More than five months ago, Tom Hooper put the finishing touches on “The King’s Speech,” a fan favorite at last year’s Mill Valley Film Festival and now an Oscar nominee in 12 categories, including Best Picture.
Today, the London-born director, also nominated, is counting the hours until the Feb. 27 awards ceremony — not because he’s expecting a statuette, but because he wants to go back to work.
“It’s incredible to be nominated,” he says. “I always knew I wanted to support the film, but the publicity machine has been working overtime for months. I can barely sleep at night. At this point, I just want to do my job again.”
Hooper, 38, attributes the apparently boundless appeal of “Speech” — an inspirational drama about the friendship between Colin Firth’s King George VI and the therapist, played by Geoffrey Rush, who helped him overcome his crippling stammer — to the humanity inherent in the struggle.
“Everyone can relate to the fear of losing the ability to communicate,” says Hooper, who previously directed the HBO miniseries “John Adams.” “There are two types of frustration dreams we’ve all had. In one, we need to run away but we can’t.
“The other is the nightmare where you can’t speak — you need to scream out and you can’t. I think it’s safe to say there’s a deep-rooted awareness of our need to communicate, and if we were to lose that ability, our humanity would be compromised. King George famously struggled with that.”
To play George — known to his family as Bertie — Hooper sought out Firth, whom he had seen in the 1988 BBC TV movie “Tumbledown,” playing a Scots Guard officer suffering post-traumatic stress. “I knew he’d be right for Bertie because he doesn’t solicit sympathy through any obvious tricks.
“In Bertie, Colin plays a man who’d survived a difficult childhood, who’d run away from power at every opportunity. In a sense, he humanized the royal family through his struggles, and I think it was his influence that has kept England a monarchy all these years. But Colin keeps him fiercely dignified. He doesn’t beg for affection.”
Bertie’s disability was well-known to his countrymen, and he “white-knuckled it” through his earliest public addresses. Yet he became an inspiring symbol of British resilience during World War II.
To Hooper, the most poignant aspect of Bertie’s story is his friendship with speech therapist Lionel Logue. “So many stories are about the power within us,” he says. “I keep making films about how sometimes greatness is achieved in deriving strength from our friendships and families. We turn to others to discover the best in ourselves.”
If you go
Starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Timothy Spall
Written by David Seidler
Directed by Tom Hooper
Running time 1 hour 58 minute