10 Fascinating Facts About Patrick Melrose

Showtime
Showtime

Benedict Cumberbatch has never made a secret that there are just two roles he has ever wanted to play: Hamlet and Patrick Melrose. In 2015, he took on Shakespeare’s famous protagonist at the Barbican in London. In May of this year, he played the latter role—a semi-autobiographical approximation of novelist Edward St. Aubyn—with a little help from Reddit.

The five-part Showtime miniseries, which was directed by Edward Berger and adapted by David Nicholls with St. Aubyn, is not an easy watch. But its unique mix of dark pathos and black humor—not to mention its stellar acting, sharp writing, and eye-popping cinematography—make it one of the year’s most compelling dramas. As the miniseries prepares to compete for five Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Limited Series and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series for Cumberbatch, we took a look behind the scenes to find out what made Patrick Melrose tick.

1. EACH EPISODE COVERS AN ENTIRE BOOK.

Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose book series is comprised of five titles: Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, Mother's Milk, and At Last, which is the same number of episodes as in the miniseries. It’s no coincidence. Each episode of the decades-spanning series covers one book, so that no part of the story was left untold.

“The books were fascinating because they were never envisioned as a kind of saga,” writer David Nicholls told Variety. “They were written one by one, and after each book, [St. Aubyn] thought that was the end of the story.” When it came time to adapt the series, it was important to Nicholls to maintain that ongoing structure as he believed that each story stood as “a snapshot from the character’s life."

2. THE BOOKS WERE CONSIDERED “UNADAPTABLE” BY MANY PEOPLE.

Like so many other popular novels before them, a lot of people couldn’t envision how one might adapt the Patrick Melrose books into a movie or television series. Among those people? Jennifer Jason Leigh, who plays Patrick’s mother Eleanor in the series. Leigh told Variety that while she loved the books, she “didn’t think it was possible to adapt it, ever.” So when she got her hands on Nicholls’s script, she was very pleasantly surprised. “The book came to life in such a beautiful way; I have no idea how he did it.”

Benedict Cumberbatch, too, was worried about how the books would translate to the screen. “I was very nervous about it, despite it being a bucket-list role because I knew the books had quite rightfully a variety of very passionate of devotees and they are difficult to adapt,” he told Deadline. “There’s such rich source material and extraordinary set pieces in the books as they are.”

Edward Berger, who directed the series, read the first book, Never Mind, in 1993—and even he admitted that he couldn’t imagine how one would adapt it for the screen because “not much happens. In terms of a traditional plot, there’s very little in it. It’s about one man, his psychological dismay, and him falling apart … So it’s very hard to visualize."

3. BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH HAS REDDIT TO (PARTLY) THANK FOR THE ROLE.

During a 2013 Reddit AMA, a fan asked Cumberbatch, “If you could choose to be any other literary character in an upcoming role who would it be?” His answer was swift and to the point: Patrick Melrose. What the actor didn’t realize was that the project was already in the works, and the producers had been eyeing him for the part. When they learned that it was a dream project for Cumberbatch as well, the wheels started moving rather quickly. "Never underestimate the power of an online Q&A," Cumberbatch told the Los Angeles Times.

4. ITS STRUCTURE WAS INFLUENCED BY THE GODFATHER.

When asked about his process for adapting so much text into a set amount of screen time, Nicholls told Variety that learning the books “back to front” was the first step. The second step was to “take a step back to see what stayed in [my] head as important and what [I] loved.” He looked to what might seem like an unlikely source for inspiration: Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather.

“I was very influenced by the way Francis Ford Coppola broke down The Godfather,” Nicholls told Variety, “so I broke each of these books down similarly and looked through them for the moments that I felt were most important and would work the best dramatically.”

5. LARA PULVER, A.K.A. SHERLOCK’S IRENE ADLER, ALMOST PLAYED CUMBERBATCH’S WIFE.

Fans of Sherlock know that Cumberbatch’s titular consulting detective is rarely at a loss for words, except for when he’s face-to-fact with dominatrix Irene Adler, a.k.a. “The Woman.” So it didn’t seem like the best idea to pair the two up as husband and wife for Patrick Melrose.

“The director of Ben’s Patrick Melrose project did call to ask about me playing his wife, but we both decided it wouldn’t work,” Pulver told The Telegraph. “When you’ve already been seen in a relationship together on such a large scale ...”

6. CUMBERBATCH HAD SOME TROUBLE WITH THE UPPER-CLASS MANNERISMS.

Holliday Grainger, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Prasanna Puwanarajah in 'Patrick Melrose'
Showtime

Though it might seem as if Cumberbatch is always playing some sort of aristocrat, he admitted that adapting both the vocal and physical mannerisms of the very specific English upper class to which the Melrose family belongs was one of his biggest challenges. “I know everyone goes on about the posh thing with me—but despite looking it, I am not that class,” Cumberbatch told the Radio Times. “That class is landed gentry. I had to posh up for this.”

