to her age. With the help of her mother, Florence (Susan Sarandon), the two’s love affair blossoms into a torrid romance destined for a fatal end.
I had a chance to chat with Westmoreland and Glatzer about finding the true story within the tabloids. We discuss the challenges of shooting a film in the 1950s, working with their incredible cast and what about Errol and Beverly’s affair still remains relevant today.
Paste: Errol and Beverly’s love was definitely surrounded with scandal at the time, with many saying it was grotesque and manipulative. What did you uncover researching them that inspired you to make a far more sincere film?
Westmoreland: The tabloid headlines were the way most people knew about the story. All three of the people were taken apart in the national press. You see this happening still today. It’s Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan who get torn apart by the press. This is one of the first cases of this happening. We were interested in what was happening between the headlines. Once we knew Beverly, we started getting a feel for the human side of the story. What is was like for her.
Glatzer: We felt the need to tell her story.
Paste: Was it difficult to get her to speak with you?
Westmoreland: Initially, she didn’t want to talk to anybody. Especially not people who read her mother’s book. She doesn’t like various ways the story was presented. She was really resentful. Initially, she was very friendly but didn’t want to talk about Errol Flynn. It took a number of visits before she would trust us. She would tell us incredible details and word-for-word conversations.
Paste: Kevin Kline and Dakota Fanning fit the roles perfectly. How did you get them on board?
Westmoreland: It was kind of astonishing. We had Kevin Kline on board, and Killer Films and Susan immediately responded to the script. She was very key. Dakota was working with our friend Kelly Reichardt, and we were auditioning a lot of girls and couldn’t find the person with the right qualities. Dakota and Kelly were on some crazy night shoot and there was a break in between shots and Kelly pitched her The Last of Robin Hood!
Paste: Susan Sarandon plays Florence with a naivety and desperation that seems to justify her questionable actions. Was it important to you to make her sympathetic?
Westmoreland: That was one of the reasons why we wanted to cast Susan. All three characters were condemned enough in the press. For Florence, this is from the book; her first love was not Errol Flynn. It was Beverly. It was misguided mother love. Susan is so used to in movies … always saying the right thing! In this film, she has equal power and conviction but more or less saying the wrong thing. These occasional existential windows into fame are dead on. I think Susan just really jumped at the chance. [Florence] has pain and stuff that happened in her own life. She resented other Hollywood mothers. She always had her own unique identity.
Paste: As directors you really build the world here. Tell me about the challenges of making a film set in the 1950s.
Westmoreland: You’ve got to find your time machine that goes back. We wanted something that felt truthful to the time. We looked at a lot of movies from that era. We wanted to give it a sense of the late ’50s and also the way the camera moves.
Glatzer: It’s so hard on a budget. When you cast an extra, it’s hair; it’s wardrobe.
Westmoreland: I think really in the recent evolution of period films all the details have to be right. You have to become obsessed with every detail! Different underwear for women made you a different shape. Even the way people walk. Everything has changed with hip-hop.
Paste: The physical details of the film are crucial, but so are the emotional details. Believing in the relationship between Kline and Fanning is key. How do you as directors help the actors build this intimacy?
Westmoreland: In the account, it happened very suddenly. They got together on the first night, and it was very scandalous and a difficult thing to portray. You can’t romanticize. Errol was a very quick seducer. Beverly played along, but it started moving too fast for her. We had to show what in modern terms would be called “date rape” from two points of view. From Flynn, it was a ladies man and partly a masculine image. And for Beverly, it was a special, unique, painful moment. Dakota did this brilliantly, how difficult it was to experience this and process it afterwards with someone she liked. It was complicated, morally and practically.
Paste: Working with Kline and Sarandon, who are incredibly seasoned, must be magnificent! How tightly do you hold the reigns on actors like that?
Westmoreland: We had a lot of discussions leading up to the movie, so we could all get in the same spot. The reason why people are movie stars is because they bring so much with them. The process becomes a creative conversation. When you cast something right, what they bring you is exactly right. When Kevin walked on set it was like Errol was in the room! We welcomed it, and we had to do the fine-tuning.
Paste: There are multiple lessons to be learned from Errol, Beverly and Florence. At some points, it’s to stay away from older, famous men! At other times, it’s to live and don’t look back. For you two, what are you interested in audiences taking from film?
Westmoreland: Just that life is tough and complicated. Work through difficulties and situations. What Beverly had was a very intense experience of living, great highlights and tremendous sorrow. How she had two giant egos pressing desires [upon her] and how she survived it.
Glatzer: There was a lot of self-interested work, but love is tied up in it.