Simon Cowell is no dummy. As a star judge on American Idol and producer of his own British talent show X-Factor, he has intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the TV talent competition boom taking place in pop culture. The logical next step? Take that knowledge and use it to make a movie — about a talent competition, naturally.
We got Cowell on the phone to tell us exactly why he thinks his movie, based on the concept first introduced in Fame, will do better than past attempts at reviving that classic film, what his strategy for casting is, and whether he plans to base any characters on well-known Idol personalities.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you come to the project?
SIMON COWELL: I came up with this idea about three years ago. It occurred to me when all of these talent shows were just exploding all over the world — whether it’s Idol or X-Factor or Fame Academy — that the world was gripped in a fame epidemic. And a movie like Fame was relevant 25 years ago, and now it’s super relevant. And it just really occurred to me that if you were making a movie about kids trying to be successful now, you wouldn’t set it in a college like you did with Fame, you’d set it within a talent competition. So it just seems an obvious thing to do, really.
Why this movie? You must get offers/scripts all the time.
I do get offered a lot of scripts, actually. And I thought, like most of the shows that I’ve ever been involved in, it is better to develop this kind of idea in-house. Based on, obviously, the knowledge we’ve had in making these shows over the years, I just thought that there would be no one who would have as much of an insight into something like this as me.
Will you cast any past Idols in it? The release says the main cast will be unknowns.
[Laughs] Not as contestants. I think you’re gonna find an obvious comparison to one or two people. [Chuckles mischievously] I mean, that’s obvious. They’re not going to be based, literally, on anyone. But the guy who’s writing this movie, he spent over a year shadowing me around on all the shows I do. So he’s got a pretty good insight as to how these things actually operate. But, no, I think it’s important, rather like the shows, that you’ve got to have a cast of unknowns so that there’s a sense of suspense as you’re watching who does well in this and who doesn’t.
Any plans to cast past Idols as judges or producers of the competition?
I can’t imagine Clay Aiken producing the fictional show in this movie somehow, no. [Laughs] Maybe a choreographer or something, I don’t know.
What did you learn from From Justin to Kelly that will keep you from making this film a disaster? I know you weren’t involved with that film, but still…
[Laughs] I’m not going to really comment. I had nothing to do with that. I think that was more of a knee-jerk reaction. We’ve spent three years thinking about this. And this is a decision I’ve had to take very seriously because there’s going to be a lot of attention on this movie. I think the important thing is there’s got to be a big sense of reality about this. I mean, rather like the shows we make, we always allow the audience to look through the keyhole. I think with a movie like this you’ve got to let them look a little bit further as to what a contestant could go through on a show like this. That’s why it’s so important that you base this film on the contestant’s perspective rather than parodying the whole show.
As far as the casting goes, are you looking for singers or actors or both?
Well, both, really. I’m happy to cast a lot of these contestants, if not all of the contestants in the movie through open castings. I would like real unknowns. I want people who can sing and who can act and all that kind of thing. I’d also like to find people who would like to win in the film.
Are you casting for specific roles/types?
I think the most important thing is rather like American Idol, you gotta cast the contestants properly. It would be very easy to say, ”Okay, cast someone like me or Paula.” I mean, Paula might be a problem, but — that would be a long casting.
MATTHEW HILTZIK (SIMON’S PUBLICIST): Hey, Margeaux, we can’t give up everything here, you know. We have to leave some things out. [Laughs]
COWELL: Yeah. My main focus now: finish the script, hire the director, start the auditions, and what we will do when we’re ready to start the auditions. We will announce which cities we’re gonna be auditioning in and let people have a lot of notice. But we’ll go to at least seven or eight cities across America.
They’ve tried to revive Fame for film before and it didn’t work — how is this take different?
I’ve found every movie since Fame to be completely inaccurate. That’s the problem. This movie has to be as if we were shooting a documentary on one of our shows. It has to be that real. And I know what our audience will believe and what they won’t believe. This has to feel like you’re watching one of our shows. It has to be as real as that. And that’s why most of them go wrong. That’s why we had the writer working with us for over a year. You have to know exactly what happens on one of these shows all over the world behind the scenes.