“I went to a very posh public school, second to Eton, yet I had only one friend from the landed gentry,” he told Vanity Fair. "I’ve been trying to knock the corners off my accent ever since I left Harrow.” For help, he often tapped St. Aubyn.

7. NOW WAS THE PERFECT—AND PERHAPS THE ONLY—TIME FOR CUMBERBATCH TO TAKE ON THE ROLE.

While audiences see Patrick as a young boy played by Sebastian Maltz, Cumberbatch portrays the character from ages 25 to 45, which provided yet another challenge. Yet the actor thinks that, as far as his age goes, now is about the only time he could have pulled that off. “These books lay out a very particular set of circumstances and the personal dilemma of them,” he told Deadline. “So, of course, the older you get the wiser you get for whatever reason, but I think for these books, I had to be somewhere in the balance of his age.”

8. THE PRODUCERS WERE DETERMINED TO PORTRAY ADDICTION AS ACCURATELY AS POSSIBLE.

In addition to starring in the series, Cumberbatch also served as an executive producer via his production company, SunnyMarch. As so much of the series centers on Melrose’s addiction to drugs, it was important to the actor and his fellow producers that they get that part right. Which took some research. “I’ve always been about moderation,” Cumberbatch told Rolling Stone. “I’m not a binger and nothing is habitual with me. So the idea of what an addict goes through is something I really had to come to understand.”

In order to help accurately portray the experience and psychology of addiction, Cumberbatch told Deadline that they “were very much advised by two people who were addicts as well as [St. Aubyn] having been very honest about his own experiences. I didn’t want to alienate that world at all. I wanted them to feel, however uncomfortable the watch might be, that we were being accurate. But also, I think that this is a story of salvation, so it’s universal. You don’t have to have experienced the trauma that he has on any level to go on the journey.”

9. CUMBERBATCH’S EMMY NOMINATION PUTS HIM IN RARE COMPANY.

 Actor Benedict Cumberbatch attends The Academy Of Television Arts & Sciences Performer Nominees' 64th Primetime Emmy Awards Reception at Spectra by Wolfgang Puck at the Pacific Design Center on September 21, 2012
Imeh Akpanudosen, Getty Images

Cumberbatch is no stranger to the Emmy Awards. In addition to winning the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie for Sherlock in 2014, he has been nominated as a lead actor an additional five times—putting his grand total as of 2018 at six, an almost-record number that only Laurence Olivier has ever matched. (Hal Holbrook has them both beat with seven nominations.)

“It’s amazing,” Cumberbatch told the Los Angeles Times in reaction to the honor. “I don’t know what to say about that really. That’s something to put on your gravestone. I don’t know—yeah, I’m speechless. That’s my very English reaction to that. Maybe I should try other categories? Art direction?”

10. DON’T EXPECT CUMBERBATCH TO RETIRE ANYTIME SOON.

In any profession, the problem with stating your ultimate goal is what to do after you’ve achieved it. But early retirement is not a likely next move for Cumberbatch, who’ll voice the Grinch later this year. “Melrose and Hamlet were the only two roles I was ever desperate to play,” he told the Radio Times. “And now I’ve done both! I can retire! Much to the relief of the world! Except, I will never retire.”

12 Festive Facts About A Christmas Story

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Which Oscar-winning star wanted to play Ralphie Parker's dad? Which actor went on to have a seedy career in the adult film industry? Can you really get your tongue stuck to a metal pole? On the 35th anniversary of A Christmas Story's debut, here are a few tidbits about the holiday classic to tide you over until TNT's 24-hour Christmas marathon.

1. JACK NICHOLSON WAS INTERESTED IN PLAYING RALPHIE'S DAD.

Though Jack Nicholson was reportedly offered the role of The Old Man Parker, and interested, casting—and paying—him would have meant doubling the budget. But director Bob Clark, who didn't know Nicholson was interested, said Darren McGavin was the perfect choice for the role.

2. IT OWES A DEBT TO PORKY'S.

What does Porky's—a raunchy 1980s teen sex comedy—have to do with a wholesome film like A Christmas Story? Bob Clark directed both: Porky's in 1982 and A Christmas Story in 1983. If Porky's hadn't given him the professional and financial success he needed, he wouldn't have been able to bring A Christmas Story to the big screen.

3. RALPHIE SAYS HE WANTS A RED RYDER BB GUN A LOT.

For anyone keeping count, Ralphie says he wants the Red Ryder BB Gun 28 times throughout the course of the movie. That's approximately once every three minutes and 20 seconds.

