NEW YORK CITY—Oscar-nominated screenwriter Peter Morgan was in the dark when it came to knowing about the potential sale of a screenplay he had written about the afterlife. He had given it to his agent, who had handed it to veteran producer Kathleen Kennedy. After Kennedy told him she had given it to long-time producing partner Steven Spielberg, things faded to black, literally.
Watch the trailer for Hereafter.
“I kept waiting for news after she gave it to Spielberg,” Morgan says in a New York City hotel room. “It is a rite of passage for an English screenwriter that you are only playing around about meeting with Steven Spielberg. I was brought to Dreamworks, and an assistant said, ”˜Mr. Spielberg has taken to having his meetings in the dark.’ All the lights were turned out and this voice said, ”˜Would you mind if I showed this to my friend Clint Eastwood?’ I thought, ”˜This is the most surreal meeting I have ever been to in my life.’ I thought maybe he had had facial surgery, but when I saw him he was fine. And that is how we find ourselves where we are today.”
Despite the modesty, Morgan has won acclaim on several occasions. He wrote the play Frost/Nixon and adapted it to film, and he received Oscar writing nominations for that and The Queen, as well as winning a BAFTA award (the British Oscar) for writing The Last King of Scotland.
His latest film, Eastwood’s Hereafter, which opens October 22, follows the separate stories of an English boy (played by twins Frankie and George McLaren) who loses his twin brother in a car accident and a Frenchwoman (Cécile De France) who almost died in a tsunami as they attempt to make some sense of their loss. Meanwhile, an American (Matt Damon) is trying to hide his gift of communicating with the deceased.
When he set out to write the story, Morgan followed a path he had taken when he was writing The Queen: doing research on the Internet. And like he did during the writing of that screenplay, he abandoned the path when his search engine took him in an odd direction.
“As soon as you typed in the words ”˜Princess Diana’ and ”˜death’ and ”˜conspiracy’, it is a very short distance to UFOs and stuff,” he explains. “But I decided to try again, and I discovered that it is quite frightening that when you type some of these questions into the Internet and see what has been done with this, you are very quickly into a community of strange people. I didn’t do too much research anyway, because I didn’t want it to be a film where we have the answer and tell people, ”˜This is what happens when you die.’ It is a story of inquiry and curiosity and a feeling of incompleteness and of living with mystery. The question [of an afterlife] unites all of us, because none of us know where we are going. I wanted to provoke those questions but not to provide answers, because it is quite private.”