Whimsy fuels Charles Martin Smith's Stone of Destiny caper

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      Although movie fans still recognize him as Terry “the Toad” in George Lucas’s American Graffiti, Charles Martin Smith has spent the subsequent 35 years turning into an accomplished writer-director, especially since shifting his operations from California to Canada. This resulted in such Far North epics as 1983’s Never Cry Wolf and The Snow Walker, 20 years later.

      Watch the trailer for Stone of Destiny

      Smith has continued to act (he was in Curtis Hanson’s 2007 Vegas-caper flick Lucky You), but the shaven-headed 55-year-old spends most of his time dreaming up new projects. An example is the one that turned into Stone of Destiny, the true tale of Scottish youths who stole a ceremonial icon in 1950, after the British had sat on it (as part of a royal throne) for more than six centuries.

      The film, opening here on Friday (February 20), stars Charlie Cox as Ian Hamilton, the independence activist who wrote the book upon which this is based.

      “I started tinkering with the script more than 10 years ago,” Smith told the Georgia Straight last fall during the Vancouver International Film Festival, where his new movie got its local debut. A producing partner had read Hamilton’s book and brought him the concept.

      “I kept writing in my spare time, and when I was working on Snow Walker with [producer] Rob Merilees, we decided it would make a great Canada–U.K. coproduction.”

      The original producer stepped back and Vancouver’s Merilees signed on. Both come from Scots-rooted families and are veterans of Canuck fare (much of it with the late William Vince) such as the Air Bud movies.

      “I have some Scottish background,” Smith asserted, “but mainly it attracted me as a yarn. I love the aspect of the passion of youth—the idea that, when you are in university, you are sure you can change the world. As a boy in L.A., I remember so well the civil-rights struggle and antiwar protests. I loved the idea of these kids pulling off this harebrained scheme with all the elements of a standard caper flick but instead of money or jewels, they were doing it for a higher cause.”

      The tinkering continued. (“I’m still working on it,” he added with a laugh.) But eventually the filmmakers settled on a clear narrative and a semiwhimsical tone.

      “Establishing the tone was one of the hardest things. When I first heard the story, it just sounded like fun: they were young and didn’t have any money, he got caught the first time and went back, and all this other great stuff really did happen. So we thought, ”˜Let’s include as much of this as we can.’ ”

      At this point in the chat, Merilees, likewise in the room, pitched in.

      “We talked a lot about raising the stakes, with car chases and more action. But in the end, we decided to stay with what was in the book. I mean, when you get right down to it, they were only stealing a rock.”