Lasse Hallstrom's new movie, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, is a romance with an improbable premise. A liberal-minded sheik wants to bring salmon to his native Yemen, not the kind you eat, but those that need a waterway for jumping and swimming upstream to spawn. This feat involves more than irrigating the Negev. Being rather wealthy, the sheik (Amr Waked) has the means to bulldoze, build a dam, whatever is necessary. But Harriet (Emily Blunt), his energetic and perky facilitator, needs to enlist an expert fly-fisher, Fred (Ewan MacGregor), to make the improbable happen. Kristen Scott Thomas plays the heavy, press secretary for the British prime minister who milks every photo-op. And then, there's a plot to kill the sheik, far too progressive to get away with his vision.
This week at a luncheon at Michael's to celebrate the film's opening, delicious salmon was served, pan-seared and with a shaving of fennel. In the crowded dining room, screenwriter Simon Beaufoy said his biggest challenge in writing the script from Paul Torday's 2006 novel was creating a narrative. "It's epistolary," he said of the book, comprised entirely of letters, emails, diaries, memos and interviews. As the story takes place in several locations, including the Scottish highlands and Yemen, I asked, "Did you enjoy the travel?"
-- "I don't do sex."
-- "I do sex. I don't do sets. There's not much sex in the movie, but lots of romance."
Blunt and MacGregor supply the romance. At the luncheon, each said they loved working with the other. Said MacGregor, "From the moment we met he knew they could play well together. Lasse gives a lot of freedom to his actors." As to the locations, he loved the hills of Scotland, and Morocco, standing in for Yemen. Ouarzazate is built up for the film industry. The hotels, restaurants have glossies of Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe.
So that's where MacGregor was shooting when Christopher Plummer, his Beginners co-star was sweeping the awards. He kept saying in mock jealousy, "Ewan MacGregor is away somewhere exotic working. I hate him."
-- "Yes, Plummer has a cheeky sense of humor. It's so great that Plummer has his Oscar after such a distinguished career."
-- "And what about you? Do you care about Oscars?"
-- "I am not going to change my choices to go after that. It would be nice of course. It will have to happen because they like my acting."
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.