4. THESE DAYS, PETER BILLINGSLEY SPENDS HIS TIME BEHIND THE CAMERA.

Peter Billingsley, a.k.a. Ralphie, has been good friends with Vince Vaughn since they both appeared in a CBS Schoolbreak Special together in the early 1990s. He doesn't do much acting these days, though he has popped up in cameos (including one in Elf, another holiday classic). Instead, Billingsley prefers to spend his time behind the camera as a director and producer. He has done a lot of work with Vaughn and Jon Favreau, including serving as an executive producer on Iron Man (in which he also made a cameo).

5. YES, YOU CAN GET YOUR TONGUE STUCK ON A PIECE OF COLD METAL.

Mythbusters tested whether it was possible to get your tongue truly stuck on a piece of cold metal. Guess what? It is. So don't triple dog dare your best friend to try it.

6. ONE OF THE YOUNG ACTORS MOVED ON TO A CAREER IN ADULT FILMS.

Scott Schwartz, who played Flick (the kid who stuck his tongue to the frozen flagpole), spent several years working in the adult film industry. In 2000, he turned his attention back to mainstream films. His most recent role was as "Disco City Hot Dog Vendor" in the 2017 TV movie Vape Warz.

7. RALPHIE'S HOUSE IS NOW A MUSEUM.

Next time you're in Cleveland, you can visit the original house from the movie. It was sold on eBay in 2004 for $150,000. Collector Brian Jones bought the house and restored it to its movie glory and stocked it up with some of the original props from the film, including Randy's snowsuit.

8. THE IDEA FOR THE FILM CAME TO BOB CLARK WHILE HE WAS DRIVING TO PICK UP A DATE.

Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, and Ian Petrella in A Christmas Story (1983)
Warner Home Video

Director Bob Clark got the idea for the movie when he was driving to pick up a date. He heard Jean Shepherd on the radio doing a reading of his short story collection, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, which included some bits that eventually ended up in A Christmas Story. Clark said he drove around the block for an hour until the program ended (which his date was not too happy about).

9. IT PARTLY INSPIRED THE WONDER YEARS.

The Wonder Years was inspired in part by A Christmas Story. In fact, toward the very end of the series, Peter Billingsley even played one of Kevin Arnold's roommates.

10. YOU CAN STILL BUY A RED RYDER BB GUN.

The real Red Ryder BB Gun was first made in 1938 and was named after a comic strip cowboy. You can still buy it today for the low, low price of $39.99. But the original wasn't quite the same as the one in the movie; it lacked the compass and sundial that both the Jean Shepherd story and the movie call for. Special versions had to be made just for A Christmas Story.

11. THE LEG LAMP CAN ALSO BE YOURS.

Peter Billingsley and Melinda Dillon in A Christmas Story (1983)
Warner Home Video

While we're talking shopping: you know you want the leg lamp. Put it in your window! Be the envy of your neighbors! It's a Major Award! You can buy it on Amazon (there's a 40-inch version, as well as a 20-inch replica). If you're not feeling quite so flamboyant, they also make a nightlight version.

12. IT SPAWNED A TRIO OF SEQUELS.

A Christmas Story led to two little-talked-about sequels. The first one was a 1988 made-for-TV movie, Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss. Jerry O'Connell played 14-year-old Ralphie, who is excited about his first job—as a furniture mover. Of course, it ends up being awful, and it might make him miss the annual family vacation at Mr. Hopnoodle's lakeside cabins.

My Summer Story, a.k.a. It Runs in the Family, debuted on the big screen in 1994. Kieran Culkin plays Ralphie, Mary Steenburgen is his mom, and Charles Grodin is his dad.

And in 2012, the direct-to-video sequel A Christmas Story 2 picked up five years after the original movie left off, with Ralphie attempting to get his parents to buy him a car.

An earlier version of this story appeared in 2008.

10 Timeless Facts About The Land Before Time

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Five years before Jurassic Park roared into theaters, a gentler, more meditative dinosaur film endeared itself to audiences of all ages. Initially met with mixed reviews, The Land Before Time is now regarded as an animated classic. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the Steven Spielberg-produced film, which arrived in theaters 30 years ago.

1. IT WAS CONCEIVED AS A DIALOGUE-FREE MOVIE.

Gabriel Damon and Candace Hutson in The Land Before Time (1988)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

In the mid-1980s, executive producer Steven Spielberg began toying with the idea of a Bambi-esque dinosaur film. “Basically,” he later said, “I wanted to do a soft picture … about five little dinosaurs and how they grow up and work together as a group.” Inspiration came from the “Rite of Spring” sequence from Disney’s Fantasia (1940)—a scene in which prehistoric beasts wordlessly go about their business. At first, Spielberg wanted his own dinosaur characters to follow suit and remain mum. Ultimately, however, it was feared that a non-verbal approach might bore or confuse the film’s intended audience. As such, the animals were given lines.

