“I BELIEVE my clients can play anything,” Sue Mengers told Mike Wallace in 1975. She was defending her impetuous push to have Ryan O’Neal cast as one of the Corleone family. That’s one anecdote that doesn’t make the cut in John Logan’s adoring portrait of one of the great Hollywood agents of the past half century.
Logan, quite reasonably, concentrates on Mengers’ best fight: the time she barricaded William Friedkin in his driveway with her Bentley — “like a Valkyrie in heat” — and demanded the director sit down with Gene Hackman, just once, before signing Charles Bronson to play Popeye Doyle in The French Connection. “A year later, Gene and Billy pick up their Oscars. That’s how you do the job, kids.”
Can you imagine Bronson in the pork-pie hat? It would have been just another Bronson vehicle, just a bit faster moving. Instead, The French Connection has been nominated for preservation by the US Library of Congress as culturally significant.
When I’ll Eat You Last premiered on Broadway last year, Mengers’ old friend and sometime client Bette Midler played the swearing, joint-smoking, gossiping kingmaker.
As intriguing as the prospect of seeing the Divine Miss M play her real life agent may be, one couldn’t hope for a more perfect medium than Miriam Margolyes. On the “play anything” criterion alone, she would make the cut at any agency.
Some “great actors” you watch with a consciousness of the craft involved. You watch the performance and the actor perform simultaneously. It’s a kind of double vision. But the greatest character actors — and Margolyes is indisputably one of those — are entirely transparent.
I rather foolishly imagined we had seen it all from Margolyes — her Dickens, her Miss Prism and Professor Sprout, her Madame Arcati and Dora Greenfield, her countless voiceovers and recordings — but her performance in I’ll Eat You Last is an absolute cracker. She is utterly spellbinding. And I think it’s because her cutglass voice is subsumed.
Playing a Jewish-German emigre who learned English from the movies of the 1930s and 40s, Margolyes talks like a gum-cracking Warner Brothers second lead. Behind tinted glasses she is unrecognisable. And when she swears, she could make Gordon Ramsay blush.
Logan’s play is subtitled A Chat with Sue Mengers. It draws freely from an interview with Vanity Fair. It’s more of an audience than a chat, but it’s as salacious as a nasty-arse gossip blog and every bit as delightful
Posted : 10th November 2014