Best in a Supporting Role: Joan Lane Former Clinician Sowed the Seeds of Success for “The King’s Speech” Features
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Features  |   February 01, 2011
Best in a Supporting Role: Joan Lane
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Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / Fluency Disorders / Voice Disorders / Special Populations / Professional Issues & Training / Speech, Voice & Prosody / Features
Features   |   February 01, 2011
Best in a Supporting Role: Joan Lane
The ASHA Leader, February 2011, Vol. 16, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR11.16022011.np
The ASHA Leader, February 2011, Vol. 16, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR11.16022011.np
Joan Lane describes herself as sometimes impulsive and unorthodox—qualities for which, in her pivotal role in the early development of “The King’s Speech,” she deserves our deepest thanks. The London-based theater producer put in 15 years as a speech and language therapist—as SLPs are known in the United Kingdom (UK). She was the first agent to handle the original script by David Seidler, which had been sent to her through an American writer friend, and she became its passionate advocate. In the end, Lane made the creative connections that brought director Tom Hooper and actor Geoffrey Rush into the project. The rest is history. But Lane remains modest about her role. “I don’t consider my contribution significant,” she says. “All I did was to sow a seed.”
What brought you into the profession of speech and language therapy? How long did you stay in the field?
Lane: My parents and my grandparents were in the theater, and my mother was keen for my sister and me to go to university and enjoy a different life from the one she had known, a professional life with a more regular source of income. I elected speech and language therapy. I must have instinctively felt that I might be able to move into the theater through working with voice.
I was in practice for about 15 years. I was able to work across the board—from treating children with minor articulatory problems to adults suffering from strokes and degenerative illnesses. As a therapist, I observed the cruel nature of infirmity in people of all ages and from all walks of life. Apart from treating patients, I learned a great deal about life—about sympathy and support, the importance of tolerance and patience. As a speech therapist, I also learned skills that have helped me in the theater—how to be a good team member, and to improve my use of language and voice.
You were trained at London University under the banner of the Royal College for Speech and Language Therapy. My understanding is that Lionel Logue co-founded the College with the support of King George VI, who was its first royal patron.
Yes, and in my student days in the 1970s his widow, the Queen Mother was the patron of the College, which meant that the college president could celebrate its anniversaries and other special occasions at St. James’ Palace in her presence, and she was kept informed of the College’s achievements and activities.
As a young graduate I impulsively offered to put on a charity ball to raise money for the College. I’d never even attended a charity ball! But I did it and somehow managed to raise quite a large sum of money. Because of this success, I was presented to the Queen Mother at the palace. It was extremely daunting. I had no idea of protocol. It was the 1970s, and I wore high black boots, a black dress with silver studs, and a split skirt. Everyone else wore smart suits. The Queen Mother was terribly nonplussed by my outfit, and she smiled and laughed a great deal. She asked me about the fundraising. Certainly I never spoke to her about her husband and Logue. It was known to be a sensitive issue, and speech and language therapists kept away from that topic.
I understand that was the first of several meetings with the Queen Mother.
Yes, I saw her again a couple of years later on College business, and then I ended up as the assistant director for her 100th birthday tribute in July 2000. By that time I was in the theater world, and we staged a pageant that showcased events in her life over the entire 20th century. It was quite exciting!
When David Seidler sent you his script for first review, did he realize that you were a former speech and language therapist?
(Laughs) No! He did not know I had trained as a speech and language therapist or that I had met the Queen Mother on several occasions, and was so involved with her 100th birthday tribute. All he knew was that I was a fairly well-connected London-based producer of a small touring theater company. David’s script came to me through another American writer, Tom Minter, whom I had known for several years. David had said to Tom, “I don’t know what to do with this play. I don’t know where to send it.” Tom sent it to me, and we went from there.
What was your response after your first reading of the original script? Did you see its potential as a film?
The script resonated very strongly with me. I was as passionate as David about the story, but for very different reasons. He had suffered the stammer and I had worked with people who stammered. He had written to the Queen Mother, and I had met her.
David did the most immaculate research. The amount of research is breathtaking. And he wrote so clearly about the development of the relationship between these two incredibly different men—one from a rather dysfunctional royal background and the other a laid-back Australian. The relationship was almost tangible. You could almost touch it as you read the script.
I thought it would make a good film. Every time I read the script, I could see it more visually. I gave it to my friend Simon Egan at Bedlam Productions, whom I’d known for several years. Bedlam went on to become a major producer along with See-Saw Films. Both are based in London. Simon’s enthusiasm was like a beacon in the dark because he is a professional whose opinion I respect. I said, “We’re both right. This has a life beyond a play script.” But we were thinking of television—not the big screen.