2. DIRECTOR DON BLUTH WAS AN EX-DISNEY EMPLOYEE.

Don Bluth grew up idolizing Disney’s work, and began working for the studio in 1955. Over the next two decades, he did various odd jobs until he was brought on as a full-time animator in 1971. Once on the inside, Bluth got to peek behind the magician’s curtain—and disliked what he found there. “I think [Walt Disney] would’ve seen that the pictures were losing their luster,” Bluth said. Frustrated by the studio’s cost-cutting measures, he resigned in 1979. Joining him were fellow animators Gary Goldman and John Pomeroy. Together the trio launched their own company, Sullivan Bluth Studios, and began working on The Land Before Time in 1986.

3. OVER 600 BACKGROUND PAINTINGS WERE MADE FOR THE FILM.

Most of these depicted beautiful but barren wastelands, which presented a real challenge for the creative team. As one studio press release put it, “The artists had to create a believable environment in which there was almost no foliage.” Whenever possible, Bluth’s illustrators emphasized vibrant colors. This kept their backdrops from looking too drab or monotonous—despite the desolate setting.

4. LITTLEFOOT’S ORIGINAL NAME WAS “THUNDERFOOT.”

This was changed when the filmmakers learned that there was a triceratops in a popular children’s book called Thunderfoot. Speaking of three-horned dinosaurs: Cera evolved from a pugnacious male character called Bambo.

5. THE FILMMAKERS HAD TO CUT ABOUT 10 MINUTES OF FOOTAGE.

“We compromised a lot with The Land Before Time,” Goldman admitted. Nowhere was this fact more apparent than on the cutting room floor. Spielberg and his fellow executive producer George Lucas deemed 19 individual scenes “too scary.” “We’ll have kids crying in the lobby, and angry parents,” Spielberg warned. “You don’t want that.”

6. “ROOTER” WAS INTRODUCED AT THE URGING OF CHILD PSYCHOLOGISTS.

In Bambi, the title character’s mom dies off-screen. The same cannot be said for Littlefoot’s mother, whose slow demise goes on for several agonizing minutes. Naturally, there was some concern about how children would react to this. “A lot of research went into the mother dying sequence,” Pomeroy said. “Psychologists were approached and shown the film. They gave their professional opinions of how the sequence could be depicted.” Thus, Rooter was born.

One scene after Littlefoot’s mom passes, the wise reptile consoles him, saying “You’ll always miss her, but she’ll always be with you as long as you remember the things she taught you.” Sharp-eared fans might recognize Rooter’s voice as that of Pat Hingle, who also narrates the movie.

7. JAMES HORNER DID THE SOUNDTRACK.

The late, Oscar-winning composer behind Braveheart (1995), Titanic (1997), and Avatar (2009) put together a soaring score. Along with lyricist Will Jennings, he also penned the original song “If We Hold On Together,” which Diana Ross sings as the end credits roll.

8. THE ACTRESS BEHIND DUCKY PASSED AWAY BEFORE THE MOVIE’S RELEASE.

Judith Barsi’s career was off to a great start. By age 10, this daughter of Hungarian immigrants had already appeared in 70 commercials and voiced the leading lady in Don Bluth’s All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989). For The Land Before Time, Barsi voiced the ever-optimistic Ducky, which was reportedly her favorite role. Then tragedy struck: In July of 1988, Barsi’s father József murdered both her and her mother before taking his own life.

9. IT HAD A RECORD-SETTING OPENING WEEKEND.

From the get-go, The Land Before Time had some stiff competition. Universal released it on November 18, 1988—the same day that Disney’s Oliver & Company hit theaters. Yet, for a solid month, Bluth gave Oliver a box office beating. The Land Before Time enjoyed the highest-grossing opening weekend that any animated film had ever seen, pulling in $7.5 million to Oliver & Company’s $4 million. Since then, of course, The Land Before Time has long been dethroned; today, Incredibles 2 (2018) holds this coveted distinction with a $182.7 million first-weekend showing.

10. THERE ONCE WAS TALK OF A LAND BEFORE TIME STAGE MUSICAL.

“The time has come for dinosaurs on Broadway,” the late theatrical producer Irving Welzer told The New York Times in 1997. Emboldened by the recent cinematic success of Spielberg’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1996), Welzer expressed an interest helping Littlefoot, Cera, Ducky, and the rest of the gang make their Big Apple debut. Soon, however, the idea faded.

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