“This movie should be a Rorschach test for people…” - hmv.com talks to director John Lee Hancock about McDonald’s biopic The Founder
The story of how fast food restaurants came to be isn’t a well-trodden path for Hollywood filmmakers, but maybe it should be, at least if the story is half as compelling as the story behind McDonald’s is shown to be in The Founder.
This is the tale of Ray Kroc, the man who made McDonald's into a worldwide phenomenon, Kroc was a struggling Illinois salesman who meets brothers Mac and Dick McDonald in 1954 and somehow manoeuvred himself into a position to take control of their company and turn it into the behemoth it is today.
Michael Keaton plays the slippery Kroc while Parks and Recreation’s Nick Offerman and Ted 2’s John Carroll Lynch play the brothers McDonald. There are also key roles for Laura Dern, B.J. Novak and Patrick Wilson.
The Blind Side director John Lee Hancock is working from a script by Robert Siegel, also known for 2008's The Wrestler and Turbo from 2013.
As the movie comes to DVD shelves, we spoke to Hancock about getting the best out of Keaton, making 1954 come to life on a limited budget and why he didn’t get any help from the fast food giant.
How did this project end up on your desk?
“It was the script initially. I was sent Robert D. Siegel’s script and asked if I’d be interested in it. I was reluctant at first, I was coming off doing Saving Mr. Banks and that was another real-life movie, so having done Walt Disney and P. L. Travers I didn’t want to get myself in a true life story rut. But I was really drawn to the script, I liked how I could be rooting for a character and then feel completely differently by the end.”
Did you know anything about the story of McDonald’s?
“A little bit. I didn’t know the story of the McDonald brothers, but I think I knew that there had been McDonald brothers. I was shocked, in a positive way, by the story. I found myself asking ‘How did I not know this?’ and I thought plenty of other people would feel like that.”
Once you were locked in, was Michael Keaton your first choice for the role of Ray Kroc?
“Absolutely. He shares a few traits with Ray. They both have a forward lean in their posture and they’re both great salesmen. There’s a dark side to Ray Kroc that I knew Michael would be able to tap into.”
How was he to work with? It’s an intense role, he’s in practically every frame of the movie...
“It is. Michael and I spent a long time working on how to build this character and we really leant on each other to provide the checks and balances to make sure we’d do the character justice. He watched a lot of footage of Ray Kroc and really got inside his mannerisms.”
Is there a lot of footage of Ray Kroc? He wasn’t interviewed on film very often was he?
“We were able to pull a decent amount, but not as much as you’d think. There’s a commencement speech, some McDonald’s corporate footage, a few interviews, so some, but it’s mostly later in life.”
How did you decide who’d play the McDonald brothers?
“I wanted them to be round-shouldered American guys. I wanted them to be solid, hardworking, amiable guys and for there to be a difference between them. I’ve been a huge fan of John Carroll Lynch’s and I wanted him. We offered him the role and he was deciding between us and a play and thankfully he chose us. Nick Offerman, I’d mainly see his comedic roles, but when I saw him do dramatic work I thought he was fantastic and I thought they’d be great together.”
The period detail is fantastic, how did you go about getting the look and feel of 1954?
“It was very difficult on our budget. We didn’t have much money and we had to build two functioning McDonald's, one of which would double as lots of different restaurants for different parts of America. They didn’t just have to look good, they also had to function as working kitchens, there was a lot of heavy lifting.”
It’s a very specific time, it’s the clothes and the cars especially...
“It’s fun to do that. I’d done 1906 Australia and 1961 Los Angeles before this and it’s very fun, but it’s a blessing and a curse. Your frame is always limited because you don’t want to see some building in the background and realise that it’s from 1980!”
How do you think people are going to react to Ray Kroc? He’s difficult to read at times...
“I love that people see him differently. This movie should be a Rorschach test for people. I love that some of them hate Ray and others think his actions are justified. I was conflicted about him from the first time I read it, like all the best characters, he’s complicated. My job isn’t to answer questions, it’s to ask really good ones.”
Obviously, McDonald’s is still with us and doing very well, did you have any dialogue with the company?
“No. We knew from the start that they weren’t going to be any help. They made one early statement that let us know that they weren’t going to sue us, but they wouldn’t be going out of their way either.”
Finally, what’s next for you?
“I’ve got a couple of movies that I’m trying to get off the ground. One is called The Highwaymen and the other is called Shadow Divers. They’re both true stories, that seems to be the world I’m in at the moment.”