Tom Hooper crowned king of directors

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The Independent Culture

Tom Hooper, who won the Oscar for best director Sunday for "The King's Speech," is best known for grand historical dramas, but made his first film aged 13 with his pet dog as the star.

The half-Australian, half-English 38-year-old has won a string of Golden Globes and Emmys for fact-based television shows including "John Adams" after cutting his teeth on children's programmes.

His most recent foray into feature films came in 2009 with the soccer movie "The Damned United," starring Michael Sheen as eccentric English manager Brian Clough.

Hooper said his dual parentage helped him bring feeling to the story of an Australian speech therapist helping King George VI to overcome a stammer.

"As the son of an English father who went to boarding school from the age of five after his own father died in the war, and an Australian mother, I know from my upbringing a little bit about the story of an Australian unpacking the effects of a tough English childhood," he said ahead of the film's release.

Hooper was brought up in London and attended the elite Westminster School - where Helena Bonham Carter, who played Queen Elizabeth in "The King's Speech," also studied.

He made his first film, "Runaway Dog", when he was 13 years old, using a clockwork camera with 100 feet (30 metres) of film, while his family and their pet canine filled the leading roles.

At Oxford University he directed plays starring the British actress Kate Beckinsale, whom he described as "genius."

Before Hollywood he rose through the ranks of British television, directing episodes of the BBC children's television series "Byker Grove" and the popular London-based soap "EastEnders".

Hooper's feature film debut came in 2004 with "Red Dust," about apartheid-era South Africa.

But it was a series of award-winning dramas for HBO that made his name.

"Elizabeth I," starring Helen Mirren as the 16th-century English monarch, and "Longford," about the relationship of a British peer with notorious "Moors Murderer" Myra Hindley, jailed for a string of child murders in the 1960s. Both picked up a string of gongs.

Hollywood veteran Tom Hanks then hand-picked Hooper to direct the mini-series "John Adams," starring Paul Giamatti as the second US president, which won the most Emmys ever awarded to a program in a single year.

"The King's Speech" came about through Hooper's Australian mother, Meredith, after she was invited to a reading of the then-unperformed play by Australian friends in North London.

She asked writer David Seidler to send the script to her son.

Hooper said the film had a special resonance because the therapist - played by Australian actor Geoffrey Rush - is from Down Under.

"It's not general knowledge that the man helping Bertie was Australian. I wanted the film to have a modernity and not to be stuffy and traditional," he said.

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