Calling from his California home this week, filmmaker Taylor Hackford pointed out that the upcoming tribute to him and his wife and fellow Oscar winner, Helen Mirren, is taking place “in the right city and by the right organization.” The couple will be honored Wednesday, May 24, at the Loews Hotel in Streeterville with individual career achievement awards at the Chicago International Film Festival’s summer gala, co-chaired by Candace Jordan, Helen Melchoir and Gigi Pritzker.
While both Hackford and Mirren have been honored numerous times individually, this is the first time the couple are being toasted together. “This is great it’s happening in Chicago. We’ve been together 32 years. She’s certainly the girl for me!” enthused Hackford.
The aptness of this occurring in Chicago is front and center in the director and producer’s mind. “My first feature film, ‘The Idolmaker,’ had its first public screening at the Chicago Film Festival at the Chicago Theatre,” said Hackford. “On top of that, my film ‘White Nights’ was also previewed at the Chicago Film Festival a few years later. So, needless to say, I have a very special feeling for that festival and [founder] Michael Kutza, who believed in me at such an early stage.”
Along with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines, “White Nights” starred Mirren. “It was fantastic. It was where I met my bride!” Hackford said.
The filmmaker also enjoys other kinds of directing, as he proved with “Louis and Keely: Live at the Sahara,” the musical play Hackford helmed about the relationship between Louis Prima and Keely Smith. A production of the show ran at the Royal George Theatre here in 2015.
“I had come to Chicago many times before that to promote my movies, but you need to be in a city for an extended time — you need to really work there — to get to know a city,” said Hackford. “That’s when I really came to love Chicago. It was the little things. I came to love Twin Anchors [the longtime restaurant in Lincoln Park]. The first time I walked in, I went, ‘Oh, my God! This is heaven!’ … I loved it. The ribs were fantastic, but it was the ambience of the place — the friendliness of it that represented real Chicago to me.”
As for what’s pending for Hackford, his hope is to finally secure funding for “George and Tammy,” his long-planned biopic musical movie about George Jones and Tammy Wynette. “It’s very tough now trying to get funding for dramas,” said the director. “I have a fantastic package here. I have a great script. George and Tammy were long considered the president and first lady of country music. Their love story is a kind of heartbreaker, but it’s a great one. Josh Brolin and Jessica Chastain want the roles. T Bone Burnett is the musical director. [Oscar-nominated cinematographer] Roger Deakins is going to shoot it.
“But getting the funding is tricky, because it’s not a comic book,” Hackford noted with a rueful laugh. “It’s never been easy to get a film made. It took me 15 years to get ‘Ray’ made and that was worth it. But on the other hand, that’s a very long time.”