by writer/director Dan Fogelman
Five years ago, I'd just finished the film Crazy, Stupid, Love and I found myself in the terrible position that only a writer knows… staring at my blank computer screen and wondering what I was going to write next. So, I did what any "stuck" writer does in that situation…
I exhausted the internet. Checked my fantasy baseball team incessantly. And then, one day, I came across one of those “strange news stories.” One of the ones that causes you to click on the link and learn something interesting or odd or—most likely—useless.
It was the story of a long-lost letter that had finally been delivered to a British folk musician named Steve Tilston. The story began almost four decades earlier: Tilston had been a young 1970s folk singer, and he did one of his earliest interviews with a small music magazine. In the interview, Tilston expressed concern over how he might fall prey to fame and fortune should his music resonate with the masses. He knew himself, and worried that fame and fortune might corrupt his music and his art.
Cut to present day. Decades had passed since the interview when, one day, Tilston essentially got the call that “a letter had been discovered.” Back in the early '70s, it seems John Lennon had read Tilston's interview and written him a letter. In the letter, Lennon assured Tilston that he controlled his own destiny. That money and fame couldn't corrupt his art… only he had the ability to do that. Lennon urged him to remain true to himself and to his music. Then John Lennon—John Freaking Lennon!—left Steve Tilston his home phone number should he like to speak further.
Tilston didn't receive the letter for forty years.
You see, the letter had been sent to him care of the magazine and had never been delivered. In real life, Tilston had gone on to lead a lovely life. He'd established himself in England as a well thought of, but certainly not chart-topping, musician. He'd supported himself through music, and had no complaints. He had a family. He had a life. A good one.
But still… it would have been pretty cool to get to speak to Lennon!
And that was the end of the odd news story. But suddenly I couldn't stop thinking of it. Not the story itself, but the “what if” component of it. What if Tilston had sold out? What if he'd become rich and famous and exactly what he feared he'd become? And what if then—in his sixties—he'd first found out about the letter that could have changed everything.
My attempt to procrastinate had failed. I'd just found my next film.
Five years later, I find myself about to release Danny Collins starring Al Pacino in the title role. I wrote it, then directed it, and now it somehow—miraculously—exists. I have never been prouder of anything in my career. Sadly, I can take very little credit for it—the film lives on the performances of some of the finest actors of their respective generations: Annette Bening, and Christopher Plummer, and Jennifer Garner, and Bobby Cannavale all shine. These are movie star performances, all. Full of warmth, humor, romance. Their characters are the prettier, funnier, wittier versions of ourselves. Of our loved ones.
And then there is Al. Always Al. A hero of mine for longer than I can remember, and as charmed and magnificent in this role as he's ever been. The movie rests on his shoulders, and he carries it. It is an old school performance in, what I feel, is becoming an increasingly rare old-fashioned film… a story based on characters, and dialogue, and performances. It is a story of second chances and redemption—a story about family, and legacy, and most of all… as John Lennon would have wanted: “love.”
We simply hope the rest of the world loves it as much as we do.