Why David Schwimmer feels most fulfilled off-camera

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David Schwimmer on enjoying the 'challenges' of producing

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The title "executive producer" should always be treated with caution.

You'll often see several of them credited at the end of a movie or TV show; the title used as a catch-all term, which can cover wildly varying levels of involvement.

But David Schwimmer, who serves as an exec producer on a BBC adaptation of Alexander Zeldin's play Love, had a much more hands-on approach.

"Sometimes, that title is just someone who hands over some money, says 'good luck' and gets to put their name on it," he tells BBC News.

"But I'm not really interested in that. I wasn't even very interested in having an official title. Alex is my friend and I wanted to be of service."

Schwimmer had first come across the playwright and director's work via his mother-in-law, who said Zeldin's previous play Beyond Caring was the best thing she'd ever seen at the theatre.

Curious to find out more, Schwimmer tracked him down and the pair quickly developed a friendship.

So when the BBC approached Zeldin with the opportunity to adapt Love for the screen, Schwimmer was happy to climb aboard.

"What that resulted in was me being on set every day, or almost every day, and just throwing in my two cents every now and then," he says.

"Suggestions for coverage, for instance… It's his film, I'll never try to convince him to do something that he doesn't believe in, but I think he also values my opinion at times.

Image caption Luke Clarke and Janet Etuk star in Love – which saw Schwimmer working behind the camera

"The other aspect came in post-production when he would send me different edits, and I would give notes and suggestions. 'What if you try this, what if you cut that out, or use that shot, or that angle', but I didn't have to do much – he's got great instincts."

Love is a striking hour of television which focuses on families who have been placed in temporary accommodation in the run-up to Christmas.

Many have been evicted by their landlords, and the conditions of the housing they now find themselves in are not pleasant.

Several families share a single toilet. They fight over limited kitchen space and possessions. One couple is struggling to make ends meet for their two children, as they prepare for the arrival of a third.

Zeldin shies away from commenting on the film's political message, although the implication is that councils are under-funded, the population too high, and the housing crisis more acute than ever.

"The key point about this is that Christmas is a family moment, a moment where people are with their loved ones, celebrations inside the home," director Zeldin tells BBC News.

"And the fact these people don't have a home makes it all the more poignant. It's a different kind of family film and a different kind of Christmas film.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Schwimmer says he finds directing more "intellectually stimulating" than acting

Schwimmer may be best known for Friends, which is still shown on repeat around the world, but earlier this year he found himself attracting global fame for an entirely different reason.

In October, police in Blackpool posted CCTV footage of a suspect they wanted to speak to in connection with a shoplifting offence.

But their Facebook post descended into something of a Friends quote-fest after the public spotted the man in the footage looked strikingly similar to Schwimmer.

He responded with a glorious tweet – which remains his only post on the site to date – where he imitated the shoplifter.

Despite its 800,000+ likes and retweets, Schwimmer won't be drawn on the subject when speaking to media about Love.

Skip Twitter post by @DavidSchwimmer

Officers, I swear it wasn't me.
As you can see, I was in New York.
To the hardworking Blackpool Police, good luck with the investigation.#itwasntme pic.twitter.com/EDFF9dZoYR

— schwim (@DavidSchwimmer) October 24, 2018

Report

End of Twitter post by @DavidSchwimmer

But surely he at least hopes the film picks up a few extra viewers in Blackpool, now that he's so endeared himself to the people there?

"I hope it plays all over the UK," he answers tactfully. "I hope a lot of people see it, and our hope also is that we find distribution in the States."

Often, when actors have reached the top of their game in terms of fame and success, they have the luxury of making decisions which are creatively, rather than financially, driven.

"Yeah, I think there's a tremendous amount of freedom, for which I'm eternally grateful, that comes with financial security," says Schwimmer.

"And as an artist, it's a tremendous privilege to then be able to choose the kinds of things you want to put your time, energy and creativity towards."

For him, that freedom has, in recent years, manifested itself less so in acting roles, and instead seen him choosing to go behind the camera as a director or producer.

In addition to directing several episodes of Friends, he was also in the chair for 2007's Run Fatboy Run, which starred Simon Pegg and Thandie Newton.

It remains his most high-profile directing role to date, although critics gave it mixed reviews.

"Schwimmer's pedestrian direction doesn't help elevate the formulaic material," said IndieWire.

Empire was more positive, writing: "Schwimmer may just have found his calling as a director."

Schwimmer explains: "I've been directing as long as I've been acting. I find it sometimes more intellectually stimulating.

"Acting can be quite intuitive and instinctive, and sometimes intellectual if you're researching a certain role, but more often than not I found directing was more intellectually challenging.

Image caption Barbara, played by Anna Calder-Marshall, is cared for by her son in the temporary housing

"I use the analogy of a great sports or athletic event – sometimes I like being the coach or captain, but other times I just want to be the best second base player for your team.

"That's baseball," he adds helpfully, "for those who don't know!"

Zeldin, who both adapted and directed the film version of his own play, enjoys a similar creative freedom to Schwimmer.

"I'm fortunate in that I don't want to compromise in the way I work, I'm not a jobbing director, I only want to do things that I originate and write myself, and develop my style and way of working," he says.

"Wait, you're doing the new Bond right?" jokes Schwimmer as he hears this.

"Don't tell anyone!" laughs Zeldin. "Yes, hopefully Transformers 8 will come along… no, actually, I don't think that phonecall is going to happen."

Love is broadcast on BBC Two at 22:00 GMT on Saturday 8 December.

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