ROALD DAHL’S ESIO TROT: Exclusive interview with London Mum & film producer Hilary Susan Bevan Jones

Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot is an amazing tale and its television adaptation, which was viewed on New Year’s Day by over 6.7 million people, could not have been better with stars such as Dustin Hoffman (Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, Quartet) as lovely Mr. Hoppy, and Dame Judi Dench (Skyfall, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) as lively Mrs. Silver. We had the honour to talk to film producer Hilary Susan Bevan Jones, who told us a few behind the scenes anecdotes from Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot which is out on DVD and digital download on Monday 30 March 2015.

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Q: How was the collaboration with Judi Dench and Dustin Hoffman while filming ROALD DAHL’S ESIO TROT?

Hilary Susan Bevan Jones  (HSBJ): It was an absolute magic between the pair of them. We had rehearsal with them and immediately Dustin was making Judy laugh. She did the same with him. There was also a fantastic respect between the pair of them. They were admirers of each other’s work and they supported each other in every way.

After Richard Curtis (Notting Hill, About Time) first talked to me about the book because he read it to his youngest son, we started talking and I got Paul Mayhew-Archer as a co-writer on board. As soon as the two started talking how they were going to adapt it, the first names who came up were those of Dustin and Judy. It was a mad dream and somehow it came off.

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Q: What were the challenges in adapting such a popular children’s tale by THE most popular author of all times for television?

HSBJ: The challenge was always to be sure that we stayed true to the spirit of Roald Dahl so that we honoured and respected that wonderful writer. But at the same time we had to supplement what was in the book as it is quite a slim story, so we had to try and invent a few things that would stay true to the core of what Roald Dahl was wanting to write about and yet add layers of storytelling without them feeling a collect on top like a wobbly piece of icing. It was a collaborative process with the Roald Dahl Estate who received a draft ready to be shared to be sure that we wouldn’t say anything that they wouldn’t enjoy.

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Q: More and more film productions are moving to London (Paddington, Night at the Museum). Does London have the potential to become the next Hollywood and why? What is so appealing about London from the producer’s perspective?

HSBJ: London is great and terrible for filming. Very slow for moving around. If you are filming on the street as a location. If you were filming in Norwich, for example, or somewhere more in the countryside you could move your units quite sensibly. In London you can never predict how long it would take to move the crew, so locations are more expensive in London. But London is beautiful, has a fantastic range of locations and more studios here as well as international film productions are moving to the whole of the UK because the UK tax rate makes such a difference to the film productions. It is a real magnet. Filming in London on a Sunday is heaven especially if you are only in one location. But if you have to move around especially during the week, it is a nightmare.

London becoming the new Hollywood? Well, the main problem is the weather. Film studios moved to Hollywood because they had guaranteed sunshine. However the light in England is beautiful despite the challenge.

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Q: Will you be looking at bringing more stories from Roald Dahl’s books?

HSBJ: I would absolutely love to. The Roald Dahl Estate are very careful they don’t too many things at once.

Q: You have a background as a teacher. How has your life changed since working as a film producer?

HSBJ: I started as a teacher because I could not get a job in films. I was overqualified. But I had the dream of working in the film industry. To my parents’ horror, I quit my job as a teacher and moved with my sister in London, where I got a job as a runner at the BBC. I was so happy. But working in this business can be quite tough for a mother as it can be 24 hours a day, for 6 days a week, for several weeks and months at a time. Now there are more jobs in the UK for people who are interested in this sector but it is not as glamorous as it seems. It’s hard work.

Q: You have been the first woman to hold the position of Chairman of BAFTA (2006-2008). What were the challenges of such role for a woman? Is the film industry male dominated?

HSBJ: Traditionally the film industry has been male dominated. When I became Chairman of BAFTAs, we had a great reunion dinner with all former chairmans, we had a group photo, and they were all dressed in a black suit with me in the middle in a bright pink dress.

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During my time as Chairman I concentrated more on the challenges of the role of being chairman rather than those of being a woman. What I wanted to do with BAFTA during my term, was to make sure people realised that BAFTA is a charitable organisation working on its role to help the next generation and working on its role of inspiring excellence learning from BAFTA’s winners and current Oscar winners. For example, we now have a Breakthrough Brit, we have mentorship, a BAFTA Bureau on the website. I am still active on the Learning and Event committee and I am very passionate about that.

 

Q: Who has been the most interesting actor/actress you have worked with so far and why?

HSBJ: Picking one of the stars I worked with would be like choosing between my children… I have been very fortunate to work with amazing artists. The experience with Dustin Hoffman and Judi Dench has been particularly good and a privilege for me.
Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot is out on DVD and digital download on Monday 30 March 2015.

That Day We Sang is out on DVD and digital download on Monday 30 March 2015.

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