Winter’s Tale: Goldsman’s Feature Debut, Starring Farrell

In Winter’s Tale, when the infant Peter Lake sails toward New York City in 1895, he has no inkling of the long and complicated life he is to live, or of the other lives he will touch in a very extraordinary way.  Peter has a miracle meant for one very special soul, one very important life that only he can save, if he can just stay alive long enough.

“The story blends a reality-based environment with the unexplained that exists behind the world we see,” states screenwriter, producer and first-time feature director Akiva Goldsman.  “It’s a straightforward emotional narrative, yet within that naturalistic world is a world where magic happens and people live for centuries.”

For Goldsman, Mark Helprin’s novel on which the film is based presented a challenge he could not resist.  “I first read Winter’s Tale in the `80s and fell in love with it,” he recalls.  “It’s hard to let go of things you love, especially if they spark your imagination as strongly as this did.”  Goldsman never forgot it, and in fact spent years thinking about how he would adapt it for the big screen.  “Mark’s book is big, close to 800 pages, and no screenplay could contain every element, so I worked on it, distilling from it what resonated with me the most, until it became part of the fabric of my writing life.”

“Akiva is one of our most acclaimed screenwriters,” says producer Marc Platt.  “Because of his passion for the story, and due to a personal journey in his life, he worked fervently to adapt this story and make it his own, while retaining all the wonderful qualities that are inherent and unique to Mark’s novel.”

“It’s a very complex sequence of events,” Goldsman observes, “and while I was in the process of trying to crack it, I had an unexpected loss.  When I finally started writing again, ‘Winter’s Tale’ went from something I loved to the thing I loved the most.  I had to see it through.”

Once he had completed the script, Goldsman knew it was the perfect project for his directorial debut and that he could not turn it over to anyone else.  “It had come to mean so much to me, and I felt so close to these characters for so long and I understood their feelings so well, I knew I had to direct the film, too.”

At the center of “Winter’s Tale” is a love story that spans a century.  “It’s about falling in love, and lost love, and it’s insanely romantic,” Goldsman relates.  “The hero, Peter Lake, is a dashing fellow who lives for more than 100 years because of how much he loves one woman, Beverly Penn.  A love that strong is something I think we’d all like to imagine finding for ourselves, and when I go to the movies, I want to be made to feel in ways that are more powerful, more extreme than in real life.”

Colin Farrell

Colin Farrell, who stars as Peter, says, “If you ask me what makes a good love story, I think it’s people getting lost in each other, and thereby finding themselves for the first time ever, finding the best aspects of themselves in the presence of the other person.  That’s what happens for Peter when he meets Beverly.  It’s immediate.  Their feelings for each other transcend the constrictions of time.”

The character of Peter Lake is something of an anti-hero; when we encounter him in 1916, he is a seasoned and skilled thief, and the way he makes his living is how he first meets Beverly.  Attempting to burglarize her father’s Central Park mansion and not expecting anyone to be at home, Peter stumbles upon a beautiful vision in white, with fiery red hair and a challenging nature that makes her, much to his surprise, unafraid.

Beverly is played by Jessica Brown Findlay, who was enamored of the screenplay on the first read.  “When I read the script, I just couldn’t believe a story like that, in the way it was being told with such a magical sensibility, was being made or that I could ever get to be part of something so beautiful.”

Unfortunately, When Peter meets Beverly she is already very ill with consumption, and does not have long to live.  But that is not the only thing that could tear the lovers apart.  Pearly Soames, Peter’s one-time mentor in thievery and a demon of the first order, has made it his personal mission in his never-ending life to hunt Peter down and make him pay for his perceived betrayal.

Eager to work with Goldsman again after their collaborations on “A Beautiful Mind” and “Cinderella Man,” Russell Crowe took on the villainous role.

Crowe says, “You don’t often get to have relationships that are as essential as I feel that mine and Akiva’s is.  Whether we’re on a film set together or writing something together, we see the same patterns emerge, so it’s one of the great creative collaborations of my life.  This was a beautiful script with beautifully realized characters, and all the points you need to make a story come alive were all there on the page, so I felt lucky to be involved in a really cool project with one of my mates.”

In addition to Farrell, Brown and Crowe, the film’s stellar cast also includes Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt and Eva Marie Saint.  Notes producer Michael Tadross, “Everybody loves Akiva; they all came to work with Akiva.  His script was one of the greatest I’ve ever read, and his vision for it was so clear, his enthusiasm so evident, and that made it such a pleasure for all of us.”

For his first time behind the camera, Goldsman surrounded himself with a team of some of the best artisans in the business, including cinematographer Caleb Deschanel and production designer Naomi Shohan, and shot the film on his home turf, New York City.

Due to the span of time covered in the film and the fantastical elements required of the story, the filmmakers were faced with creating New York’s skyline and its surrounds in three different eras: 1895, 1916 and 2014.  Fortunately, the production shot entirely in and around the city, providing them with access to the perfect locations, and the film’s director with great inspiration, just as the book had so many years before.

“My affection for grown-up fairy tales is real,” Goldsman offers.  “I tried to tell the story out of my own hope that everything happens for a reason, that the loss you experience today you may one day understand was a gain somewhere else.  I simply love the kind of story that makes you think all is right with the world…that makes you understand why stars hang in the sky.”