David Hare has penned his first spy thriller and cast Rachel Weisz as a beguiling woman of mystery.
The acclaimed playwright and scriptwriter told me that his film, being made for the BBC by the company behind ITV’s Downton Abbey, is called Page 8. He described the piece as ‘a fiction’, adding that ‘nobody in it represents anybody who is a living person’.
Hare will also direct, with filming to begin in January after Rachel has completed shooting Terence Davies’s big-screen adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s play The Deep Blue Sea, opposite Simon Russell Beale and Tom Hiddleston.
Page 8 — the title refers to the eighth page of a highly secret document — has been cast with top-of-the-line actors.
Bill Nighy will play an MI5 operative who believes Rachel’s character could represent a threat to him.
Michael Gambon will play the director general of the Security Service.
Judy Davis, the celebrated Australian actress who rarely works outside her homeland, will also be in the film in an as yet unspecified role.
Hare met Ralph Fiennes on Wednesday about being in the movie, and he too has accepted.
When Hare was told that he was spotted lunching with Fiennes, he responded: ‘But how did they recognise him? He has shaved all his hair off. I could have been having lunch with Telly Savalas!’
Filming will be overseen by Christine Langan, the creative director of BBC Films, who will be working in conjunction with David Heyman and David Barron and NBC-Universal. Carnival Films, the company behind Downton Abbey, is also on board.
Hare is a fan of espsionage films and noted that it has been ‘sort of conspicuous that there are very few modern spy films’. He said he wrote Page 8 to fill the gap in ‘my own pleasurable cinema-going’.
He misses, among other things, James Bond pictures, although he was pleased to hear that Daniel Craig will be shooting a new Bond by the end of 2011.
However, he had much pleasure in repeating John le Carre’s acerbic view of Ian Fleming’s literary hero. ‘Le Carre famously said James Bond is not a spy — he’s an international terrorist,’ Hare gleefully recounted.
The two writers are near neighbours in leafy North-West London and often compare notes. ‘It’s quite funny having the world’s greatest spy writer living around the corner.’
Hare revealed that Le Carre offered to read the Page 8 script, telling Hare: ‘I promise to be withering.’ Hare added: ‘That put me in my place. I wouldn’t dare give the screenplay to Le Carre. I’d be absolutely terrified to show him what I’ve come up with.’
In any case, Le Carre has a cinematic project of his own. Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch are starring in a film of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which is being shot by Working Title and Optimum Releasing with cult director Tomas Alfredson.
Later next year, Rachel will appear in a stage production of Hare’s play Plenty for producer Robert Fox and director David Leveaux.