by writer/director Michael Almereyda
Tesla is based on a screenplay I wrote over forty years ago—the first screenplay I ever came up with.
I was drawn to the idea of a lonely Promethean inventor who tried to remake the world while neglecting to concern himself with commercial necessities. What can we make of a man as brilliant and far-seeing as Tesla, who undermined himself by not caring enough, if at all, about money and the power that comes with it?
The screenplay evolved, but it was always a subjective take on an elusive man, a personal approach to the “troubled genius” genre of biopics. After all these years, the movie owes its existence to the commitment and conviction of Ethan Hawke, who encouraged me to get closer to Tesla by including prismatic portraits of his equally vivid contemporaries: Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, Sarah Bernhardt, J.P. Morgan, and Morgan’s youngest daughter, Anne. As with our version of Hamlet, shot over twenty years ago, with Kyle MacLachlan stepping in once again to play a charming nemesis, Ethan and I knew we wouldn’t be delivering the final word on the subject. This is simply the best way we could tell this story, the truest Tesla we could conjure, at this particular time.
Of course, the world—the very definition of this time—has undergone abrupt, unexpected, and devastating changes since the movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in late January, one of the last festivals where people innocently crowded into public spaces.
Writing this as theaters reopen, with a mix of renewed hopefulness and necessary caution, I’d like to invoke the spirit of solidarity Tesla summoned in his speeches and essays, heralding a new age, a radiant future:
We are whirling through space with an inconceivable speed. All around us everything is spinning, everything is moving, everywhere is energy.
I wish I could be with you, welcoming you to the theater and hovering near the back as lights dim and your attention is drawn to a glowing rectangle that promises to tell a story both new and old, larger than life while scaled to our most intimate emotions.