It was one of those rare moments that took everyone by surprise, spreading from broadcast to
news report to water-cooler conversation to YouTube sensation: the sheer surprise of this
unassuming man, surrounded by eccentric novelty acts that had failed to impress the 'Britain's
Got Talent' judges, blowing the world away with his magnificent operatic voice.
For Simon Cowell, "Paul Potts was for me the point when I knew the show was going to work. We
were in Wales that day and we were having an OK day and this guy walks on and he didn't look
great. He looked nervous and he had this funny suit on, and I'm looking over at Piers and
Amanda thinking 'Oh god this guy is going to sing.' I remember he started singing 'Nessun
Dorma' and I'm looking around, and when you've got an audience behind you, you feel
something when it's special, and literally the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I thought
'This is magic! This guy has just blown the place apart' and I remember thinking that if this comes
over as well on TV as it just has in the room then this show is going to be fantastic."
Many of the talent involved in ONE CHANCE can recall watching Potts' original audition on TV,
or hearing about it straight afterwards and looking it up on YouTube.
"It was incredibly moving, particularly because he was singing that song," says James Corden,
who plays Potts himself in ONE CHANCE. "There's the great moment, which is also in the film,
where he says, 'I've never found it easy to be completely confident in myself.' And that's
minutes before he walks on stage and his whole life changes."
"It's one of the iconic moments of British reality television," agrees Alexandra Roach, who co-
stars as Julie-Ann Cooper. "I remember the audience reaction of everyone jumping to their feet
and really wanting this guy to hit that high note at the end. I'll always remember watching it but
I didn't realize it would have such a big impact on my life down the line."
It was Mike Menchel who first considered the idea of bringing Potts' story to the big screen. A
former talent agent at CAA who had branched off into producing, Menchel heard about Potts
on a morning news show in Los Angeles and, like so many others, had then perused the YouTube
clip of his stirring performance (110 million views and counting.) He found Potts' tale instantly
inspiring and uplifting. "I just thought it was a potentially fabulous story, a story of great inspiration
and aspiration about a guy who, against all odds, refuses to stop pursuing his dreams no matter
who or what brings him down," says Menchel. "I said to myself, 'This is Rocky -- this is a story about
never giving up, about believing in yourself when nobody else does.'"
Almost as soon as the idea materialized in his mind, he went straight to the source, calling up
Simon Cowell, the creator of 'Britain's Got Talent', and pitching him the prospect of making
Paul's story a movie. Menchel was somewhat surprised when Cowell proved instantly receptive.
"I didn't know Simon but he said, 'Yes, I get it, I'm in. What do you need me to do?'" recalls
Menchel. "I think the Rocky reference helped. Simon introduced me to Paul and we went from
Cowell adds, "Mike Menchel, the producer, was like a dog with a bone, he just wanted this
movie made and never, ever, ever gave up. I've never seen anyone so determined. He really
believed in this story. And then when I read the script and I found out who else was involved in
the movie, I started to get really excited about it, because it is a classic underdog story. It's a
guy who didn't have a great early time of his life, he was frustrated, he was bullied, he was
disappointed, he'd given up -- he literally flipped a coin as to whether he was going to enter the
competition. That's the stuff movies are made of, and it has a happy ending."
Menchel put the project into development at Paramount Pictures, which was then under the
stewardship of Brad Weston, and hired Justin Zackham (THE BUCKET LIST) to write the screenplay;
the writer met up with Potts several times in Wales and the US. When Weston subsequently left
Paramount to become an independent producer, he took ONE CHANCE with him, and the two
producers were soon joined by two big Hollywood names: David Frankel, who signed up to
direct, and Harvey Weinstein, who joined to produce.
Frankel, who has directed a host of popular dramatic comedies in recent years, including
MARLEY & ME, THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA and HOPE SPRINGS, had first been sent the script in late
2008 and had loved the story and its themes. "I had been a big YouTube fan of Paul Potts," he
explains. "Someone sent me the clip and I fell in love with him and had downloaded his
recording of 'Nessun Dorma' and sent it to everyone I knew. I had always thought that a
comedy set in the world of opera would be intriguing, because it's this beautiful world that
doesn't get explored in the movies. And then here was this script that almost exactly combined
these two ideas."
Menchel cites Frankel's interest as a pivotal moment in ONE CHANCE's journey to the big
screen. "It's not every day that you get a filmmaker as talented as David involved in a smaller,
offbeat project like this," he notes. "He's absolutely passionate about this material and this
story." Partnering with Harvey Weinstein was also instrumental, with the Oscar-winning producer
bringing a similar level of passion to the Potts biopic. "He's a game-changer," says Menchel. "He
saw what we saw in it and he said, 'I'm making this by hook or by crook.' That's when the train
pulled out of the station."
Says Weinstein, "I am incredibly happy to be a part of this project. This was one of those
screenplays I immediately fell in love with, and it's exciting to see it brought to life with David
Frankel and James Corden."
While citing the Rocky references himself, Frankel also viewed ONE CHANCE as a Cinderella
story about a downtrodden man with nothing but talent who magically finds a way to share it
with the worldâ€¦but not before encountering a string of funny/sad happenings to arrive at that
place. The director brought a vision to the film that might not have been immediately apparent
on the page, a desire to widen the scope of a narrative that could easily be told on a smaller
scale without losing the story's intimacy or changing its fundamental nature as a portrait of a
very ordinary man.
In a serendipitous bit of casting, Weinstein suggested hiring a British actor who was then taking
the theatre world by storm in 'One Man, Two Guvnors': James Corden. The acclaimed National
Theatre production, directed by Sir Nicholas Hytner, had transferred to London's West End and
then onto Broadway, where it played for six months at the Music Box Theatre to giddy
audiences, massive acclaim and a nightly celebrity turnout.
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