What I hope audiences will take away is an insight into what I think is an amazing process that artists have struggled with for thousands of years.
Producer Gail Egan came to Final Portrait when Stanley Tucci showed her the screenplay that he had written, adapted from a memoir written by James Lord, ‘A Giacometti Portrait’.
Tuccihas appeared in over 90 films and countless television shows. He has appeared in more than a dozen plays, on and off Broadway, and has been behind the camera working as a writer, director, and producer.
The memoir features the last meeting between Alberto Giacometti and James Lord, a younger, wealthy American who had befriended the artist on one of his regular trips to Paris. The two had been friends for over ten years when Giacometti asked Lord if he would sit for him in what was to become his final portrait. Giacometti promised it would only take an afternoon but the sitting lasted for an intense 18 sessions. The process ended only when Lord convinced Giacometti that he could add no more, nor take anything away from this particular canvas. Giacometti gave the portrait to Lord as he had promised. He wanted to paint another but he died two years later, and the two men were never to meet again. The painting was sold in 1990 for over $20,000,000.
Giacometti was a favourite artist of Egan’s and when she discovered that Geoffrey Rush was already attached to play the lead, she eagerly read the script. As she remembers, “It was beautifully written and seemed to me to capture the essence of what it is to be an artist. I loved it and asked Stanley if I could come on board to help him make it.”
About Alberto Giacometti
Alberto Giacometti, sculptor, painter, draughtsman and printmaker, was born near the Italian border of Switzerland in 1901. Giacometti’s father, Giovanni, was a well-known post-impressionist painter who instilled an interest of art in Alberto and his three siblings from a young age. After graduating from the Geneva School of Fine Arts, Giacometti moved to Paris in 1922 to study under Antoine Bourdelle at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. Here he specialised in surrealism, and rose to success quickly, exhibiting for the first time in 1925. Around this time, it is noted that he began to find the task of copying received reality impossible which became a key theme in his works of art.
In 1927, Giacometti moved into a studio at 46 rue Hippolyte-Maindron, which was to become his permanent home. His brother Diego joined him there and became his right-hand man. Following his first solo exhibition in 1932, Giacometti began distancing himself from the surrealist movement. His subsequent works from 1936–1940 were primarily sculptures of the human head and sitter’s gaze. These pieces were characterised by having a singular, isolated subject, and being based on models who Giacometti knew personally, such as Diego, friend and artist Isabelle Rawsthorne (née Delber) and his sister, Ottilia. It is said that his sculptures were paper thin because he continually carved away at them trying to make them exactly as he envisioned, a goal he often found to be unachievable.
During World War II, Giacometti left Paris and moved to Geneva where he met his wife Annette Arm in 1943. Upon his return to Paris in 1945, Giacometti began to sculpt his subjective view of the world producing his renowned elongated sculpted figures in 1946 and 1947. Giacometti achieved an international profile between 1948 and 1956. He held exhibitions in London, Paris, Zurich and Basel, he was asked to commission a large public work for the city of New York (which he declined), and he developed his ‘dark heads’ series, which became his quintessential contribution to 20th Century art and the so-called ‘generic’ man concept.
In 1956, Giacometti went through an artistic crisis, triggered by his sessions with Isaku Yanihara, a Japanese philosopher who modelled for him. This period lasted for two years until Giacometti met Yvonne Poiraudeau, the prostitute known as Caroline. This marks the start of the final era of Giacometti’s legacy, referred to as the ‘last portraits’.
From 1958 until 1960 Giacometti painted nearly 30 portraits of Caroline. It was in 1964 that the American writer and art dealer James Lord sat for a portrait with Giacometti. The following year, Giacometti made his last sculpture of Diego. His final work was a 150-piece lithograph of all the places that he had lived during in his life.
Alberto Giacometti died in 1966 leaving behind countless half completed paintings and a room described by one reporter as a “repository of repeated failure”.
About James Lord
James Lord was an American author made famous by his biographies of both Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti. Born in 1922 to an upper class family, Lord had a difficult upbringing. Despite his articulate writing, his ambitious were often mocked by his classmates and he was expelled from one boarding school.
He came out as a homosexual to his father whose response was to send him to a psychiatrist. In 1942, Lord enlisted in the US army and served in the Intelligence Unit before being stationed in Paris after D-day, where a bold phone call led Lord to meet Picasso and his then mistress, Dora Maar.
