Peter Medak is an award-winning international film director whose latest film, The Ghost of Peter Sellers, is now available to watch on demand. Born in Budapest, Hungary in 1937, Peter fled to England age 18 during the uprising against the communist regime and immediately began his film career with Associated British Picture Corporation, working on some of the most remarkable British films of that period. In 1963, Peter was signed by Universal Studios in Hollywood and began directing television. 1967 saw him sign with Paramount to direct his first feature, Negatives, with Glenda Jackson. His next two films were highly acclaimed black comedies, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, starring Alan Bates, and The Ruling Class, with Peter O’ Toole, which received an Academy Award nomination. Over the next 30 years, Peter earned the reputation of an actors’ director, resulting in such acclaimed films as The Changeling’with George C. Scott, The Krays (Evening Standard Award for Best Director) and Romeo is Bleeding, with Gary Oldman. In a career spanning 50 years, Peter has made 27 features and 59 TV episodes. He continues to live and breathe film every waking moment.
Over the years, there have been two projects I’ve talked about a lot but never thought I’d actually get to make. The Ghost of Peter Sellers, my documentary about my abandoned Peter Sellers movie, is one of those – and against all odds, I made it and it’s now on release. The other project is Evening Flight.
I think every artist tries to reach within their own life, to try to draw out something which is unusual and true. For me, that process led to Evening Flight. It’s a project which I have been thinking about for so long, 45 years and counting. Every 10 years or so, I completely forget about it and get busy doing other things, but I keep coming back to it. Whenever anybody asks me what I would love to make, that’s the film I always think of, because it is so fundamentally deep to me and it’s indirectly about my own life.
The whole thing started around 1975, when I was going to do Demon Seed at MGM. I didn’t really want to make that movie, but then I had the idea for Evening Flight. Most of the ideas I have fall by the wayside and I never do anything about them, but this was something which was haunting for me. From that moment on, I knew I had to do whatever I could to get it made.
Evening Flight is set in the ’70s and is about two people meeting on a flight from London to New York; they were in a relationship together in the past but, as we learn over the course of the flight, they broke up. They come face to face for the first time in years, and at that point, the movie moves into the past and we begin to learn what happened between these two people before and the story of their lives. We learn he was married when they first met, just after his wife tried to commit suicide. The film then goes deeply into how he fell in love with her and how his wife was saved.
The question that’s at the very center of the film is, can these two people pick up where they left off in the past? While the plane is going between two worlds – between England and America – do they have a second chance at a life together?
When I started working on the script, I began to put more and more of my own life into it.
My first wife, Catherine Marie La Kermance, tragically committed suicide, so I incorporated that into the story. And the girlfriend in Evening Flight, an actress who goes to New York to do three Chekhov plays, was inspired by my second wife, Carolyn Seymour, who is also an actress. I was using elements of both their lives, as well as my own, but in an indirect way so that it wasn’t so recognizable. Except, of course, it was.
Three or four scripts for Evening Flight were written over the years, by some wonderful writers, starting with a 1980 screenplay which I worked on with a late friend of mine, Stanley Mann. That was the time I came closest to actually making the film. I wanted Albert Finney to play the male lead and, because my first wife was French, I wanted Catherine Deneuve to play the wife. She would have been absolutely fantastic. But we couldn’t get the money together. I had a deal with MGM / United Artists to fund the movie, but it coincided with the period when they went bust, because of Heaven’s Gate.
Years and years have gone by, but the film has never left me. Every time I read something else, Evening Flight always seems 100 times better. It’s so long ago, so you could say, “You’re crazy! What is the point of making this movie today?” The point is that I still haven’t made Evening Flight, and that I truly believe it could make an incredible movie.
Because I’ve talked about it for so many years, and worked on it with several writers, every detail of it is incredibly alive for me. I have shot it so many times in my head, the only thing left is actually to make it. Without question, it is my dream project, the one that’s most important to me. I have to get it done. I managed to do it with the Peter Sellers film, and I know I can make this one too!
In life, certain things drive you, relentlessly, against all logic, and either you die trying to make a film, or you just make it. The only thing I know how to do is to make movies, and with everything I’ve learned over my 50 years of directing, I know this will be a great love story.