Backstage Interview: David Seidler, Original Screenplay
by Daniel Haim
David Seidler (born 1937) is an Academy Award-winning British-American playwright and film and television writer. He is most notable for writing the play and the screenplay for the film The King’s Speech. Seidler won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay at the 83rd Academy Awards.
Q. Mr. Seidler, to your right. Congratulations over here. I’m waving right at you. There you are. How are you? Congratulations. Good for you.
A. Thank you.
Q. You said you felt this movie has now given stammerers a voice around the world. Talk to me a little bit more about that. Why do you think that is?
A. Well, I don’t want to give away privileged information, but you know, a fairly high ranking person called me the other day and wanted to talk ex stutterer to ex stutterer and expressed their guilt at the fact that for so many years they stayed in the closet because they felt it would hurt their career to be known as an ex stutterer because people still have the archaic notion that we stutterers are feeble minded simply because it is difficult to articulate our thoughts. And the fact that this film has come out has given so many people the courage to talk about their stuttering, and I’ve been flooded with the most wonderful e mails, phone calls, text messages from my fellow stutterers because I’m still a stutterer, all right. I know all the tricks; you don’t hear it. I don’t even have to think about it anymore, but I am still a stutterer. But to have these people tell me their personal stories, really moves me to tears.
I’ll give you one example. A speech therapist spoke to me just a few days ago, that one of her clients, a teenage girl, had come in and having been terribly bullied for being a stutterer, and what do most of these stutterers do when we’re bullied, we keep quiet because how can we talk back? That’s the very thing they tease us about. But this girl was determined not to take it. And the therapist said, “What made the difference? Normally, you just remain passive.” And she said, “Because I have a voice.
Q. Congratulations, Mr. Seidler. I know it was a long process for you to get here tonight, but hopefully for your next project it won’t take so long. I understand it’s a World War II related story. Can you talk a little bit about your next project? And also, you’ve gone through a long process to get here tonight. Can you talk a little bit about that as well?
A. Okay. My next two I think you’re really referring to my next two projects. The first the next project is the LADY WHO WENT TOO FAR and it’s about Lady Hester Stanhope who, during the Napoleanic Wars, went into the Middle East and became a female Lawrence of Arabia. She did exactly what Lawrence did a hundred years later. She organized the identical Bedouin tribes and was let down badly by the British at Whitehall and it all came to naught, just as it did with Lawrence. It’s a Laura of Arabia.
I think the World War II story you’re referring to is the games of 1940. The games of 1936, as you all know, were in Berlin were Hitler’s games. The games of 1940 were scheduled for Tokyo. They didn’t take place, but officially. Unofficially there were 150,000 prisoners of war, Allied prisoners of war in Stalag 13A in (unintelligible) outside of Nuremberg who were kept in appalling conditions to break their spirit, and they decided secretly to hold an international prisoner of war Olympic games in 1940 without the Germans knowing. It’s a true story, and I think that’s the one you’re referring to.
In terms of the long haul to get here, well, I’m just a very stubborn man, and it took awhile. I did want to respect the Queen Mother’s wishes not to do it during her lifetime, not realizing that she would have the good fortune to be with us for so long, but eventually I got to write it. Thank you.
Q. Congratulations, sir. Sergeant Connors, Armed Forces Network. One of the themes that I saw in the movie was leadership during war, King George VI was thrust into a position that he didn’t necessarily expect. What is your advice from exploring the subject that you would have today for leaders in these wars who are in situations they may not have been prepared for?
A. Absolutely. I’m sure in your uniform, you know all about suddenly having to take up leadership when you least expect it, which is what happened to Bertie. One of the themes of the film is the social contract, by which I mean with privilege and position and wealth comes responsibility and duty, and Bertie really understood that. His brother did not. But Bertie was a man who was not meant to be king, he didn’t think he would be king; he wasn’t really suited to be king. He had a speech impediment and he was a fragile man. But when his brother let the nation down, he knew it was his duty to try to make up for this. And it’s very interesting that at the ascension council when he first took over before his coronation he very humbly said, I’m paraphrasing now, I’m going to try my best to make up for all of this and do my job well, and he did. He bellied up to the bar and he delivered, just the way you guys do.
Q. David, congratulations.
A. Hello, Baz. Good to see you.
Q. You, too. You mentioned earlier when you worked with the Queen Mother at the beginning of this process 30 odd years ago, and you didn’t start the movie until she passed, have you had any other further contact with the palace, with the Queen’s office, with Prince Charles about the movie, and have they seen it?
A. Well, I don’t know that directly because I was not in the palace, but we have certainly heard, and it has not been denied and it could easily be denied, that Her Majesty has seen the film. We are told that she was moved and amused. I am deeply moved by that, and I am very gratified that if this is true, she clearly understood that this was written and made with a great deal of love, affection and respect for her father. And as I said in my speech, I’m awfully glad she didn’t send me to the tower of London for putting the F word into her father’s mouth.
Q. Hello, David, Casey Nichol.
Q. From Good Morning America. Obviously we have a very big royal wedding coming up. Do you think that this film will help with the British Royal Family on the map? There is a very royal theme this year.
A. I don’t think the Royal Family needs me to put them on the map. They’ve done that very well over countless centuries. I think there’s synchronicity here. You know, I must say, and perhaps this is the right place to say it with all the press, and this may surprise a lot of people, I’m not actually a monarchist, I’m really not a monarchist, and I guess there goes my knighthood, nor am I an anti monarchist, I’m a pragmatist when it comes to these things. Most nations need a symbolic head of state that is above politics. Most of the European nations have not only a prime minister who really runs the country, but they have a president who is symbolic. And England has a fine symbolic leadership in the Royal Family, and I think they perform an amazing function.
Many years ago when I was political advisor to the prime minister of Fiji, part of my duties was to accompany him on official functions and the royal tours when the royals came. And I got to say that seeing the royals work, it’s a miserable job. None of you would want to have that job. It is really hard work. They do an amazing, amazing job.
Q. Thank you so much and congratulations, Mr. Seidler.
A. Thank you very much.