‘Liz & Dick’ Producer on Lindsay Lohan: ‘We Were Worried We Might Not Get Any Insurance at All’
A version of this story first appeared in the June 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
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After a week in production, Lifetime’s Liz Dick has made quite a splash.
Following the casting of Lindsay Lohan in the TV movie about Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s storied love affair, the actress was back to making headlines — first when the striking official production images were released and then after the actress was involved in a car crash that left her Porsche totaled.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with executive producer Larry A. Thompson on June 8 — hours before Lohan’s Malibu crash — to discuss what made the troubled actress right to play Taylor opposite Grant Bowler‘s Burton, the extra measures the production has taken and the challenges associated with brining the iconic actress’ story to the small screen.
The Hollywood Reporter: What have been the biggest surprises during the first week of production?
Larry Thompson: We started on Monday [June 4], and in this first week it’s hit me how consuming it is to try to make a movie about two icons spreading over four decades. Together, they have 117 costume changes in an 88-minute television movie — Lindsay has 66 herself. When you’re changing over four decades, that means the wigs change, the aging process of makeup changes, the fashion changes, not to mention you’re trying to pay homage to the type of clothes and jewelry that Taylor wore.
THR: What’s been the biggest challenge?
Thompson: The decision to cast Lohan, which in and of itself is a challenge in that at the time we did agree to hire her we were not totally sure of her level of commitment. But she has certainly lived up to every expectation we had of her. I keep saying that there are more ways for this movie to fail than there are for it to succeed. You can tell the greatest story in the world, but if you have somebody wearing a bad wig in the movie, you’re dead; one bad wig can kill you. There’s a curiosity factor about Lohan and a high expectation of the movie by the audience in general.
THR: Many people are divided about Lohan playing Liz Taylor. What made her the right choice? Have you been surprised to the reaction to the early images?
Thompson: Saying they’re divided is being kind. A lot of people were shocked by [the casting]; I know from all the bizarre e-mails I get. We’ve discovered in this first week that all the naysayers, now that they know we actually are shooting the movie and they’ve seen the official photos, I sense the tide turning. I’ve made movies in the past of iconic couples — Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz movie for CBS called Lucy and Desi, ABC’s And the Beat Goes On about Sonny Bono and Cher for ABC and about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor for CBS — and I know that when you make these type of movies that there are many people with preconceived notions of how they should look or who they should look like. It’s very difficult to please everybody. Lohan and Bowler not only do they look like Taylor and Burton, but their acting together and chemistry really says to you that Liz and Dick live again. You can see it, sense it and feel the chemistry. When we negotiated Lindsay’s deal, we literally had eight pages of what-ifs and all these contingencies ranging from insurance, but there was never a “what if she can’t act?” She has embraced this challenge, this opportunity, and she is addicted to Elizabeth Taylor.
THR: What were the what-if stipulations in her contract?
Thompson: What if she doesn’t meet the requirements of her probation? What if the probation is not lifted? What if were arrested again after the probation had been lifted? Which led us to doing something very unusual in getting something called incarceration insurance beyond the quite expensive premium we had to pay for cast insurance. We were worried we might not get any insurance at all, that was one of the what-ifs: if we couldn’t insure her because she had not been insured.
THR: How has she been on set? Showing up on time? Any challenges specifically with Lohan?
Thompson: No more than anything you would normally go through during the first week of production; everybody is settling in and making sure everything is right from the jewelry to the wigs to the trailer. People keep saying, “Is she a diva?” So far this week, I’m the only diva on the set; I have a nervous breakdown getting through this, but I think we’ll be fine.
THR: What made her right for Taylor?
Thompson: Lifetime knew that Taylor and Burton as a movie had a built-in audience. Especially since her death, there’d been a renewed interest in her life and her life and her husband’s. Lifetime also felt a lot of people who know Taylor and Burton are older, and they wanted to broaden the demographic and bring a younger generation to it. We wanted a young Taylor and a Lindsay Lohan age group of an actress: Whether it had been Megan Fox, Olivia Wilde, even Jennifer Connelly, for that matter — they could have brought us a younger demographic to a movie about Taylor and Burton whereas they might not know who they are. When you go to the Lohan Factor, she brings the curiosity factor and a generation of audience that might not even know who Taylor and Burton are. If we’re going to get older people to watch, Lindsay brings us a younger generation. We’ve built a potential for an international broad demographic movie.
THR: Did you look at Megan Fox and Olivia Wilde? Did they read for it?
Thompson: Yes I did. They did not read for it, but they read the script. For multiple reasons, they passed. We had discussions with them. Fox took almost a month of her possibly doing it; it was basically Megan or Lindsay, that was the milieu that we were dealing with.
THR: What made Grant Bowler right for Burton?
Thompson: We tried so hard to find someone either Welsh or British. One person we were interested in was Ioan Gruffudd (Ringer, Fantastic Four). That was someone we were at one time zeroing in on. Grant being from New Zealand has the testosterone, looks, intelligence and the voice we needed for Burton. He brings a maturity and gravitas to Lindsay to round out the coupling in a three-dimensional way. He grounds the whole concept. It’s about people who meet on the set of Cleopatra and, while both were married with children, how they immediately began this notorious, scandalous affair on the set in Rome, then recklessly continued to have a public affair which during that time was considered so immoral that the pope denounced them in public as erotic vagrants. So when people talk about Lindsay Lohan’s behavior — if you think having a DUI is bad behavior, at least she wasn’t denounced by the pope like Taylor and Burton were in their day. I think the audience will find it very interesting.
Lifetime’s Liz Dick TV premieres in the fall. Will you watch?
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