THE GOOD LIAR
About The Production
"'The Good Liar" is an intriguing look at the dark side of human nature but
often with a
glimmer of macabre humor," says director and producer Bill Condon of this
gripping tale where
so little is what it seems to be. "It's a thriller with a Hitchcockian feel,
weaving in elements of
mystery, crime and a human drama. And at its heart are two beautifully complex
played by two of the greatest actors of all time, at the top of their form, who
can keep you guessing
like a classic whodunnit till the very end. It's all wickedly fun."
Beyond that, and because he knows that people likely expect to have the rug
from under them in a story like this, Condon adds, "What excites me most is how
be able to piece together this intricate puzzle with all its twists and turns.
It's not just the twists
themselves that might surprise you but the motives and the sheer depth of where
they come from
Helen Mirren stars as Betty, who accepts that first tentative meeting between
and Ian McKellen's dapper Roy. "You want characters that have substance and
Mirren. "Still, Betty is quite sweet. She doesn't appear to be strong or tough
at all. Like a lot of
people, she feels there's something missing in her life. She's looking for
to go out to dinner with or to the theater, and along comes this man, Roy, who's
engaging and could be exactly what she's looking for."
In fact, it soon seems that these two have made a connection-two people in
something special who have decided to take a chance on each other. Exploring not
only the art
of deception but that of relationships, "The Good Liar" offers the tacit,
acknowledgement that success at either so often depends upon those involved
having the same
Ian McKellen, marking his fourth collaboration with Condon, says, "Puzzles
complications make for a very entertaining story. I judge a script first and
foremost on whether
this is a film I would like to see, and I like stories where you don't know
what's going to happen
next. There are times when I think you'll catch your breath because something
happens that you
In keeping with that promise, McKellen scrupulously avoids describing the
closely. Instead, he offers, "Let's just say it's two rather interesting people
who go on a date
together," before slyly suggesting... "they may have different agendas."
One thing is certain: when they meet, Roy is expertly sizing Betty up.
Beneath his flawless
manners and the sparkle in his blue eyes is a shameless scheme to woo her,
vulnerabilities... and abscond with every penny she has. Already, he believes he's
Well taken care of but admittedly at loose ends since her husband died, Betty is
compassionate, lonely and perhaps a bit more welcoming than wise.
However, despite Roy's confidence in his well-honed prowess and the role he's
play, it's possible this woman isn't quite what he takes her to be. Granted, his
whole life may be
a web of lies...but who's to say there isn't also more to Betty than meets the
eye? She may have
secrets of her own.
For one thing, it appears that Betty has laid in some insurance in the form
of her grandson,
Stephen, who waits nearby with a car to escort her safely home should her date
go south. "Just
a precaution," she explains. And the boy does worry about her. Of course, Roy is
understanding, though it's clear that a protective young man in the picture is
the last thing he
Stephen is played by Russell Tovey, who is joined in the supporting cast by
Jim Carter as
Vincent, Roy's longtime partner in crime.
If the details of Roy's personal life arouse Stephen's suspicion,
good-natured Betty doesn't
make an issue of it. Roy's out for the afternoon? Going to see a friend in the
questions asked. "There's a fair amount of mystery in his life, and various
connections to him aren't quite clear, so there's always the sense that
something is going on in
the shadows," Mirren observes.
Though it doesn't seem to dampen Betty's interest in her new suitor, what she
know about Roy is always the unspoken factor. It adds a measure of uncertainty
as well as a heightened risk of danger, should she get innocently drawn into the
whatever other games he's running.
The truth is, for a man who lives by his wits and can't resist the adrenaline
the ego boost-of a well-executed, high-stakes con, fleecing wealthy women is
something of a
side hustle for Roy. He usually has more than one iron in the fire.
"In a sense, the story reveals the fascinating pathology of a career con
Condon. But although the Nicholas Searle novel on which the film is based
focuses more on
Roy's trajectory, Condon instinctively saw it as a cinematic two-hander between
Betty and Roy-
or Helen and Ian-where, he adds, "the female character and her point of view
have equal weight.
It really begins and ends with this relationship that develops between the two
"Right from the start it was clear to us that we wanted a proper duel,"
Greg Yolen. "A huge part of the appeal of this film is the chance to see these
together, bringing such nuance and style to these roles. It's a fabulous pairing
that was a
preposterously long time coming."
It was Yolen who first discovered the novel and offered it to his filmmaking
partner of more
than a decade just as Condon was embarking on a transatlantic flight. "By the
time Bill landed
six hours later, I had an email in my inbox," Yolen recounts. "He said, 'This is
a movie!' I think
Bill's exceptional talent as a director is his ability to get deeply into
complex characters and stories
that raise a lot of questions, and to create a sophisticated piece of work that
doubles as cracking
entertainment. 'The Good Liar' is a multi-level emotional mystery that slowly
breaks itself open
and reveals new angles."
