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Beckham Director on Initial Doubts About Netflix Documentary

Beckham Director on Initial Doubts About Netflix Documentary

Beckham Director on Initial Doubts About Netflix Documentary

I actually wasn’t that interested in David Beckham. I mean, I knew he was this famous, branded guy and that Victoria was a Spice Girl. I loved football. My first documentary was about Pelé and [Franz] Beckenbauer coming to America to play for the New York Cosmos. Then one of my dearest friends ended up running [the football club in] Liverpool. I just started getting obsessed with Liverpool and following Liverpool. The reason this movie came to me is because I had worked with Leonardo DiCaprio many times. David had been meeting a ton of directors, and David called Leo to get his advice. David said, “Leo, I’m really struggling [about] who to get.” And he was like, “You’ve got to call Fisher.”

David had just seen this movie that I directed, coincidentally, Palmer, with Justin Timberlake, and he loved the emotion in that, and he’d seen Before the Flood. So I get a call on my way to Succession, as an actor, saying, “David Beckham wants to talk to you about doing his documentary.” And my immediate response was, “Oh, really? Why me? I don’t really care about David Beckham.” I was very hesitant. And I got to work at Succession, and it’s all English people, the writers, and we talk football all day. When I told creator Jesse Armstrong and EP Tony Roche that I got this cryptic message to meet David Beckham about a documentary, they were like, “Oh my God, he’s incredible.” I didn’t get into English football until 2003. By that point, Beckham had already gone to Madrid. I thought he was more of a pretty-boy brand. I didn’t know how great he was. But that just shows you how we make snap judgments as humans, you know.

He was very different from what I expected. I watched a lot of his interviews. I was like, “Oh, this guy’s going to be brutal. The way he’s lit, the way he talks, the way he moves his head, everything is so calculated.” Day one on the Zoom, I’m like, “You know, man, if we do this, I want to open you up.” It seemed like he was ready. And then I got excited. But it wasn’t until we had dinner that we both committed. We had a couple of drinks, he was with his wife, she was hilarious, she wasn’t anything like what I expected. She was open and honest and funny. I was like, “Oh my God, this could be good.”

The first step I did was a deep dive into David’s life, reading anything about him, watching everything about him, and hiring a story producer and archival producer. Even before deciding on an editor, we’re like, “Who do we need to interview? And what is the vibe of the film?” I make documentaries like I’m making a feature film. We knew that his life was operatic, there’s going to be giant hills and valleys. Then you start doing interviews, and you realize: “Holy shit. I’m so wrong about this.” We spent the first three months making a film about working-class England. Then we started doing these interviews with David, and we realized this is not a movie about that. This is a movie about family — his father, his mother, and his other family, Manchester United, and then his other family, Victoria and the kids. So we shifted, three months in, we were like, “Oh fuck, we’re going down the wrong path here.”

The abuse from the press that he faced, to be honest, was so much worse than I realized. I had no idea; I didn’t know what he went through. I am the audience in the movie, that’s why I kept my voice in — but his tenacity, his mental strength, just floored me. I wanted the audience to feel what this guy experienced, what she experienced, with the press. So that was a much bigger part of the story than we had anticipated when we set out to make the film.

When I took the gig, as a condition of the job, I said to them, “There is definitely some uncomfortable stuff, David. You guys had a very bumpy road in your marriage. I want to get into that. And I’m telling you, only do this film if we can talk about it.” And they said, “Yes, yes, no problem.” Victoria was much more willing to just go there. She’s so smart and so funny, and people don’t know that. And then you watch the movie, you see why she’s put up walls, with what they said about her.

David was different. David took a lot more work. I did, I think, 11 interviews. We got more and more comfortable with each interview. He said something really interesting: that he liked the fact that he was uncomfortable with me, and that he felt like that was why the movie worked, because he did feel uncomfortable. And then he’d finish the interviews sometimes and be just a mess. Because he holds everything in. That’s what he’s been taught to do.

The editing is crucial. You’re writing it while you’re there. Our job was to make this film emotional, entertaining, funny and make it a love story so that everybody gets it.

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The one thing David was a bit resistant about with me at the beginning was letting me film him doing his real life. And the one thing he was really proud of was his bees. So he had no qualms with me filming him beekeeping. When I saw him in the outfit, before we were filming, I’m like, “This is nuts.” I wanted to just set the tone for the film, that this is an unusual film, David Beckham in a light that you wouldn’t really think about seeing him. We’re not going to start with him kicking a ball.

At the premiere, they were so nervous. Victoria, she could barely look at me. David was terrified. It’s been incredible. I’m so grateful. I don’t think any of us expected people to embrace it the way they have.

This story first appeared in a May standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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