Tailor of Panama, The : Production Notes

Tailor of Panama, The (2001) - Movie PosterIn THE TAILOR OF PANAMA, John Boorman (Academy Award nominee for Deliverance (1972) and Hope and Glory (1987)) and John Le Carré, the acknowledged master of the spy novel, team for a new breed of contemporary spy thriller based on le Carré's hit 1996 book.

Time magazine described John Le Carré as "the greatest spy writer of his time - perhaps of all time." THE TAILOR OF PANAMA is a subtle blend of thriller and black comedy, some distance fromLe Carré's other cold war creations.

Veteran filmmaker John Boorman won acclaim early in his career with Point Blank (1967) and Deliverance (1972), both critical and commercial successes. Over the years his work has demonstrated a stunning breadth of vision from his affectionate wartime memoir Hope and Glory (1987) to the Arthurian epic Excalibur (1981), from the gritty realism of urban Dublin in General, The (1998) to the environmental rape of Brazil in Emerald Forest, The (1985). With THE TAILOR OF PANAMA, Boorman enters the world of international intrigue and espionage liberally laced with humor.

Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush (Shine (1996), Shakespeare in Love (1998), Quills (2000) and Elizabeth (1998)) plays Harry, tailor and fantasist. Pierce Brosnan (World Is Not Enough, The (1999), Thomas Crown Affair, The (1999)) plays Osnard, the British agent. Add to this potent mix the charismatic Jamie Lee Curtis (Fish Called Wanda, A (1988), True Lies (1994)) as Harry's wife Louisa, and all the components for high-octane entertainment are in place.

Chilean-born Leonor Varela (Cleopatra (1999) (TV) in the recent Hallmark version of the story) plays Marta, Harry's business manager and his conscience. Award- winning Brendan Gleeson (General, The (1998)) plays damaged, streetwise Mickie Abraxas, who might have been a hero under different circumstances. Catherine McCormack (Braveheart (1996)) is British diplomat and ice maiden Francesca, who swiftly thaws in the heat of Osnard's lust.

Actor/director David Hayman plays Osnard's boss, Luxmore, who finds he needs to personally oversee the final act of Osnard's cunning plot. John Fortune plays British ambassador Maltby, a naďve participant in Osnard's ambitious scheme. And Britain's leading playwright Harold Pinter makes one of his all too rare acting appearances as Harry's Uncle Benny, his dead mentor who, in times of crisis, "appears" to Harry.

Harry and Louisa's son, Mark, is played by young actor Daniel Radcliffe. Radcliffe recently beat out thousands of other young actors to nab the huge starring role as the title character in Chris Columbus' Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001). "He is a lively, bright kid with an instinctive feeling for the camera," said John Boorman upon hearing of the announcement. "His parents are very stable and supportive. If anyone can survive the hazards of being a child star, and still live a normal life in the world of muggles, he's the boy."

THE TAILOR OF PANAMA is a Columbia Pictures production directed and produced by John Boorman. John Le Carré is the executive producer. The screenplay is by Andrew Davies, Le Carré and Boorman. Philippe Rousselot is the director of photography. Derek Wallace is the production designer and the editor is Ron Davis. Maeve Paterson designed the costumes. Kevan Barker is the co-producer.

In the early days of the new millennium, excitement reached feverish proportions in the Central American country of Panama and, more particularly, in its capital, Panama City. For the first time, a major motion picture - John Boorman's THE TAILOR OF PANAMA, starring Pierce Brosnan, Geoffrey Rush and Jamie Lee Curtis - had chosen Panama as its principal location, bringing with it the spotlight of international attention.

"I've made four movies in the tropics, so Panama wasn't wholly unexpected," comments Boorman. "Charm, beauty, corruption, drug dealing - this was a potent and exotic mix."

Tailor of Panama, The (2001) - Director
ohn oormanWhen Columbia Pictures first approached John Boorman about THE TAILOR OF PANAMA, John Calley told him there was a very long script by John Le Carré himself. "I found it full of vitality," Boorman recalls.

"I met Le Carré and got on with him enormously well - he's wise and funny and a great raconteur. I shaped the script from the book and Le Carré's script. The story had all these elements of drama and humor taking place in an exotic place seething with love, hate and corruption. Then at its heart there is this curious relationship between Osnard and Harry. They are drawn together, feed off each other. Harry is bullied and flattered by Osnard, and Harry cannot escape him because Osnard knows Harry's secret past."

The director always visualized Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush as Harry. "You never lose sympathy for Geoffrey on screen, even when he does dreadful things. There's something worn yet innocent about him. He has a tremendous range, and I knew he had the technical equipment to play Harry," he says.