Condon and Yolen tapped acclaimed screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher-with whom
successfully collaborated on "Mr. Holmes"-to adapt the book into a screenplay.
"Every now and then I'll bump into something and say, 'Oh yeah, I want a crack
at that.' This was
definitely one of those. In the middle of the story is a scam, in the middle of
the scam looks like
a love story, and in the middle of that is something else. It's like Russian
dolls: every time you
twist the head off one, you find another one inside."
Adapting Searle's tale for the screen meant bringing a greater portion of the
present-day, where technology plays an integral role and where the past remains
a dark shadow.
"The book reveals things earlier and the suspense is about when the characters
will discover what
the reader already knows," Hatcher explains, "whereas the film takes more of an
approach, allowing the audience to take on the point of view of first one
character and then the
It was all good for Searle, who declares, "I loved the screenplay; Jeffrey
did a great job.
It's different, but equally close to the spirit of the book and I'm absolutely
cool with that. Bill was
a fantastic choice to direct. He has such a sensitivity for character. He's done
a diverse range of
movies, all of them with real heart at the center, and I like the way he focuses
on the individuals
as well as the larger story."
As Betty and Roy spend more time together, "The Good Liar" takes us from
stomping grounds amid the bustling thoroughfares of London to Betty's placid
but not so far into their hearts and minds. To the casual observer, they're just
enjoying each other's company: Betty smiling and revitalized and Roy, with
telling his stories and reveling in the thrill of the chase.
"As we know, bad people can be filled with charm and wit to the point that
even begin to root for them," Condon suggests. "It's interesting to try and make
them complicit in
that, to possibly be distracted by those qualities and not look at what's
But what's underneath is ultimately what "The Good Liar" is all about.
CAST AND CHARACTERS
Having seen Mirren and McKellen match wits on the Broadway stage some years
Strindberg's "The Dance of Death," Condon says, "I knew they were great sparring
one thing that surprised and delighted him once production began on "The Good
Liar" was the
distinctly disparate ways in which the two approached their craft-a contrast in
styles not unlike
the characters they portray.
"For Helen," he begins, "I think it's more about the immediacy of the
experience and how
it all comes to life in the moment, whereas with Ian, it's all about rehearsal
and discussion, and
examining the script from every angle as well as the blocking, costumes, and
props. It was
fascinating to watch their interaction. At some point, first one and then the
other drew me aside
to express how much in awe they were of each other and to marvel at each other's
which was so different from their own, like two ways of seeing the world."
Considering their theatrical resumes, the actors likewise appreciated
approach. "I think it's partly why we got on so well, immediately-that we both
love the theater,"
Mirren adds, "Bill knows theater and it shows in his film work. There's a
straightforwardness to it, a way of getting to the point quickly. And his
writing background as well
was a huge advantage in terms of honing the dialogue in a scene; he has a
of what to cut or what's missing."
Comparing the way in which audiences gain insight about the two leads, Condon
to say, "From the beginning it's Roy we learn the most about in terms of his
life and activities,
whereas Betty plays things much closer to the vest. She's mostly seen from Roy's
point of view,
which makes Helen's performance all the more challenging because within that
a homebody, a lonely widow-you come to realize that's not quite all there is to
"As we see her," Mirren volunteers, "she's a nice person. She's intelligent,
but with a sort
of innocence about her and a sense of decency. She's also direct, which I like."
But intelligence can be a subjective commodity. It's possible to be highly
educated in one
area of expertise such as art, history or literature, yet know next to nothing
about finances and
investments because, perhaps, there used to be a spouse at home who took charge
things. When it comes to Betty, this all-too-common lapse is what Roy is
counting on. As Condon
asserts, "It's what all cons count on."
Consequently, it was Mirren's task to play Betty, he describes, "as slightly
sophisticated about certain things. But what you don't want is a person who
comes across as
unconvincingly naive. Betty is bright, there's no denying that. Helen just has
to bring it down a
couple of points and it's that kind of subtlety that she does so brilliantly.
That's part of what's so
delicate about the movie. It's not a traditional mystery in that we're not
pretending that Betty isn't
also holding something back. You get just a sense of it, possibly, but you can't
imagine what it is,
or why, or how she's planning to use it."
