Having seen Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen match wits on the Broadway stage some years ago director Bill Condon says, “I knew they were great sparring partners.” Now, the iconic actors star together on screen for the first time in New Line Cinema’s suspenseful drama “The Good Liar” (in Philippine cinemas November 27).
In the film, consummate con man Roy Courtnay (McKellen) has set his sights on his latest mark: the recently widowed Betty McLeish (Mirren), worth millions. And Roy means to take it all. From their very first meeting, Roy begins plying Betty with his tried and true manipulations, and Betty, who seems quite taken with him, is soon going along for the ride. But this time, what should have been a simple swindle escalates into a cat-and-mouse game with the ultimate stakes—revealing more insidious deceptions that will take them both through a minefield of danger, intrigue and betrayal.
Comparing the way in which audiences gain insight about the two leads, Condon goes on to say, “From the beginning it’s Roy we learn the most about in terms of his life and activities, whereas Betty plays things much closer to the vest. She’s mostly seen from Roy’s point of view, which makes Helen’s performance all the more challenging because within that context—a ‘mark,’ a homebody, a lonely widow—you come to realize that’s not quite all there is to it.”
“As we see her,” Mirren volunteers, “she’s a nice person. She’s intelligent, but with a sort of innocence about her and a sense of decency. She’s also direct, which I like.”
But intelligence can be a subjective commodity. It’s possible to be highly educated in one area of expertise such as art, history or literature, yet know next to nothing about finances and investments because, perhaps, there used to be a spouse at home who took charge of such things. When it comes to Betty, this all-too-common lapse is what Roy is counting on. As Condon asserts, “It’s what all cons count on.”
Consequently, it was Mirren’s task to play Betty, he describes, “as slightly less sophisticated about certain things. But what you don’t want is a person who comes across as unconvincingly naïve. Betty is bright, there’s no denying that. Helen just has to bring it down a couple of points and it’s that kind of subtlety that she does so brilliantly. That’s part of what’s so delicate about the movie. It’s not a traditional mystery in that we’re not pretending that Betty isn’t also holding something back. You get just a sense of it, possibly, but you can’t imagine what it is, or why, or how she’s planning to use it.”
With Roy, meanwhile, a great deal is immediately revealed regarding his plans and various business deals, not to mention the depth of his determination to get what he wants. And yet, so much about him remains unknowable, a fact that McKellen teases by acknowledging, “If I talk about Roy, I might be saying something Roy wouldn’t want me to tell you. That he’s a con man is rapidly obvious, but who he actually is, where he comes from and what his motives are, are part of the fun of watching the story unwind. His mustache is real; I’ll tell you that much.”
It’s that dry sense of humor, along with McKellen’s other gifts, that Condon has come to count upon in his performances. “Ian is one of the world’s preeminent Shakespearean actors,” he says, “with a gallery of film villains to his credit, but I believe it was ‘Lord of the Rings’ and that wonderful, magical twinkle he brought to Gandalf that made him beloved around the world by a new legion of fans. He brings all of those elements together in Roy.”
“The Good Liar” is distributed in the Philippines by Warner Bros. Pictures, a WarnerMedia Company. Use the hashtag #GoodLiarMovie