If the surroundings look authentically regal in the Hallmark Channel Original Movie “William & Catherine: A Royal Romance,” there’s good reason. Much of the shooting was done at the president’s palace in Bucharest. “It’s the president’s palace now, but it was the palace of the king of Romania,” points out writer-director-producer Linda Yellen. She says that the chance to use such an exquisite location was key to her decision to film so far away.
Romanian President Traian Basescu was in residence at the palace, known as Cotroceni Palace, even as production took place, something “just unheard of,” she reports. “It would be like Obama renting out part of the White House for people to make a movie while he was there.”
Yellen recalls that a sequence was shot in which Queen Elizabeth (Jane Alexander) is in her bedchamber. The room they used turned out to have once been designated for the Queen of England in real life – Queen Victoria, that is.
And if all that isn’t convincing enough evidence that this is the sort of place one would find the likes of Prince Charles (Victor Garber in the movie), consider this: The real Prince Charles came to meet with Basescu at Cotroceni Palace while production was underway.
“Who knew that Prince Charles has, like two homes in Romania?” asks Yellen, her voice tinged with incredulity. “We had no idea. He has, I think, farms in Transylvania of all things.”
Naturally, the “William & Catherine: A Royal Romance” team would have loved nothing more than to have HRH The Prince of Wales in for a visit, and there were jesting suggestions around the set about putting up a huge sign that said “William & Kate TV movie, this way.”
“The dream shot we would have loved would have been him sitting next to Victor Garber, but alas, the day he was visiting was also the day Victor had to leave, so it wouldn’t have happened anyway,” Yellen says.
“But he was only about 40 feet away in the wing that the president was in. Isn’t that amazing? What are the odds of that?”
“William & Catherine: A Royal Romance,” which has its World Premiere exclusively on Hallmark Channel August 27, has been beating the odds from the beginning – the odds against a film team working amid a treasure trove of museum-quality antiques and not harming anything, for starters.
“We had to wear paper covers over our shoes, the kind doctors wear in surgery, because the floors were so valuable, we couldn’t scratch them. There were antique Chinese rugs. I was so scared,” Yellen confesses. “I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness, we’re going to knock over a vase or something.’” But they didn’t.
Then there were the odds against “finding a couple of unknowns that have to be brilliant actors who also have to look like other people” to play Prince William and his bride. “We actually found our Catherine and William here in New York,” recounts Yellen, who sits down for a conversation outside her editing room at the post-production facility where the film is being fine-tuned. “Lynn Kressel, the casting director, did this massive search, and it turned out these two (Dan Amboyer and Alice St. Clair) had this unusual, incredible chemistry between them. When you find that between two actors, your mission is over because that’s the hardest thing to find. Even if they’re good actors and they look good, if they don’t have that chemistry, it doesn’t work. It’s like Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp (in “The Tourist”). They were criticized because they didn’t have that chemistry.”
In fact, notes Yellen, Kressle had done some advance planning to meet the immense demands of finding actors to play an array of famous folk. But once the project was green-lit, “We had about a week in New York and a week in London for casting sessions. Those were long days – long days,” she recalls. The end result of that casting work also includes “a young actor named Sebastian Beacon, who actually went to school with Prince William. In the movie, he plays Prince William’s best friend.” Again, what are the odds? Also included in the cast is Jean Smart as Prince Charles’ wife, Camilla.
Yellen is the seven-time Emmy®-winning, two-time Peabody®-awarded feature and television filmmaker behind two of TV’s most successful movies ever – “Playing for Time” and “The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana.” She counts making the latter, 1982 film (also cast by Kressle), and getting to meet the late Princess Diana several times as a result of it, as one of her happiest experiences.
Last November, recalls the native New Yorker, she looked up at her television one day when she was doing something else and saw a news photo of the famous sapphire-and-diamond ring once presented by Prince Charles to Diana—and now given by Prince William to Kate Middleton to seal their betrothal. She caught her breath and quickly turned up the sound.
“We’d had to make a copy of that ring for the movie. In 1982, we couldn’t just buy a copy on the internet like you can today. I knew that ring so well. And when I saw it, there came to me this whole history,” she recalls. “I thought of what steps must have intervened in-between for him to give this ring to this girl. I thought of what it meant in terms of the influence of Princess Diana on William, which has been discussed and speculated on so much since her death. She was such a hands-on mother…So I just found that another aspect of the story that came to me – the psychological aspect.”
Yellen, a graduate of Barnard College who earned her MFA and doctoral degrees at Columbia University, says, “I do very heavy, heavy research on all my projects, and try to show you sides you haven’t seen. You’ll see things that the royals do and say, and some might think ‘This is made up, this is not so,’ but everything had to be verified in terms of how we show them and their interests.”
Also, Yellen’s intent was for “William & Catherine: A Royal Romance” to present a more sympathetic, well-rounded picture of Charles and Camilla than seen elsewhere. Indeed, speaking of all the characters, she says, “I think I will–I hope to–show you the people behind the royal façade.”
“William & Catherine: A Royal Romance” premieres Saturday, August 27 (9 p.m. ET/PT, 8C) on Hallmark Channel.
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