With Roy, meanwhile, a great deal is immediately revealed regarding his plans
business deals, not to mention the depth of his determination to get what he
wants. And yet, so
much about him remains unknowable, a fact that McKellen teases by acknowledging,
"If I talk
about Roy, I might be saying something Roy wouldn't want me to tell you. That
he's a con man is
rapidly obvious, but who he actually is, where he comes from and what his
motives are, are part
of the fun of watching the story unwind. His mustache is real; I'll tell you
It's that dry sense of humor, along with McKellen's other gifts, that Condon
has come to
count upon in his performances. "Ian is one of the world's preeminent
Shakespearean actors," he
says, "with a gallery of film villains to his credit, but I believe it was 'Lord
of the Rings' and that
wonderful, magical twinkle he brought to Gandalf that made him beloved around
the world by a
new legion of fans. He brings all of those elements together in Roy."
As the weeks progress, Betty and Roy draw closer by degrees, until a rather
accident puts their relationship on a faster track. Roy, having taken a minor
tumble, bruises his
ankle and can't manage the steps to his third-floor walk-up in the city,
prompting Betty to offer him
the use of her spare bedroom until he's back on his feet.
It's an entirely typical and generous impulse that seriously upsets her
headstrong grandson, Stephen, a doctoral student, played by Russell Tovey. He's
been trying in
vain to persuade her to put the brakes on things, at least until he can run a
background check on
"Stephen is someone who pushes and he's not afraid of being aggressive or
Tovey says. "He cares for Betty and has taken on this protective role, but he
probably takes it too
far. He's very dubious about this man coming into her life and frustrated that
Betty and Roy have
become so close, so quickly. It's a constant challenge for him to keep his
emotions in check and
he becomes a real thorn in Roy's side."
Consequently, Stephen's own relationship with Betty becomes increasingly
above all, Betty prizes her independence: her home, her life, her decisions.
Citing Tovey's standout performance in "The History Boys" and his leading
role in the
recent London stage production of "Angels in America," Condon says, "He's an
actor I've always
wanted to work with. Stephen is a part that could have gone in another
direction. He could have
been a more traditionally conventional, uptight, academic and a bit of a prig. I
really liked how
Russell brought a different kind of life to it."
Though Stephen's reaction to Roy is less than enthusiastic, Tovey couldn't
happier to reunite with McKellen, with whom he worked on the 2011 short "Lady
"Ian is just cool," he says. "He's not at all his age; he's like a dude. I
loved hanging out with him.
And Helen is heaven, just heaven. At one point I was aware that I was standing
next to Gandalf
and Queen Elizabeth-these actors who are so well-respected and with such
and yet they're so grounded and gracious. When you do scenes together and
they're just in the
moment with you, it's the most rewarding experience."
Insofar as Stephen tries to look out for Betty's interests as much as she
will allow it, Roy
has his own second: a man he calls Vincent, played by Jim Carter. But it's not
Vincent close. He and Roy are longtime mates in the fraud trade, during which
the agile Vincent
has presumably donned a range of supporting roles in whatever scam Roy has
cooked up. When
audiences first see him, he's masquerading as a wire operator for an
transaction engineered to bilk some volatile Russian gangsters. Later, Vincent
appears as a staid
financial planner Roy introduces to Betty to secure her savings in a low-risk,
that might sound to some people just a little too good to be true.
"We don't know how they got together but they've obviously been doing this a
because they're quite slick as a team," says Carter. "Theirs is a well-oiled
routine, as they've
been conning people for years; it's their act. They're just two guys looking to
make a quick buck
and it sort of emerges through the story that this might be their last big
Working alongside McKellen for the first time since "Richard III" in the
mid-'90s, "was great
fun," Carter attests. "We get on like a house on fire and he's so generous to
act with, it's a treat."
Theirs was an easy, conspiratorial rapport that the actors fully replicated on
first, Condon recalls, "You think there are many actors of a certain age in
England who would be
right for this part but then, when you dig deeper into the qualities and the
moments and scenes
that character plays, it becomes a much shorter list and that was headed by Jim
often isn't much of an emotional connection between the people in this story,
but certainly you
could argue that whatever warmth exists in Roy's life comes from Vincent."
ON LOCATION IN ENGLAND
Having now completed a third film production in London-following "Mr. Holmes"
2017's "Beauty and the Beast"-the New York City native and U.S.-based Condon
immense respect and enthusiasm for what some might call a tough proposition.
"As soon as you say it, you're always given the lecture about how absolutely
is to shoot in London, it's so busy and so active, and you can't stop
traffic...and it's all true," he
relates with a laugh. "But Greg and I love shooting in London; it's spectacular.
Especially on a
project like this, where very little was built, you have all this history and
extraordinary locations to
choose from, all in one place."
The film's practical sites included an apartment block in Belsize Park that
bachelor flat with its classic vaulted ceilings; Hatchards bookshop in the
Piccadilly shopping district; the Fortnum & Mason department store; and the
famed Lock & Co.
Hatters on St. James Street, where Betty helps Roy scout for a new topper.
