Whatever else he may have been or done, Phil Spector was always a magnet for great talent.
As a record producer, and the creator of The Wall of Sound, he worked with everyone from the Righteous Brothers to The Beatles to Ike and Tina Turner. And now, as the subject of a March HBO movie about his trial for the murder of Lana Clarkson, he’s pulled together Al Pacino, Helen Mirren and, as writer and director, David Mamet.
Mamet, actually, says he had no interest in Spector while his trial was going on — he assumed, he says, that Spector was “a freak and a murderer.” And then his agent sent him the documentary The Agony and Ecstasy of Phil Spector, and he changed his mind. He came away thinking there was more to Spector and his story than he knew. And Phil Spector was born.
The problem, he says, was that he wasn’t sure how to tell Spector’s story without indicting the victim, something he was unwilling to do. And then he decided to tell it from the point of view of Spector’s attorney, Linda Kenney Baden, played by Mirren.
Mirren, of course, is used to playing real people, having won an Oscar for The Queen. “It’s always a tricky little tight rope that you walk in those areas,” she says, turning to Baden, who was sitting on a stage next to her.
While Mirren spent time with Baden, Pacino made no effort to visit Spector, who is now in prison. “I didn’t particularly seek out who he was,” says Pacino, preferring instead to rely on Mamet’s vision of Spector. “The play is the thing. It’s what I read from Mamet about this particular character. That is my extent of my knowledge about him. I didn’t meet him because he’s in prison, he’s already been convicted. This man I’m playing is the guy who was there before he was convicted …It’s a different Phil Spector now.”
It’s also, by the way, a different Baden: The role was originally set to be played by Bette Midler, who worked on the film for two weeks. Mamet says was terrific – but a back injury forced her out of the part. “She couldn’t move. She had to be carried off the set.”
And so he turned to Mirren. After all, she jokes, “We’re both blonde.”