By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Amongst Gen Xers, Russell Mulcahy is a very recognizable name. He’s the directorial talent who brought Highlander (1985) and The Shadow (1994) to life. With works like Tale of the Mummy (1998), Mysterious Island (2005) and The Scorpion King: Rise of a Warrior (2008), fans can surmise he has a love for the pulps. The visual narrative he offers in this genre makes him the ideal choice to direct In Like Flynn, a biopic about the life of Errol Flynn before he went to Hollywood and became world famous. When he got the call, he was on a jet to Australia faster than this miscreant can down a shot of old whiskey.
Although many actors played Robin Hood over the years, the big question is which actor was the most memorable? Everyone agrees it’s Erroll, hands down. His life story made him perfect for not only this role–like Robert Downey Jr did with Iron Man–but also as Captain Blood. According to Mulcahy, he came to define more than one generation of the action hero status quo; he stuck to playing swashbuckling roles for most of the early part of his career. Also, Warner Brothers gave him no choice when he expressed interest in other kinds of roles later in life.
In what this director did not know about the man, the team of writers–Corey Large, Marc Furmie, Steve M. Albert and Luke Flynn (grandson)–helped explain. While this movie does not reveal everything you want to know but was afraid to ask, thankfully this actor has his memoirs (namely My Wicked, Wicked Ways) to sate those salacious appetites. To find the right person to play Errol wasn’t too hard.
“Thomas Cocquerel was in a number of films prior,” mused this director, “I saw him in Table 19 and said, ‘Damn, that’s him! Not only does he have that physical presence [I wanted] at a young age, but also got a good sense of humor. He has that mischievous twinkle in his eye that I believe Flynn had. To have that sense of adventure in his soul was crucial, otherwise, his movies won’t sell.”
Amongst film historians, Errol was one of the first romantic action heroes to appear on the big screen. According to Mulcahy, the movies he appeared in afterward represented that image of a swashbuckler the Hollywood of the 30s wanted to push. As for his personal life, that’s another story.
“He’s quite willing to take the mickey out of himself, go gung-ho and be zen, so to speak,” said Mulcahy.
In Like Flynn is based on his first autobiographical novel, Beam Ends. To adapt it was easy. “It’s [more of a discipline] to stay faithful to that work, but there are also bits where you have enough latitude and breathing space to maneuver through the willy weather, so to speak, of film production,” recalled this director.
Comparisons to modern day scoundrels, whether that’s in real life or fiction, can easily be made when considering all the trouble he’s been to. Russell believes Errol has more of a Han Solo quality about him than other characters. The Tasmanian Devil was Flynn’s moniker. Part of the name came from where he was born and the other was in his devil-may-care attitude, to which Mulcahy’s film explores.
The fact Flynn was an adventurer, an opium smuggler, gambler, street fighter, and womanizer made him more of a target by others. Perhaps to see him leave some of his troubles from the outback behind and going to Hollywood was a good thing. Had he stayed, this filmmaker believes the indigenous tribes would have killed him in his next great adventure.
To stay authentic, the team filmed in areas where Flynn once frequented: the west coast of Australia. “Basically, we got on a boat and traveled up the coast,” laughed Mulcahy.
Technically, not all of it was filmed in open waters. The sets built to recreate the interior of the boat and the dockyards around Sydney Harbour helped make the 30s come alive. They also filmed in the outback for that sense of realism. Half the boat scenes were actually done on land, so the actors can be safe as water splashed and squibs exploded around them and so forth. When considering everything Flynn and his ragtag team encountered, they were courting death. She’s a bitter mistress, especially when considering this actor’s many sordid affairs came back to bite him later in life. This biopic reveals enough to say he’s only left some dangers behind when the telegram inviting him to come to Hollywood arrived. Other problems simply followed him to the City of Angels.
He craved adventure. When he was not busy with another film, he tried his hand as a war correspondent. His fortunes were not any better, and this aspect is explored in the documentary, Tasmanian Devil: The Fast and Furious Life of Errol Flynn by Simon Nasht.
However, for this movie-maker, now based in Los Angeles, the feeling was the opposite. He wanted this film to focus on the positives. His film is more about the high adventure which occurred at home and heading off to explore New Guinea for treasure. He said, “I haven’t done a film there for a number of years. The last one I did there was Swimming Upstream with Geoffrey Rush and Jessie Spencer. My first film, Razorback, was filmed there too. It was just wonderful to go back home.”