On Sunday, Lifetime premieres Liz & Dick, its Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton biopic starring Lindsay Lohan and Grant Bowler. Exec producer Larry Thompson openly admits Lohan brought with her a younger demographic (and headlines) but also risk. He first met with Lohan about the project last December but cameras didn’t roll until June. “When we first met with her, she had two probations, and when we finally closed the deal with her, there was only one probation,” Thompson says. “If we couldn’t have gotten insurance, there would have been no movie. We wound up having to go to Lloyd’s of London to get what we called incarceration insurance…. We had to protect ourselves that if she were to have violated her probation during production, we wouldn’t have had to close down and lose our movie.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you approach Grant Bowler after having cast Lindsay?
LARRY THOMPSON: It wasn’t until I had Grant that I slept. It wasn’t until I saw Grant Bowler and Lindsay meet in that room and I saw the chemistry that I knew I could make Liz and Dick live again.
Was it difficult to cast someone opposite Lindsay knowing he might have concerns?
It was. I looked at every actor from Wales there was. I looked at every actor from the U.K. there was. And I wound up hiring a guy from New Zealand to play the most famous Welsh actor of all time. So it’s the magic of Hollywood. I think Grant Bowler is just fantastic in the movie.
You were on the set every day. Is there a moment in the movie when you think Lohan most related to Taylor?
It was in the ethereal soundstage in black that she most related to Elizabeth Taylor. It was when they’re speaking to camera and breaking the fourth wall. Liz and Dick were the first Brangelina, the most famous hunted couple in the world, the first paparazzi couple that’s given birth to the celebrity-crazed world that we now live in. That’s what fame’s about. Fame is the accumulation of all the good, bad, true, untrue, flattering, and non-flattering things said and written about someone when you become iconic. We respect Liz and Dick so much that we wanted to give them the last word, meaning that fourth-wall interview of them speaking to camera [throughout the film] is the two of them speaking from the grave. We decided to dress them in the ultimate thespian outfit. They’re sitting in a director’s chair, in all black. It’s almost like Hollywood heaven. And what they’re saying is, “Listen, we were this, we were that. The paparazzi said this, the paparazzi said that. All these things written about us — let us tell you what they said about us, what was really going on, and how we really felt about each other.” That device, which was my homage to Elizabeth and Richard, has allowed them the last word on themselves as icons and on what the media and the celebrity-crazed world can do with a couple. Maybe if we hadn’t had all this attention paid to us, we could have kept it together, but there were too many balls we were trying to keep in the air. That’s what Elizabeth’s saying. That’s what makes it tragic.
Is there a scene in the movie that you’re sure people will assume is totally made up that you want to assure them isn’t?
I believe that the scene in which Eddie Fisher comes home to that party, and Richard in front of everybody forces her to confess her love for him in front of Eddie, seems so outrageous, but it is so absolutely true, having been reported many, many times over the years as happening just like that. As is every scene in the movie, by the way. The fact that they were denounced by the Pope, that’s pretty strong. It’s one thing to get a DUI, it’s another thing for the Pope to denounce you… I know that when I was a kid, I used to go to the movies and when I would watch a true story about someone who was famous, I believed that to be THE movie. People who make movies have to understand the responsibility you have when you make a biopic. You have to be accurate. It takes a lot of effort and painstaking details to make these movies right, down to the wigs that take place over four decades, even after they’re dead. [Laughs] That’s hard.
Now that you have worked with Lindsay, are you hoping other producers give her a chance?
I want the best for Lindsay Lohan and anybody who ever hires her. But they have to know that making a movie with Lindsay Lohan is like jumping out of an airplane at 10,000 feet with a bolt of white nylon, a string, and a sewing machine. You’re building a parachute as fast as you can.
Your next planned biopic is on Oprah Winfrey.
I’ve optioned Kitty Kelley’s book [Oprah: A Biography]. We have a fantastic take on her life, and we’re talking to networks now, as we speak, and we’re interviewing writers right now, too. I am from Mississippi, as is Oprah Winfrey, and I believe that her start on a rural country road in Mississippi to the world stage that she lives is a journey that is nothing less than miraculous. I think it will be the most fascinating biopic I’ve ever done. I’ve made the Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz movie [Lucy & Desi: Before the Laughter]. I’ve made the Sonny and Cher movie [And the Beat Goes On: The Sonny and Cher Story]. I’ve made the Duke and Duchess of Windsor movie [The Woman He Loved]. And now I’ve done Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. I think the only thing I could follow all those up with would be Oprah.