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Director Ronald Neame turned down Hopscotch three times. The early script was too serious in his opinion. But the producers urged him to meet with Walter Matthau, who agreed to do it, but only if Neame did too.
So Neame met with him, and that's all it took. The pair got along famously, and Neame knew then that he couldn’t pass up this chance to work with Walter. As it turns out, Matthau hadn't been all that keen on the project either. In fact, he thought the director would say no, which is why he agreed to do the film on the condition that Neame would have to say yes.
Either way, in the end, they both believed the film was a success. Matthau called it one of his favorites, and Neame said, “Looking back on it, I’m so glad that I did it.”
1. The movie is nothing like the novel.
Author and screenwriter Brian Garfield said, “Hopscotch is an adventure novel, and I wrote it to show it’s possible to do an exciting story in which no one gets killed.” When his novel was optioned, Garfield wanted to be involved with the project because he was unhappy with how his other works had been adapted. As he perfected the script, it went through over 26 drafts! At one point, Warren Beatty and Jane Fonda were even attached. In the end, Walter Matthau and director Ronald Neame helped Garfield shape the film into the comedy it turned out to be. Speaking about the process, Garfield said, “It was just a delight all the way.”
2. Matthau had a big influence.
Garfield intentionally altered the screenplay with Matthau in mind, saying, “Walter’s ideal for the part.” Matthau also weighed in on the story, including two keys scenes. When Matthau and Jackson first met originally, the scene had a lot of exposition about why they hadn’t seen each other for a while; Matthau altered his dialogue, adding the metaphor about wine. Additionally, he added the character’s love of Mozart (since the composer was his favorite too) and the disguise bit at the end of the film.
3. Matthau didn’t want to film at Octoberfest.
Matthau objected to filming at Octoberfest because he had relatives who died in the Holocaust. At the same time, Matthau asked the director if his son, David, could audition for the part of one of the CIA agents. The director thought David was perfect and agreed to cast him… if Matthau agreed to go to Octoberfest. So Walter relented. He would go, but he wouldn't film inside the event. And then his step-daughter, Lucy Saroyan, auditioned for the part of the pilot. Once again, the director agreed to cast her but only if Matthau did something in return -- film inside Octoberfest. Matthau agreed. What parents will do for their kids, huh?
4. Jackson accepted the part for one reason.
When casting the small part of Matthau’s love interest, Neame was very unsure that Glenda Jackson would accept the role. He said, “Glenda loved Walter and agreed to do it simply to be able to work with Walter again.” On The Michael Douglas Show, Jackson once said of Matthau, "If I could steal him from [his wife] Carol, I would. I adore him.” The feeling was mutual. Matthau said, "When she starts talking, you realize she's a very great talent." Jackson gifted Walter with a small silver dish which had a Mozart coin at the bottom. According to his wife, it was one of his favorite things, and he carried it with him everywhere.