'I'd have loved to play every part. I'd have been brilliant'
Mick Jagger, film producer, talks...
by Emma Brockes for the Guardian, 26th September 2001
Tom Stoppard rides the hotel lift with a glass of Scotch and an air of demoralisation. His old friend Mick Jagger is staying on the third floor. All day the place has seethed with press, baying for Jagger, ignoring Stoppard. Witnessing the chaos from the sidelines, he has grown bleary-eyed with amusement and fatigue. He is tall, broad and dressed in black. At the door he is greeted by a man who is slight, alert and dressed in the colours of the rainbow. The rock star and the writer embrace. "Tom!" yelps Mick. "Hello," says Tom.
The two have reunited for the release of Enigma, a book by Robert Harris that Stoppard adapted for screen and Jagger's production company Jagged Films has made into a movie starring Kate Winslet and Dougray Scott. Set in Bletchley Park, Britain's code-breaking HQ during the second world war, it heavy-handedly intertwines the story of the Nazis' Enigma coding machine with the "enigma" of the beautiful, mysterious Saffron Burrows ("She is unreadable.") Under director Michael Apted, this is Jagger's first producing role, and he's twitchy with enthusiasm. "Of course I'd have loved to have been all the parts," he says. "I could have done them all brilliantly. There's no doubt about that. But I wasn't allowed. That bloody director!" He hoots with laughter.
At 58, Jagger is trim as a fish and cocky in posture, his distinctive Droopy Dog features swinging in animation. He moves in his seat like a man registering small electric shocks, and talks off the top of his head in long mad sentences that just keep unravelling. "I think movies in this country, it's very complicated, and we could bang on about it for ever, but because English movies are made in English, it's a very strange animal, and the French movie industry is very different because it's very obviously French." He beams.
Producing seems to have been more of a slog than the singer had bargained for. He found the endless committee meetings tiresome, and had to bite his tongue when every last man and his dog approached him with little ideas for the production. "It's like being in a very large rock band in which everyone's got an opinion, and those opinions aren't always valid 'cos they're from people who are not sort of in it. They're only saying it for extensions of their own ego." For a man who has spent his whole career in show business, Jagger seems strangely mystified by this discovery.
Still, he loved the material. When they read the book, both Jagger and Stoppard - whose recent writing credit Shakespeare in Love won him an Oscar - responded instantly to all the trainspottery details of code-breaking. "I had an advance copy, like bound proofs," says Stoppard. "I was on my way to France to see Mick."
"Yeah," says Jagger. "It was just a fun read. 'Cos I'd read all these books..."
"... because you weren't looking for a book to film, were you?"
"I can't remember. I'd read all those other Bletchley Park books, whatever they were called..."
"... The Code Breaker."
"That's it. I loved that. Then there were others afterwards that weren't quite as good, but I still read them."
To christen his company, Jagger wanted a film that would set the tone for all those to follow. It had to be serious, it had to be worthy. Reading Enigma, he was excited by the "mood of the time" that, he says, is "a bit intangible, 'cos the mood of the time doesn't have dialogue". He was also encouraged by the idea of making a British film that didn't involve Hugh Grant. (Jagger says "Hugh Grant" with a light snigger). "It's very hard to make a film about England if it's of a serious nature and doesn't have special effects or a very famous actor, 'cos you can't sell it anywhere but England. That's a problem. So you're stuck with making small-budget films or comedies with [snigger] Hugh Grant."
"You have to compensate," says Stoppard, "for the fact that it's English."
"I didn't want to make teenage comedies," says Jagger, "and I didn't want to make really trashy films. I wanted to make films that were a bit challenging, to be honest. I thought this was a good example of that. That doesn't mean to say I don't want to see trashy teenage movies every now and then. Or lots of movies with what my small children call 'splosions' in them. But I don't want to work on them."
He looks dreamy for a moment. "There's a theory that Bletchley Park was a microcosm of British society."
"What?" asks Stoppard. "Without the proletariat, you mean?"
"I can't quite remember. It was some remark somewhere."
The biggest challenge for Jagger was sustaining his interest. He can't sit still for long, and process depletes him. "Quite often when I record a song, writing it and making a demo is the big thing and, after that, I think, how do I actually translate this into real life? A lot of the time I think I can't be bothered. It would be so much easier if I just had it and played it to myself. Because the rest of it is very time-consuming."
Does Jagger own up when he doesn't know how to do something? "No. I don't own up. I just bluff it. I don't throw my weight around and say I know what I'm doing, but with a lot of these things it's just common sense. I mean, there's no great technical expertise in being a movie producer. And if you do get to an area where you don't understand the technical words or distribution, or whatever that means, you just ask. Or you quietly ask before, which is even better." When driving, he says, he'd rather buy a map than stop for directions.
While Jagger felt his way cautiously through the shoot, Stoppard enjoyed himself immensely. "It's really rather refreshing writing a film, because I usually come out of a heavy period of finishing a play, and this is frankly rather enjoyable work. You inherit so much from the book, particularly those parts of the job I find more difficult. I love writing dialogue, but I find plot and character most difficult."
His routine is always the same. "I like my first draft very much. Then, a month later, when everyone's read it, there are all sorts of things I don't like about it. And then I write another draft that I like very much more, that's much better. And then in the third and fourth, you're negotiating your way forward. This happened in The Russia House, where I was fascinated by all the CIA crossfire between the British and Americans, and the producers were selling it on Sean Connery being in love with Michelle Pfeiffer. I remember the first draft of Enigma being much more parochial as a movie. It didn't have a third act with submarines, airplanes and big exteriors. It was a much more modest film."
"There was the crash of the Morris Minor," says Jagger.
"Don't be unkind," says Stoppard. "It was a Traveller estate." "We had to introduce an American character," says Jagger. "Tom worked out that the only reason there was an American in the book was because the characters had to get their petrol from somewhere, and Americans were the only ones who had petrol coupons. We'd lined up an actor for it, then decided against. So we got rid of him." He says this with relish, as if suddenly seeing potential in the people-management side of his new career. "That," he says proudly, "was an executive decision."
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