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It’s the truth — screenplay for ‘The Good Liar’ written by local native

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Ian McKellen, left, and Helen Mirren in a scene from "The Good Liar." (Chia James/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

STEUBENVILLE — There are plenty of good choices out there if you are looking to take in a movie in the next couple of weeks.

If you like the thrill of racing and a glimpse inside the auto industry, there’s “Ford v Ferrari.”

Should history and World War II be more to your liking, there’s “Midway.”

In the mood for a rom-com? “Last Christmas” is for you.

How about a look at an iconic figure who called Pittsburgh home? You’ll learn more about Fred Rogers in “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”

If you — or a child in your life — had been counting the days until you could return to Arendelle, “Frozen 2” opened Friday.

And, if an old-fashioned thriller is what you have in mind, there’s “The Good Liar.”

In addition to being a vehicle for Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen to show off their talents, it’s a movie that carries even greater interest for residents of the Tri-State Area — the screenplay was written by Steubenville native Jeffrey Hatcher.

The film tells the story of Roy Courtnay, portrayed by McKellen, and wealthy widow Betty McLeish, played by Mirren. The two meet through a computer dating service, and Courtnay, a career con man, sets about figuring out a way to rob her of the money she earned as a professor at Oxford.

It’s not the first time Hatcher, McKellen and director Bill Condon have worked together. Hatcher wrote, Condon directed and McKellen starred as Sherlock Holmes in the 2015 film “Mr. Holmes.”

According to Hatcher, a 1976 graduate of Wintersville High School, he and Condon had been working independently of each other on the film that would be “The Good Liar” when they were asked by people at New Line Cinema, a production unit of Warner Brothers, which eventually would distribute the film, if they would be willing to work together on the project. They were happy to take them up on that offer.

“The film always was intended for McKellen,” Hatcher explained. “He and Condon are so close that they look for opportunities to work together. Ian trusts Bill to the nth degree. That kind of made it a happy coincidence when everything came together with Warner Brothers.”

Hatcher explained that he wrote the script, which is based off of a novel by Nicholas Searle, in 2017, and plans were to shoot the film a little later. Condon, at the time, was in the middle of another project for Universal.

“We would probably have put off shooting until this year, but Bill was doing a remake of the ‘Bride of Frankenstein,'” he said. “It fell through at the last minute. Bill and Ian both were available, and they fast-tracked us.”

Then they added Mirren to the mix.

“She was at the top of the list of actresses to play Betty, and she said yes very quickly,” Hatcher said. “Now we were fine-tuning the script and were writing for Helen, for a certain style and delivery.

“It’s fun to write for an actor,” Hatcher continued. “You’re always writing a part, but when you are writing for an actor you learn what they can do and sometimes even push them.”

Hatcher has written numerous plays and has several screenplays under his belt, including “Stage Beauty,” which was an adaptation of his play “Compleat Female Stage Beauty,” and the 2005 version of “Casanova,” which he co-wrote with Michael Cristofer. He’s also written for the late Peter Falk’s “Columbo” television series.

There was, Hatcher said, something special about working with Mirren and McKellen.

“They have acted together before, and they have a chemistry,” he said. “When you see them in a scene, they are really connected beautifully. Bill said they have entirely different styles of acting. They come at their work from different schools, from different angles. I think that makes it all the more interesting.”

Hatcher said he had the opportunity to travel to Great Britain to see about a week of the film’s shooting. He explained most of the scenes he saw were inside the film’s “house.”

“When you see the movie, a lot of the scenes take place in Betty’s house,” he said. “Now, they had built this entire house on a soundstage. When you walk in, there’s the garden, a front door, a back door and the walk. There’s also this panoramic backdrop that has the scenery you can see when you look out the windows painted on it that they can light it for morning, afternoon and night.

“There’s a weird sense of claustrophobia about acting in a small room,” he said. “When Bill was directing, he wasn’t even in the same room. He was in another room watching on a screen, and if he wanted to give them a nudge, he had to walk around walls and down hallways.”

Hatcher admitted there were challenges in adapting Searle’s 2016 novel.

“Well, sure,” he said. “But it’s always going to be my movie and Bill’s movie and Nicholas’ movie, too. Naturally, you omit tons of stuff. If someone would try to make the film today using everything that’s in the book, you’d end up with an eight-part miniseries. The book goes from the 1930s to the 2000s, and the film takes place in the 2000s with flashbacks to the 1940s.

“The film is so entirely different from the book, but it’s the same story. You’re always looking to honor the core. It’s hard, but as long as you know what you are focusing on, it can be accomplished,” Hatcher said.

The past several weeks have been hectic, said Hatcher, the son of the late Virginia and Paul Hatcher. In addition to all of the work that needed to be done in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 15 release of “The Good Liar,” Hatcher was busy preparing to open the stage adaptation of the 1948 film noir classic “Key Largo,” which he co-wrote with Andy Garcia.

Garcia stars as Johnny Rocco in the production, which Hatcher points out is a play based on a film that was originally based on a play which was first produced in 1939. The director is Doug Hughes, a Tony Award winner.

It is playing at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles through Dec. 10

“It happened very fast,” said Hatcher, a 1980 graduate of Denison University who lives with his wife, Lisa, in the Minneapolis suburb of Wayzata. They are the parents of a son, Evan.

“It was very smooth, very fast. Andy Garcia made things go very smoothly,” Hatcher said of the collaboration. “Andy and I combined on the script — it was a lot of fun.”

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