"A good script grows on you, and THE TAILOR OF PANAMA is a very good script," comments Rush. "I like Harry. He is a memorable character, and I love his tailoring metaphors. Of course he goes too far with his fantasies, but he is fundamentally a good man. Harry is an accidental hero, and for an actor that is wonderful to play."

Rush brought his usual skills of preparation and diligence to the role of Harry. With the enthusiastic support of his wife, actress Jane Menelaus, Rush found himself taking tuition from a tailor in Sydney. Packing his bags and flying off to join Boorman and assembled company in Panama City, he met with a second tailor who taught him the important mechanics of chalk and cut.
"It's amazing the knowledge you acquire for a film," explains Rush. "I faked my way through Rachmaninoff in Shine (1996) and then tailored a waistcoat for THE TAILOR OF PANAMA!"

"The lure for me was John Boorman, John Boorman, John Boorman," says Brosnan. Although the part is a British spy, Osnard is a million miles away from Bond. "Osnard is loose and baggy, compared to Bond," explains Brosnan. "He's on the point of retiring from the field, he's disillusioned, he wants to make one last hit and then he's out of the game. He's a womanizer, he's cynical, he's manipulative."

"The more clearly a film exists in your head, the more disappointing it can be to make because it inevitably falls short of the imagined perfection," says Boorman, talking towards the end of shooting. "I am happy to say that in this case there were many moments when the actors surpassed my expectations. That's a joy."

The third side of the triangle of principal players was Jamie Lee Curtis as Harry's wife, Louisa. Jamie Lee Curtis has been a friend of the director and his family since she and Boorman were on the jury at the Cannes Film Festival in the early '90s. She possessed the fast-talking exterior, but inner fragility, that Boorman pictured for Louisa.

Adding to this spectacular cast is a great mix of veteran actors such as Harold Pinter and John Fortune and a blend of fresh faces including Brendan Gleeson and Leonor Varela. Each performer's unique approach to their character helped bring to life the intrigue, wit, humor and intelligence of the script.

Gleeson, often referred to as the "Irish Depardieu," discusses his character Mickie Abraxas: "Mickie is a tragic character. He is so nearly a hero. There is such a fine line between defeat and success - Mickie took a risk and paid the price. In different circumstances he would be heroic."

Gleeson plunged into the role of Mickie, a role that is arguably the biggest stretch of his career thus far. "Having thrown the book at Mickie, I had to settle him into a context so that I could forget about the external things. It has to come from within," says Gleeson. "I can understand the torment of the character, the booze, the rebellion, the passion. He's above the average in leadership, soul and charity, but he went into a downward spiral. The tailor is a myth-maker, a darner of human spirit. He reinvents Mickie into what he could have been."

The role of Marta offered a challenge to 28-year-old newcomer Leonor Varela. "When the script for THE TAILOR OF PANAMA arrived, I knew I would do anything to be in this movie," states Varela, who portrays Marta. "I auditioned for John Boorman, and he cut straight through my artifice; he gave me such a lot of help in a few minutes. I felt really good, and I knew I had the part."

Marta has been physically scarred by Noriega's goons, the secret force of the corrupt regime that once operated in Panama. Marta is a good woman who runs Harry's business and is fiercely protective of him. "Marta sees through to the heart of things. She sees Harry's strengths and his weaknesses. She sees through Osnard," Varela explains. "She is very calm and doesn't choose to be involved in any dissent, probably because of the time when she did."

Catherine McCormack plays British Embassy ice maiden Francesca. Arriving in Panama City, McCormack faced what she laughingly describes as "The first day from hell!"

It was a classic - meet your leading man for the first time and immediately indulge in some very sexy salsa dancing, followed by hectic antics in a steamy tropical boudoir. Oh, yes, and be observed by a group of movie technicians you've only just met, too.

McCormack was attracted to THE TAILOR OF PANAMA because she has been a fan of director John Boorman's work all her life. "Working with John Boorman was certainly the lure," she says. "He does the job so well."

John Fortune plays Maltby. "I've admired John Boorman's work for a long time, so I was pleased to come to Panama for him and play the Ambassador." Discussing the character of Maltby, Fortune says, "I think Maltby is the sort of man who is all surface - 'let's not rock the boat for goodness sake.'"

While Boorman the writer/director concentrated on getting the script right and casting the movie, Boorman the producer grappled with the logistics and practicalities of taking a major film production to a country with no expertise.

With his long-term colleague Kevan Barker as co-producer and Con Cremins as production accountant, Boorman brought on board key members of his production crew, mostly veterans of other John Boorman movies. Among them are production designer Derek Wallace, Oscar-winning director of photography Philippe Rousselot, camera operator Des Whelan, editor Ron Davis and costume designer Maeve Paterson.

