LIFE screenwriter, Luke Davies, hopped on a line to speak with The Guardian about the film and what inspired him to explore this period in time. It’s an insightful and enjoyable interview whether you’ve seen LIFE already or it’s on the horizon.
It’s a moment frozen in time. James Dean walks through a deserted Times Square, hunched against the rain in a woollen trench coat, a cigarette clamped between his teeth. First published in Life magazine in March 1955, only six months before Dean was killed in a car accident, the image forever cast the actor as an angst-ridden young man.
The photo is just one in a series photographer Dennis Stock took, following Dean from Los Angeles film premieres to New York movement classes and family dinners at Dean’s uncle’s farm in Indiana. Taken over three months, Dean was a relative unknown at the time (his position in popular consciousness largely came posthumously). And while these photographs became famous, not much is known about what happened to the two men between the frames.
Speaking on the line from Los Angeles, Australian author and screenwriter Luke Davies says it was this that he wanted to explore in the new film Life, starring Dane DeHaan as Dean and Robert Pattinson as Stock. He was approached by producer Iain Canning of See-Saw films, the team behind another unlikely male friendship film, The King’s Speech, who wanted to tell a “big iconic American story” about Dean.
During his research into Dean’s life, Davies discovered the improbable friendship that developed between the two men. “What a lot of people don’t realise is that at that moment Dennis Stock was the powerful figure who had something to offer to James Dean, who was conflicted about what it was that was being offered: a doorway into the fame machine.” A regular Life magazine contributor, the photographer met the actor at a Hollywood party. At Dean’s invitation, he saw an early screening of the film East of Eden and instantly recognised the charisma and incandescence that would see the actor explode into pop cultural consciousness.
The two men came from different backgrounds: one a restless actor from the country, the other an ambitious city-slicker photographer, so Davies imagined the relationship could have been fraught, at least to begin with. Dean was known to be unreliable; Stock took himself very seriously, and would have been frustrated by Dean’s evasiveness. Yet the photographs became increasingly personal as their friendship deepened.
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LIFE is currently in theaters in the UK, Ireland and Australia. The film releases in the US and Canada on Dec. 4th.