| Peter Sellers: Jest rewards
Cannes, May 21 (Reuters): British comic genius Peter Sellers once said: “To see me as a person on screen would be one of the dullest things you could ever wish to experience.”
Today, Oscar-winning stars Geoffrey Rush and Charlize Theron begged to differ with bravura performances as the tortured funny man and his long-suffering wife Britt Ekland.
Rush, who won an Oscar in 1996 as a manic pianist in Shine, spent five hours in make-up every day recreating the masterly mimic for The Life and Death of Peter Sellers.
Not only does he emerge looking uncannily like his subject, he captures the essence of Sellers, an elusive chameleon who could project a whole gallery of larger-than-life characters but failed to come to terms with his own tumultuous inner self.
“I hate everything I do,” Sellers once said. He died of a heart attack at the age of 54 in 1980, a balding recluse convinced of his own mediocrity.
One of his greatest triumphs was the bumbling Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther films directed by Blake Edwards, who is played in this biopic by John Lithgow.
Sellers’ contrary and infuriating personality was once perfectly encapsulated by Edwards when he said of Sellers: “I never loved a man so much. I never laughed so hard and I never hated a man so much.”
The film, based on a biography by Roger Lewis, portrays the unexpected cruelty, tantrums and blind rages that seized Sellers.
Rush said he did not approach the part as a straight biopic. “I thought of him as a dramatic character,” he told reporters after the screening.
One of the most revealing insights, he added, was given to him by Sellers’ co-star in There’s a Girl in my Soup, Goldie Hawn, who said: “It was like watching a man balancing on a pin.”
Theron, who won her Oscar for playing a serial killer in Monster, said: “It’s interesting because I went back-to-back playing real, live characters.”
Britt Ekland, who was married to Sellers from 1964 to 1968, was reported by newspapers to be strongly opposed to the choice of Theron to portray her — but the producers were hoping she would come for the celebrity screening of the film tonight.
Director Stephen Hopkins said: “I hope it is a reasonably compassionate view of a man who had a very difficult life.”