During our recent webcam chat (watch above), “Florence Foster Jenkins” screenwriter Nicholas Martin admits to being, “completely captivated” by “the combination of the heartbreak and the hilarity” in the title character’s singing voice. Based on a true story, this recent Paramount release stars Meryl Streep as a New York heiress who dreams of becoming an opera star, despite being a hilariously bad singer. Martin first became aware of her through a video on YouTube and instantly, “wanted to know more about her story.”
A two-time winner at the Writer’s Guild of Great Britain for the dramatic series “Between the Lines” (1995) and “The Bill” (2008), Martin found that Jenkins, “had tremendous chutzpah and sincerity and determination, but no talent at all.” However, “what’s unusual about her is the performances transcend her lack of talent, and they are beautiful in their own right.” As well, “there is a tragedy in the voice,” that the author found, “very, very moving.”
Rather than simply writing a screwball comedy about a bad singer, Martin realized, “the story was a love story” between Florence and her husband, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), who facilitates his wife’s career: “The peculiarity, but the sincerity, of their love, was actually what lay at the heart of the film.”
Yet there is a lot of comedy in it, brought out by two-time Academy Award nominated director Stephen Frears (“The Grifters”  and “The Queen” ). “He’s really influenced by movies of a by-gone era,” reveals Martin, adding that the filmmaker made him watch Billy Wilder‘s Best Picture-winning “The Apartment” (1960) as a guide. With “Florence,” the idea was, “this is the popular Saturday night movie, and it’s got to move quickly. So the work we did was about efficiency: getting in, making your point, and getting out.”
After years of television work, “Florence Foster Jenkins” is Martin’s first produced feature film script. Could it lead to his first Oscar nomination? Check out our full interview above for more, including the influence of Streep and Grant on the rewrites.
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