This was the beginning of a long-time acquaintance between Lord, Picasso and Maar. When Lord returned home following the war, he started at Wesleyn University, but by 1947 he had returned to Paris without a degree. In Europe, Lord resumed his contact with Picasso and spent his time travelling, dealing art and socialising.
Lord first met Giacometti in 1952 in Paris’s Deux Magots café. A decade later, Giacometti asked him to sit for a portrait. Lord and Giacometti met for over 18 sittings to both create the portrait, and set the stage for Lord’s memoir, ‘A Giacometti Portrait’, which he published in 1965.
In 1966, Giacometti’s death inspired Lord to write a full-biography of the artist, and in 1986, nearly 20 years after Giacometti’s death, Lord published a lengthy biography praising the complicated artist.
Lord died in Paris in 2009.
Writer -director Stanley Tucci talks about Final Portrait
I don’t care for biopics. I don’t know how you cram somebody’s life into an hour and a half or two hours. It just becomes an event-driven film whereas this is a character-driven film. And we hopefully glean as much, if not more, about the person and his life from focusing on this very finite period of time. I’ve culled different experiences and circumstances, events from Giacometti’s life, and put them into these two weeks to create a life in microcosm so that you get a sense of who he was inside and outside of that studio
I’m a big fan of Giacometti’s work. I always have been. I began to read about it, including this book, ‘A Giacometti Portrait’. I carried with me for 25 years or something like that.
I wrote this film ten years ago, or more. I am always interested in the creative process: why you do what you do as an artist, and also the artist’s relationship to their work and to society. That creative process is very well described by Lord and by Giacometti in this little book. It’s arguably one of the best books every written about the creative process and I think anybody, in any art form – it should be like a bible for them.
Giacometti was one of the most articulate artists of his time. He was also incredibly funny; he had a great sense of irony.
Geoffrey Rush is a great actor and I always admired him. Of course when you look at Geoffrey Rush you see distinctly that there is a resemblance to Giacometti. There was still a fair amount we had to do to really get him to look like Giacometti because his physical self is distinctly different from Giacometti, his body is different. Geoffrey is very thin and lanky, and Giacometti was short and stocky and muscular, so we worked that out, and we also broadened his face. Because Geoffrey immerses himself into characters and is incredibly charming on screen, and very funny, he was the perfect person.
It was very hard to find the right person for the role of Lord. Eventually someone mentioned Armie Hammer, and I remembered seeing him in a couple of movies and liking him, and I thought he was really perfect for it. We talked and he loved the script. He had done a lot of really big Hollywood movies, and I think he was ready to dive in and do a small, independent film. And he was wonderful.
Tony Shalhoub is one of the greatest actors ever. I have a difficulty imagining not working with Tony in every project that I do. He’s so good. He played my brother in Big Night; he was in the second movie I directed [The Imposters]; he can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned. I love working with him. We’ve done plays, we’ve done movies, we’ve done TV stuff together, and I directed him in a show on Broadway. He’s an extraordinary actor, extraordinary.
To me it makes perfect senses that no matter what you do when you’re creating something; you always know that when you finish a movie, a script, a painting, you’re always rethinking. But you have to let it go, and move on to something else. The good thing about painting is that you can always go back and fix them up a little bit. I’m fascinated by that, that sort of perpetual dissatisfaction. And Giacometti has a great line: “what better breeding ground for doubt than success.” It’s absolutely true.
You want to be as truthful as possible, but of course you have to take poetic licence. I feel we’ve been as truthful to him and his story as we could be. I had gotten to know James Lord, which is how I got the rights to the book originally, and Lord would tell me lots of stories about Giacometti. So that was incredibly helpful. Plus I’d read just about everything that had ever been written about him. A lot of our dialogue is what Lord recounted.
Recreating the artwork was another really difficult task. James hired three young artists who could recreate the sculptures that we could assume were in his studio during those weeks. And that was quite a task, but they did it brilliantly.
What I hope audiences will take away is to learn more about Giacometti, and to see the creative process. And also that an artist is very serious about what he or she does, but also at the same time there’s this wonderful sense of humour, a sense of irony within that process. And that process never, ever, ever stops. And just give an insight into what I think is an amazing process that artists have struggled with for thousands of years.
Interview with Geoffrey Rush (Alberto Giacometti)
I read the script and I thought it was a bit of a gem. Stanley, very flatteringly, said this has got your name all over it and I want you to do it. It’s a very nice, very smart piece of cataloguing of Lord’s experience of sitting for a person who at that stage was quite a famous living icon. He gives a wonderfully insightful analysis of the dilemmas in the creative process.
