Interview with Oslo director Barlett Sher about bringing the Broadway hit to screen
When Oslo transferred from an Off-Broadway run to Broadway in April 2017, it was one of the biggest hits of the season. The play – a fictional tale of the exciting back-channel deals and international intrigue that led to the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993 – won seven Tony Award nominations, including Best Director for Sher. The moment he said City Country, “Point of Oslo it’s not to what extent it happened or ultimately worked; it’s about the process.
Four years later, an astonishing film adaptation of Oslo– starring Ruth Wilson and Andrew Scott and featuring an international cast of stars – is scheduled to premiere on HBO (airs May 29 at 8 p.m. EST), and that process is still alive today as tensions run high in the Middle East today and the film is released in a world that may seem more politically divided and difficult to maneuver than ever before. .
Here Sher shares with T&C why the story remains important, what the film allowed it to do that stage production didn’t, and how it managed to make an international thriller across the world at a time when most of the world was locked down .
Oslo was on Broadway as of 2017. When did you decide to make a movie version of it?
Soon after doing the play, it became clear – especially from the way JT Rogers writes – that we had a cinematic script. I approached [producer] Marc Platt and asked: “What do you think of Oslo? He had loved the room and was interested. It was probably two years ago, then last year, around April, he said, “I think it’s about time.” Being in the middle of a pandemic, I thought, how the hell do we go about getting there? But that’s where we started this journey.
So, you made a movie that crosses the world in the middle of a pandemic? How did it work?
It’s part of what was so epic about it. All our casting took place on Zoom; we had Ruth and Andrew, but it was also about looking all over the Middle East because we wanted the actors playing Palestinians and Israelis to be actually Palestinians and Israelis. We picked an amazing, all-star cast from the area and then started hiring for all the other roles. Then the question was: where do we film it? At the time, the Czech Republic had the lowest [Covid] numbers around the world, so we went to Prague and started pre-production on the film, which started filming in October.
How was the making of the film different from the making of the play?
The larger structure – a back channel leading to three negotiations leading to a climax in Sweden – was the same, but all the details of how you tell the story were different. I completely changed the opening and built it around a flashback, which is only mentioned in the play, to make it an immediate thriller. We also changed the structure of time, so instead of starting in the middle and going back to the beginning, we start from the beginning, so that you immediately feel the secret nature of things. The games occur in such a non-literal space; you can move quickly from one place to another. In the film, you have to completely plan for a different way of showing the same details. There is so much that can happen because you have a whole different toolkit.
Are there moments that you wanted to do on stage but could only achieve on screen?
It was all so different! It was amazing to be able to organize and plan an attack when the characters were pinned down in Gaza or to film car chases; you just don’t do that in the theater. It was all filmed outside of Prague in an area that we built to look like Gaza and that required a whole different way of thinking.
Also, go to the Swedish royal palace guesthouse and be able to set up a whole world that looks like The crown meets the truly magnified Middle East for a moment in a way that could never happen on stage. It uplifted the scene and made you realize how extraordinary the circumstances were in a deep way. You feel the journey more than you do in the room.
What made this story interesting enough for you to do it twice?
I don’t really think about it like that. I’ve put together productions before, so each one is like its own site-specific art installation. In the case of OsloI knew this so well that I had a much deeper understanding of where this could go. Most of the time in the theater you are just unwrapping what something might be. I didn’t have to do this step again, I could only think about what it should be like as a movie. But I don’t mind discovering something that I hadn’t realized before.
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The movie is so timely now – in a way the play wasn’t. How does it feel to bring him into the world given the current circumstances in the Middle East?
Of course, I would have liked the circumstances to be different. I would be perfectly happy if it was the opposite and [the Israelis and Palestinians] had come to a deeper agreement and could find common ground and go way ahead of what happened in Oslo. Unfortunately, we are not in this situation. What am I doing Oslo as a film can do for people who come to the area and become aware of what is going on, is that it can give you a deep sense of a moment in history where many of these forces have taken hold. make an effort to make things different. It’s like one of Shakespeare’s story pieces – it gives you some context, and I hope it can be of help to the larger conversation.
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