The story of Queen Elizabeth II’s stammering dad would never have hit the movie screens -- let alone snagged a dozen Oscar nominations -- if it weren’t for the filmmaker’s mom.
“The King’s Speech” shows a loudmouth speech therapist helping King George VI overcome his stutter. It is up for 12 Academy Awards -- the most of any movie this year -- including best picture, best actor for Colin Firth (who already won a Golden Globe), and best director for Tom Hooper.
Thirty-eight-year-old Hooper recalls how it all began: His Australian mother was invited to the reading of an unproduced, unrehearsed play about the king at a fringe theater.
“She almost didn’t go, because it didn’t exactly sound very promising,” says the boyish-looking director, in a navy blazer and black jeans. “Thank God she did, because she came home, rang me up, and said ‘You’re not going to believe this, Tom, but I think I found your next movie.’”
“The moral of the story is, listen to your mother,” he says with a wry smile.
The Weinstein Co. movie has grossed $91 million globally, according to Box Office Mojo, and is No. 1 in the U.K., where Hooper reports more than one standing ovation in a cinema.
What’s next for him? “I have a very large and growing pile of unread scripts,” says the quietly determined Hooper. “It’s all about the story, and I’m very open-minded.”
Asked who he’d like to work with, he mentions two-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep, and Leonardo DiCaprio.
“The King’s Speech” opens with the young prince (played by Firth) getting tongue-tied as he speaks in a packed stadium. His wife (Helena Bonham Carter) turns to Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a laid-back Australian who insists on using the prince’s nickname, Bertie.
Hooper notes the prince was “abused by his nanny, neglected by his parents, a lefthander forced to be a righthander, a bow-legged boy forced to wear metal splints at great pains to himself to correct it, and a young boy with a stammer.”
“It’s about a man being forced to conduct this life that he’s not really equipped to do,” he says. “I think that’s really connecting with people.”
Hooper started making movies at age 12, and shot his first (“Runaway Dog”) with a clockwork 16-millimeter Bolex camera and 100 feet of film, which was all he could afford.
Today, every cellphone has a camera, and most computers have editing software. “There’s been an amazing democratization of filmmaking,” says Hooper, who in March will judge 60-second movies by amateur filmmakers for the Jameson Empire Awards in London.
Hooper studied English at Oxford University while at the same time staging plays featuring fellow students Kate Beckinsale and Emily Mortimer and shooting TV commercials.
In 2009, he released his only other full-length feature -- “The Damned United,” about soccer manager Brian Clough. The year before, he directed HBO mini-series “John Adams,” which won four Golden Globes and 13 Emmy awards. Hooper won an Emmy award for directing the 2005 mini-series “Elizabeth I” starring Helen Mirren.
“I’ve had a little miniature taste of the awards season before, but this is a whole different thing in terms of the intensity of it,” he says.
Hooper is hopeful about the future of filmmaking.
“There’s been a lot of pessimistic gloom,” he says, “about the way piracy is going to decimate the business, and the way the digital revolution is posing all sorts of threats.”
“‘The King’s Speech’ is sticking to the old-fashioned model and it’s doing tremendously well,” says Hooper, whose movie is also up for 14 British Academy Film Awards (Baftas) next month. “There’s a lot to be optimistic about.”