His new film is already making waves, his HBO mini-series is a critical and commercial hit. Hermione Eyre meets director Tom Hooper and asks: where did it all go right?by Hermione Eyre / March 1, 2009 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2009 issue of Prospect Magazine
Tom Hooper in action on the set of John Adams
The director Tom Hooper will soon be in the spotlight for his new film The Damned United, released on the 27th March. Yet it is his HBO miniseries John Adams that is slowly burning itself onto public consciousness as one of the most absorbing, accomplished television dramas of recent times.
A revisionist account of the American creation story, John Adams includes ambiguities more usually suppressed by Hollywood—such as the fact that the founding fathers first fought not for independence but for their “rights as natural born Englishmen.” It is unafraid of committing patriotic heresy (hinting, for example, that George Washington fought dirty at the first election), while its hero is the often-overlooked second American president whom even his greatest champion, biographer David McCullough, describes as “short, fat and cranky.” And it’s unashamedly smart stuff. One memorable scene, which lasts five minutes, features John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton debating the pros and cons of federal assumption of state debt.
Hooper—whom I interviewed in early February—could barely believe his luck in being given this kind of creative freedom. “As I spent a few hours discussing this topic with Paul Giamatti, Rufus Sewell and Stephen Dillane [who play Adams, Hamilton and Jefferson respectively] I realised how wonderfully weird this was: here I was filming a $100m miniseries without any pressure to dumb down at all. It could only happen on HBO.”
HBO, the subscription channel that made The Wire, is fast becoming an American institution. Hooper, however, is a natural born Englishman. Now aged 36, he was educated at Westminster and Oxford (finishing his first short film, for Channel 4, just before matriculating). He considers himself to have been “trained” by the BBC, where he cut his teeth on Byker Grove and EastEnders, befo…