Their brief shopping spree required some creative maneuvering, as Greg Yolen
"It's a logistical challenge to be shooting in the middle of Piccadilly. We
couldn't close the street,
so it meant trying to keep the crew footprint very small and making sure you're
all tucked in so
that pedestrians are able to flow around you-and not so they're walking into the
street and getting
hit by taxi cabs. The key was to figure out how to do it quickly."
Their efforts proved worthwhile, as the finished scene authentically conveys
and flavor of that world-famous square of high-end commercial real estate,
combined with the
light-hearted air of a new couple sharing a bit of high spirits. But there were
hurdles yet to come,
most notably a scene set in Charing Cross Station on the London Underground that
captured entirely on site. It involved collaboration from multiple departments,
as well as the local
TfL (Transport for London) Rail authority, who are understandably cautious about
involving any kind of violence perpetrated on their tracks and so rarely allow
film crews to capture
that kind of footage. For "The Good Liar," they made an exception.
"It was probably the film's most complicated sequence," Yolen states. "There
was a huge
crowd component, plus visual effects and stunt components. It's not easy to
shoot on a subway
platform; it was very tricky. Every time we wanted another take, we had to back
the train out, and
then we had to wait and hit it at just the right moment. But our crew did a
fabulous job and we
got everything we needed."
In the scene, Roy encounters a tenacious adversary at the platform's edge.
much younger man has an inkling of what's happening, Roy deftly upsets his
balance with a twist
of the wrist and a jab with his umbrella, toppling him onto the tracks in a
single, flowing motion-
revealing beyond any doubt his cold-blooded nature and the shocking lengths to
which he'll go to
safeguard his interests. VFX supervisor Glen Pratt explains, "The stunt was
performed on the
tracks with a wire pull. We timed the train, which we then shot coming in, from
position, so we had that as a separate pass. We then had the action with Ian and
the stunt double,
with the stunt double getting pulled onto the track and, once we were happy with
combined the two in post-production."
Though the victim's part was completed at the crucial moment by a stunt
McKellen himself played Roy's part to a T...lethal umbrella and all.
From there, the filmmakers moved to Leatherhead, Surrey, just outside of
London, to find
the single-story house that represented the exterior of Betty's quiet suburban
home. Interiors of
the home were then built on a soundstage at Shepperton Studios.
Production designer John Stevenson says, "We decided to use a muted palette
overall look. Roy is a character full of mystery and artful guile, and so his
commands an even darker, more ominous palette. We nicknamed this 'whiskey and
ochre walls, leather sofas, expensive art and antiques suggestive of a man with
"In contrast," Stevenson continues, "we felt that Betty's house evoked a more
feminine space, with pastel colors and a sense of deceptive calm. This is a
world of 'frames within
frames,' allowing for a greater sense of depth in a relatively confined space.
Long corridors, the
careful positioning of doors and frosted panels also helped the sense of threat
within the space
and gave the camera freedom to move unhindered."
"John did a wonderful job of creating a deceptively bland and featureless
much of the action takes place, with so many interesting layers, and an overall
quality that puts
you slightly ill at ease" Condon attests.
In that sense, Betty's home is just one more thread in a tapestry of
suggestion as "The
Good Liar" serves up its clues. Similarly, the sudden jarring violence of Roy's
excursions into the
city are juxtaposed with the soft, dreamy tableaux of a tea room luncheon and
which the simplest words and glances can telegraph so much. Or nothing at all.
The film's enigmatic atmosphere and color scheme were also carried in the work
cinematographer Tobias Schliessler and costume designer Keith Madden.
Even working alongside editor Virginia Katz in the editing bay after filming
director found himself measuring the meanings in every frame. "I have to say
this movie was a
pleasure from start to finish, but perhaps my favorite part was the editing," he
says. "Figuring out
how to dole out the bits of information about the story and the characters was
so tricky. Just the
addition or subtraction of a single shot, or a phrase, made such a difference
that it was like being
inside the world's greatest crossword puzzle. And it was similar for the
scoring, which is the final
element to tie the pieces together."
Condon collaborated with composer Carter Burwell, noting, "The music sort of
a romantic, European feel to the opening scene and then it changes. Carter is a
master of bringing
out emotions that may exist under the surface and, if you go back and know what
for, he has a wonderful way of dropping little musical clues throughout."
Once all is revealed, Yolen observes, "There's a kind of residual effect
where you can look
back on the performances and realize how many things they were playing at the
same time. I
think it makes the film a very rich experience that will hopefully provoke a lot
of surprising and
In a story about secrets and lies, Condon concludes, "the best part of
watching a movie
like this is that you never know what's going to happen-or why. And that's the
fun of it."
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