Were any producers interested when you marketed the script?
I sent it out and received nothing but long pauses and rejections from reputable producers and theaters. Finally I was so frustrated—because I believed in the story so strongly—that I staged a rehearsed reading of the entire play. Luckily the artistic director of the 290-seat Pleasance Theatre in London allowed me to use his theater—readings usually are held in theatre foyers or in a club room. I invited potential investors and big producers because I felt the play merited a big producer, not a little producer like me. The actors met for the first time that morning, and rehearsed only for a few hours before the audience arrived. By the end, we knew we had something extraordinarily special—the members of the audience were weeping with emotion.
Your staged reading drew four people who shaped the film’s destiny.
Yes, among the group of Australian friends and colleagues I had invited were Richard and Meredith Hooper, Tom’s parents. I didn’t ask them because their son was a film director—they just came with the group. I had met Tom in 1998 when he’d filmed one of my theater productions, and his father played golf with my husband. After the play, Richard and Meredith came up and said, “It’s a great play, it’s wonderful, do you think Tom would be interested?” I brought David over and introduced him. Apparently Meredith called Tom that night and said, “I think I’ve found your next film,” but I didn’t know that at the time. Simon was the third person who was instrumental in the making of the film, and that day he videotaped the reading for a promotional DVD.
You did some creative outreach to Geoffrey Rush in Australia. How did you get him on board?
On our wish list, David and I had always thought that Geoffrey should play Lionel Logue. He was the obvious choice. I prepared a treatment with documentation about the story, visual pictures of the period which were very interesting and enticing, and the promotional DVD from the rehearsed reading. Impulsively, I convinced my former neighbor, who lived near to Geoffrey Rush in Melbourne, to slide the package through his mail slot. She did it reluctantly, but it didn’t fit! She had to leave it on his doorstep. I put an extremely apologetic letter with the package about my unorthodox approach, saying, “I understand if you don’t get back to me about this, and I’m very sorry, but it was the only way.” (laughs) And it was!
I was in the mode of expecting rejections. But within hours Geoffrey’s management, based in Sydney, got back to me and said, “He’s interested.” Even from the stage treatment I’d provided, it was clear that the two main protagonists were going to be involved in an incredible relationship that had not been explored previously. Geoffrey didn’t want to do a stage play because he’d had quite a long period of stage plays, but said he would be interested if it were a film. I immediately handed the contact details on to Bedlam Productions and they ran with it. Geoffrey’s interest coupled with the enthusiasm of the Hooopers and their encouragement to Tom to get involved set the whole thing in motion. With Tom and Geoffrey on board, I handed over the stage play and had nothing to do with the film whatsoever.
But you put the script on the road to eventual film production.
It’s true that if I hadn’t given it to my friend Simon, the film would never have happened. If I hadn’t been impulsive and pushed my poor former neighbor who lived around the corner from Geoffrey, he may not have become involved. So perhaps I played a pivotal part, a small part.
What impact in your view has this film had on public awareness of stuttering—or stammering, to use the British term?
The film has undoubtedly raised awareness, because stammering, unlike a physical injury or a visible disfigurement, can remain hidden to an extent. So when it appears, the person often does not receive much sympathy or understanding from the public at large. “The King’s Speech” must have increased the understanding of the suffering of all people who stammer worldwide. Of course it’s not just English-speaking people who stammer. When I was a student, we were made to go out into shopping malls and stammer when we were asking for something. We were made to make phone calls so we could understand the pain felt by people who stammer when they couldn’t communicate. I do sincerely hope it has raised the profile even higher with the therapists who work with stammerers and aid their progress to fluency.
For you, a former speech and language therapist, the film brought you full circle back into that world. How did that feel?
Strange—it remains strange. I have to pinch myself to appreciate the enormous reaction to the film worldwide. I consider myself insignificant—it was Bedlam and See-Saw and Tom and Colin and Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter and all the other wonderful actors who have made the film such a huge success. I don’t consider my contribution significant. All I did was to sow a seed. I don’t consider my contribution significant, but I have been overwhelmed with people asking me to represent them or sending me scripts or writing cards to me thanking me for getting the ball rolling.
“The King’s Speech” now has become a worldwide phenomenon. I believe that this has happened because it demonstrates the power of friendship and triumph over adversity. And the positive message that Tom has delivered with such clarity from David’s screenplay, of courage and support and success, has a universal appeal. The messages are so clear. A film like this is rare—and all credit goes to David, and to Tom, and to everybody involved with the film.
And to you.
Thank you.
Interview by Marat Moore, managing editor of The ASHA Leader. She can be reached at mmoore@asha.org
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February 2011
Volume 16, Issue 2