“Whenever I have to appear anywhere to promote this film, she’s not available,” he revealed recently when talking about the film’s Oscar campaign for Best Documentary Feature. “I always get to say, ‘She’s out there somewhere saving the world.’” Morgen was musing over tea and cookies earlier this week during a post screening reception at Manhattan’s lush Plaza Athenee. The doc uses newly found footage shot by the man who would later be her husband, Hugo van Lawick. Goodall likes the movie and that’s different than many of the other films made about her, according to Morgan.
The academy’s Documentary Branch likes it, too, landing “Jane” on the coveted shortlist. Now it wants to be one of the five Oscar nominees announced next week. That means hustling for Morgen and his studio, National Geographic and Public Road Productions. And some of the academy voters sipping Earl Grey would probably like to meet Goodall. But she’s got places to be.
“We’re like, ‘Jane we’ve got this award stuff coming up,’ and she’ll say, ‘No, I have a class I have to teach in Ireland,'” noted Morgen. “And I love her for that. I love that, at 84, she’s makes use of every second of every day.”
Producer Bryan Burk told me when it comes to her datebook, some people just got there first. “You have to understand this is a woman who’s schedule is planned out for the next year. When we got nominated for a BAFTA we called her and the first thing her people said was, ‘We’re trying to move her schedule around,’ and we were like, ‘No we just called to say congratulations.’”
Goodall is a tough old bird, doesn’t suffer fools and was unimpressed with Morgen on their first day of shooting. Neither filmmaker nor subject wanted to participate initially. Then this happened. “Before we shot, I said ‘I have to ask you this question,” admitted Morgen, “‘Were you wearing sunscreen?’ And she looked at me like, ‘Who is this idiot?’” Things improved when Morgan assembled scenes from the early 1960s Gombe footage and showed it to Goodall. She melted — a bit. When the two days she allotted for shooting concluded, Morgan said he wanted to tell her how much he had grown to admire her in the making of the film. Instead, “I was looking at her and I couldn’t get the words out, and I started crying — bawling. And it was a 50 person crew, and Jane said, ‘Get this man some Kleenex.’ And afterwards she invites me to have a whiskey with her.”
Morgen and Burk went to Goodall’s quarters but had a confession. “I said Bryan and I are not manly men. We aren’t drinkers. And she looked at Bryan and said, ‘I don’t know about him but you’re a crybaby.’ Jane I just poured my heart out to you a minute ago!” Morgan says the legendary woman of the jungle gave a grunt of disapproval. So even though she’s happy with the final product, the man who has profiled Kurt Cobain and Robert Evans may need more study. “When I told her the film was intended to be a parable of the Garden of Eden, and asked, ‘Who’s the snake?’ she replied, ‘Maybe you are, Brett.’”
Still, Morgen says Goodall is “his new hero.” And to the delight of the crowd on this day suggested she would make a great commentator for C-Span covering the White House and trying to analyze the President’s behavior. “Jane would have great commentary on Trump.”
Be sure to check out how our experts rank Oscar contenders in this and the other top races. Use the drop-down menus at the top of each page to see the other categories. Then take a look at the most up-to-date odds before you make make your Oscar nomination predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on January 23.