Boorman is a consummate filmmaker. "I like the variety of the process," he says. "Writing is solitary, directing is public and producing is about holding it all together. Best of all I like the collaboration, the intensity of the relationships with actors and crew. I'm often asked if there isn't a conflict, doing all these jobs. As the director I often curse the writer, while the director often falls out with the producer. As I'm all three, I am usually at war with myself."

The reason each actor took the film, and each member of the crew signed up, can be summed up in one name: John Boorman. He is exacting, but most demanding of himself. A master of economy, he shoots not a foot more film than is necessary, and very few takes. As Brendan Gleeson comments: "I used to think John edited the film as he shot it. Now I believe he edits it as he writes the scenes."

And so to Panama, a worm on the map that is geographically the link between North and South America. It is hot, humid and wet for eight months of the year; hot, humid and dry for four months of the year - heaven for malaria mosquitoes who killed a staggering number of the men who built the Panama Canal.

Panama is where the Caribbean and the Pacific meet at one of the world's greatest man-made wonders, the Panama Canal. On one hand, Panama is a land of rain forests and deserted beaches, of natural flora and fauna, and on the other, a labyrinth of high rises and seemingly brand new banks to outnumber Wall Street.

Panama is probably best known internationally for three things - the famous national hat, the magnificent canal and the infamous '80s regime of General Noriega. In fact, Panama is a land of stunning beauty in both its vistas and its people, a rich mix of Spanish and Indian. Now restored to democracy, the country respects its seven Indian tribes and its Spanish heritage and embraces its visitors with enthusiasm. Panama has some of the most remote and some of the most accessible rainforests in the world. There are a recorded 940 bird species here—more than in all of North America. Jaguars and pumas prowl a short drive from the capital and yet the country has vast jungles containing not a single road. There are scores of picturesque beaches with hardly a human on them.

Historically, Panama's story is one of riches - of Peruvian gold carried by Spaniards across the Isthmus from Panama City on the Pacific coast to Nombre de Dios and Portobello on the Caribbean coast, where the precious metal was stored until it could be shipped to Spain. Huge forts were built from blocks of rock and coral to protect the gold from marauders, but the bastions failed to deter pirates - like the Welsh buccaneer Sir Henry Morgan, who sacked the city in 1671 and made off with all its treasure.

And then there is the Panama Canal. Its construction by the U.S. during the early 20th century is, like the pyramids of Egypt, a stunning testament to what humans can accomplish. The Panama Canal remains one of the engineering marvels of the world almost 90 years after the SS Ancon became the first ship to traverse the lock-and-lake waterway. Whether they are seen from the deck of a boat or from a viewing stand, the great locks of the canal leave no visitor unmoved.

"What a great job this is," commented a stunned Pierce Brosnan, busily snapping his own pictures of the Miraflores Lock as a giant tanker inched through, and waving a greeting at a surprised sailor. "We get to travel to places like this and see amazing things!"

As one of John Le Carré's characters said in the book, The Tailor of Panama, "We've got everything God needed to make paradise. Great farming, beaches, mountains, wildlife you wouldn't believe, put a stick in the ground you get a fruit tree, people so beautiful you could cry."

There was huge enthusiasm locally about the arrival of nearly 100 technicians (and even greater enthusiasm for the arrival of "James Bond"). Pierce Brosnan's presence always drew a crowd on location. He is more famous than most people on the planet and was mobbed wherever he went. Unlike many other cities, Panama has not yet become used to seeing major screen stars in its midst. Brosnan took it all in good spirits.

It is no exaggeration to say that the production put millions of dollars into the Panamanian economy, but it also gave many locally recruited employees that most valuable of commodities - experience.

Several local actors appear in the film, including former diplomat and actor Adolfo Arias Espinosa, who plays the President, and local theatre director Bruce Quinn, who plays an American tourist. Drawing from the poor communities in Casco Viejo as well as the wealthy suburbs, filmmakers recruited over 100 eager extras for the film.

In the course of six weeks' shooting, Boorman's production would put scenic Panama on the map. Permission was sought - and ultimately granted - to film in some rarely seen places. Among these were the President's Palace, the home of the Canal Commissioner, the control centre of the Panama Canal - a location so sensitive only absolutely essential shooting crew were allowed in - and the main lock at Miraflores. At Miraflores Locks, cameras turned as gigantic containers four stories high edged their way through the lock system with just inches of clearance on either side. This is precision work at its zenith.

Being mobbed by children.The unit filmed all over Panama City. In busy city streets in the heart of the banking district a colorful traffic jam was re-staged that was indistinguishable from the real thing. In the picturesque old town of Casco Viejo, reminiscent of the French quarter of New Orleans, the unit filmed among the crumbling buildings now largely inhabited by the poor.

