'The King's Speech': If all else should fail, try junk mail

How the makers of 'The King's Speech' resorted to desperate measures to get their star
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The Independent Culture

It has won a swathe of nominations for the Golden Globes and is tipped to win big at the Academy Awards later this year. But The King's Speech, the story of how King George VI overcame his stammer, was just a letterbox delivery away from never getting made.

While preparing the project, the film's production team provoked the ire of one of the film's stars, Geoffrey Rush, by taking the unorthodox step of posting the movie script through his home letterbox in Melbourne, Australia.

Rush's management wrote the filmmakers a furious email for their impertinence. Despite this, Rush accepted the role of Lionel Logue, the King's speech therapist. The film is released in Britain on Friday.

"We needed the weight of attaching some key cast," said the film's producer, Gareth Unwin of Bedlam Productions. "Joan Lane [theatre producer and agent to David Seidler, who wrote the original script] realised rather brazenly (and told us after the fact) she knew someone who lived two doors down from Geoffrey. We took the rather audacious move of posting the script in a brown envelope through his door.

"This flies against every fibre of me knowing how the business works. I ended up with a four-page email from his manager tearing me a new one. But it finished off with Geoffrey saying he liked it and that we should talk. We wouldn't have got to talk to Geoffrey at that stage otherwise. Joan was audacious in her thinking and it did pay off."

Publicly, Rush claims he was immediately intrigued by the script. "I live in a very leafy suburb in Melbourne, and this brown paper package was on my front doormat one day, and I thought, 'Oh, this is interesting'," he told US-based Interview magazine. "It was lying there like an orphan... The attached letter basically said, 'Excuse the invasion, and for not going through the protocol of your agent, but we're desperate for you to know that this script exists, because there is a wonderful role that we would love for you to consider.' So I read it."

The movie, which also stars Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter and Guy Pearce, tells the story of how King George VI ascended to the throne despite his terrible stutter, after his brother Edward VIII abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson. Encouraged by his wife Queen Elizabeth, played by Bonham Carter, King George is also trained to overcome his stutter by Logue. The monarch then became a comforting voice to his subjects via the radio as the country was plunged into the Second World War.

The film is directed by The Damned United's Tom Hooper, and also features Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill. The British-based co-producers claim Rush's involvement was instrumental in winning the film's financiers, which include the UK Film Council. The film is distributed in the US by The Weinstein Company, and in Britain by Momentum Pictures. The King's Speech was originally written by Seidler as a stage play, before being adapted for the big screen. Rush is credited as one of the film's co-producers.

Rush was born in 1951 in Queensland, Australia, making his stage debut aged 20 with the Queensland Theatre Company. His early film career was inauspicious until he wowed audiences in 1996's Shine, the story of piano prodigy David Helfgott.

He has since appeared in a number of historical films, including 1998's Elizabeth, 2000's Quills and 2002's Frida. A versatile actor comfortable with eccentric characters, younger audiences may know Rush best for his turn as the evil pirate Hector Barbossa in the Pirates of the Caribbean films. He has married film roles with a buoyant theatre career, last year making his Broadway debut in Exit the King, opposite Susan Sarandon.