Stanley is so determined that this doesn’t fall into the trap of being the biopic of the great moments of the maestro’s work. There are no eureka moments, it’s all the shabby and messy bits that go on in a very messy and shabby atelier where he lived and worked for years. Stanley’s got a great sense of rhythm, seeing people deal with celebrity and the torturous process of making art. He’s very good with the camera – working with Danny Cohen and shooting fast, it’s almost guerrilla filmmaking. It feels like fly on the wall kind of camera work – quite artful.
It’s refreshing to see somebody who is totally denying what we now know as celebrity culture. In a lot of the interviews that Giacometti does he says: forget about the metaphysical and existential questions, I’m just messing around with some plaster, fiddling around with some clay. I don’t know where I’m going, I’m just playing and then somehow it emerges into something.
I think from a contemporary perspective, people would come in with very challenging morality questions. Giacometti knows he has certain manic impulses that allow him to exist and he just pursues them, not in a malevolent or a selfish way, he just does what he needs to do.
Stanley’s script draws you into the microscopic banalities of characters that are vividly etched, who have this level of celebrity and academic appraisal, fame and fortune. But their lives stumble along in a pretty ordinary, banal way. There’s a fair amount of natural comedy that comes out of that.
Interview with Armie Hammer (James Lord)
I read the script and I thought it was incredible. I thought it would be great to get to work with Geoffrey, and I heard Tony was also going to be involved, so it seemed like a no brainer. A good portion of this movie is just spent having really interesting conversations about Alberto Giacometti’s creative process and the nature of art itself. It’s a fun flick!
The relationship between Alberto and James is very interesting. James is an observer, a writer so he very rarely asserts himself in any situation… he’s a little bit like a passive type. He’s here because he wants to write about Giacometti and he wants to have a painting of himself by Giacometti. But more than anything, they’re friends and he wants to spend time with him and pick his brain and get to know him. The things they talk about in the movie end up going into the biography.
I love Giacometti’s work. His sketches are great, his original water colours are great, but his sculptures – there is something magical about them. They’re great.
in my research Lord spent more time with Diego than he did actually with Alberto and that’s in this script – you see the little side glances, you can see that James and Diego have a very sort of separate emotional life than James has with Alberto, and even that Diego has with Alberto. They make up a side of this trilateral relationship in this movie. It’s fun to see all these grown men sometimes acting like children and playing off of each other and trying to irk each other and feeding off each other.
I’ve always thought the one thing that shines through Stanley’s work more than anything else is his intelligence and how quick he seems. And to be directed by someone who is also such an accomplished actor – he knows how to talk to you.
It might just be a part of being an artist, that sort of perpetual dissatisfaction. Because if you did a piece and you were like, wow, it’s perfect, it might not be enough impetus to keep you going. It seems like Giacometti views the world entirely differently than all of us. He’s trying to create his art in the way that he sees it. He’s really the only person who has this sort of prism, looking through the world. He has seen it perfectly in his head and to not be able to make his hands do it, or to not be able to make the final product represent what you see – I can imagine that would be really frustrating. He certainly seems unhappy at times and then at other times he seems to be riding this wave of euphoria and ecstasy with Caroline. And sometimes he has really sweet, tender moments with his wife, and then he doesn’t want to see anybody and he wants to burn the whole world down. It’s part and parcel of his personality.
I think there is a lot in this film for everybody. People who just want to go and watch a fun interesting movie will get that. Art students who love Giacometti will get an insight that they have probably never seen before. Everyone is making an incredible, nuanced, layered movie and I think that’s part of what makes it so special.
Interview with Tony Shalhoub (Diego Giacometti)
It’s about how, as brilliant as Giacometti was, he was tortured by frustration and self loathing and what he perceived as an inability to create what he was setting out to do; to capture nature and come up with kind of a new form. I was struck by the man and the story, and of course the opportunity to work with Stanley again, and to be able to hang out with him.
I can see why Stanley connected to this material, and I think a lot of actors and writers and all kind of creative types will, because we all have that haunting sense of self doubt. And I think people who are not in the creative world would have this kind of experience. I think we all have those moments: do we really know what we’re doing, or are we just kind of making it up as we go along? Giacometti took this notion and it consumed him – in a way, it made his work that much more brilliant, because he was so hard on himself, he was such a perfectionist.
I hope that audiences will fall in love Giacometti and his work… but also that they take away this understanding of what true artistry is about and what artists go through. But alongside that, there’s a lot of humour in this story, and I hope they’ll see the joy in it all, and the absurdity in it all.