Also in Casco Viejo, the film crew re-staged the excitement of Carnival with its exotic costumes, floats and steel bands providing hot music. During several nights of filming most of the local inhabitants joined in the fun, even those not officially recruited as extras. The street children of Casco Viejo did not sleep much during the days and nights when their district became a film set.

In the new city, a monument to steel and glass, blocks of modern high-rise apartments offer a stunning view of the bay to witness the ships queuing up to enter the Panama Canal. It is the visible evidence of Panama's wealth.

While the local police and private security personnel hired by the production struggled to keep the crowd at a slight distance from the immediate on-set action, they always had more trouble in the wealthy areas, where the residents showed far less respect for their authority.

Even the Marriott Hotel, the latest high-rise to open in Panama City and the host hotel for the entire cast and crew, allowed their lobby and bar area to be used as a film set. Over several days the hotel lobby and bar became the Two Oceans Club, an exclusive watering hole for the rich Turks of THE TAILOR OF PANAMA. It is there that Harry explains the hierarchy of the city to Osnard, the new boy at the British Embassy.

Shooting began at Gatun Lake with scenes involving Pierce Brosnan and Jamie Lee Curtis in the water near one of the small islands on the lake. Curtis comments, "There were oil tankers in the background, a camera crew in the water with the camera floating and two safety guys in the water in case of alligators. 'Ah, yes,' I thought, 'I'm in a John Boorman movie,' because John makes more vivid adventure movies than anyone else."

Before shooting began, Boorman spent two weeks of intensive rehearsals with Geoffrey Rush and Pierce Brosnan, joined after a few days by Jamie Lee Curtis, and later by Leonor Varela and Brendan Gleeson.

During the rehearsal period, different approaches to the work meshed into a cohesive whole. Unlike some actors' rehearsals, that are eaten into by other demands on everyone's time, the rehearsals on THE TAILOR OF PANAMA were sacrosanct.

Jamie Lee Curtis says, "Pierce Brosnan and I are more instinctual actors; we've both done work where you are left on your own to get on with things. John Boorman and Geoffrey Rush have an intellectual approach to the rehearsal process, and I found I had an emotional curiosity about it. I found it very interesting to be in a room talking about it as intensely as John and Geoffrey were doing. I thought, 'OK, I can go there.'"

For his director of photography, Boorman chose Philippe Rousselot, who made Emerald Forest, The (1985) and Hope and Glory (1987) with him (both men were nominated for Academy Awards for the latter film). Rousselot was also nominated for Henry & June (1990) and won the Oscar for Best Cinematography for his work on Robert Redford's River Runs Through It, A (1992).

Production designer Derek Wallace designed General, The (1998) and Two Nudes Bathing (1995) for Boorman and also worked with the director many times as property master. Editor Ron Davis has worked with Boorman as sound editor on Excalibur (1981), Hope and Glory (1987) and Emerald Forest, The (1985). He edited General, The (1998) and Beyond Rangoon (1995). General, The (1998) was costume designer Maeve Paterson's first job with John Boorman. Her other films include Nephew, The (1998) for Pierce Brosnan's company Irish Dream Time.

Once shooting in Panama was complete, the company headed for Ireland to begin what in some ways was the most difficult part of the film. Interiors were shot at Ardmore Studios in the glorious Wicklow countryside outside Dublin. Therefore, while the unit was shooting scenes in Panama, supervising art director Sarah Hauldren was working with her team preparing several complex interior sets following production designer Derek Wallace's instructions.

Thus the exterior of Harry and Louisa Pendel’s house is in residential Panama, but the minute you walk across the threshold you are on an Ardmore Studios sound stage. Ditto the exterior of Harry’s shop and Osnard’s apartment, three of the main sets constructed at Ardmore Studios. There was also an elaborate Pentagon Control Room set complete with dozens of state of the art IBM computers.

The actors agree that the move from Panama to Ireland was a difficult adjustment. "In Panama it's easy to feel in character," comments Geoffrey Rush. "But it's not nearly as easy to convince yourself you're in Panama when you're in Ireland..."

Prop buyer Shirley Henderson - who travelled to Panama for three weeks and ended up staying three months - bought loads of Panamanian odds and ends that were then used in the sets in Ireland. These props - and director of photography Philippe Rousselot's hot lights - helped the actors and the technicians transport themselves back to the steamy temperatures of Panama. The illusion was even helped by unusually warm weather in Ireland.

The shoot was comprised of six weeks in Panama, followed by four weeks of interiors at Ardmore Studios in Ireland. John Boorman has made Ireland his home for 30 years. Post-production also took place at Ardmore Studios in Ireland.