According to director John Boorman's audio-commentary, Geoffrey Rush smokes whereas Pierce Brosnan doesn't whilst Brosnan's character Osnard smokes and Rush's character Harry doesn't. So in the breaks between scenes, often Brosnan would put his cigarette out at the same time Rush would light up.
Source author John le Carré included 'The Tailor of Panama' as one of his four best novels during an interview on 5 October 2008 on BBC Four. The other best works he selected were 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy', 'The Constant Gardener' and 'The Spy Who Came in from the Cold'.
One of few major Western productions to shoot exclusively in Panama (except for the interiors shot in Ireland's Ardmore Studios). What movies had shot there in the past had predominantly filmed in the Panama Canal region or Panama was one of a group of international filming locations. At the time, Panama had been mostly used for television and documentaries. The Naked and the Dead (1958) was one earlier picture that filmed exclusively in Panama.
The synopsis of this movie's source novel "The Tailor of Panama" (1996) by John le Carré on his personal website reads: "Harry Pendel is the charismatic proprietor of Pendel and Braithwaite Limitada of Panama, through whose doors everyone who is anyone in Central America passes; Andrew Osnard, mysterious and fleshy, is a spy. His secret mission is two-pronged: to keep a watchful eye on the political manoeuvrings leading up to the American handover of the Panama Canal on 31st December 1999; and to secure for himself the immense private fortune that has until now churlishly eluded him."
The recurring "nunca de rodillas" (never on our knees) phrase is remarkably similar to the one of Mexican revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata, who actually said "I rather die on my feet than live on my knees".
This is the only cinema movie based on a John le Carré novel on which le Carré' actually wrote the screenplay. However, le Carré' also penned the teleplay for the tele-movie A Murder of Quality (1991) adaptation of his novel "A Murder of Quality" (1962).
Actor Pierce Brosnan once auditioned for this film's director John Boorman's earlier movie Excalibur (1981). According to director John Boorman's audio-commentary, it was a poor audition and Brosnan didn't get the part. Boorman apologized to Brosnan for not giving him a part.
Early in the movie, the picture makes a couple of references of the James Bond series that lead actor Pierce Brosnan was starring in at the time. Pierce Brosnan introduces himself by saying: "Name's Osnard" which is similar to the James Bond character's famous intro-line, 'The name's Bond. James Bond', whilst reference early in the film is made to a 'Mr. Connery' - Sean Connery was the first ever actor to play Bond on the big screen.
Pierce Brosnan is the second and to date the last actor to play James Bond to appear in a filmed adaptation of a John le Carré spy story. Sean Connery was the first in The Russia House (1990). Connery did it after playing Bond whereas Brosnan did it during his era as Bond. This picture was made and released between his Bond movies The World Is Not Enough (1999) and Brosnan's last Bond film, Die Another Day (2002). The Mi6 building seen in the film is the real Mi6 head-quarters in London and this use of the building was consistent with the Pierce Brosnan's Bond movies of the time which also used the real Mi6 HQ.
Spy gadgets featured in the movie included a gold cigarette-lighter spy camera used for photographing documents and a black mono-eyed telescopic spy glass the latter of which was featured in movie posters for the picture.
American military arsenal rapid response resources that were available for the militant operation in Panama included one aircraft carrier named the "Alaska"; eight F22 Raptor fighter airplanes; twelve gunships; and a battalion of marines.
Star Pierce Brosnan said of doing this picture: "The lure for me was John Boorman, John Boorman, John Boorman."Although the part is a British spy, Osnard is a million miles away from Bond. "Osnard is loose and baggy, compared to Bond," explained Brosnan. "He's on the point of retiring from the field, he's disillusioned, he wants to make one last hit and then he's out of the game. He's a womanizer, he's cynical, he's manipulative."
The names of sea vessels in the movie were as follows. The name of the large P&O ocean cruise ship liner was "Sun Princess" whilst the name of the small motorized canopied cruise boat was "Bella Louisa".
"The more clearly a film exists in your head, the more disappointing it can be to make because it inevitably falls short of the imagined perfection," said director John Boorman, talking towards the end of shooting this picture. He added: "I am happy to say that in this case there were many moments when the actors surpassed my expectations. That's a joy."
Director John Boorman said of actor Daniel Radcliffe around the time the movie was made and released: "He is a lively, bright kid with an instinctive feeling for the camera," he said upon hearing of the announcement. "His parents are very stable and supportive. If anyone can survive the hazards of being a child star, and still live a normal life in the world of muggles, he's the boy."
Britain's leading playwright Harold Pinter made one of his all too rare acting appearances as Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush)'s Uncle Benny, his deceased mentor, who, in times of crisis, "appears" to him.
Publicity for this picture from the film's production notes stated: "In the early days of the new millennium, excitement reached feverish proportions in the Central American country of Panama and, more particularly, in its capital, Panama City. For the first time, a major motion picture - John Boorman's The Tailor of Panama (2001) . . . had chosen Panama as its principal location, bringing with it the spotlight of international attention."
Director John Boorman commented at the time the movie was made and released on filming in the Republic of Panama: "I've made four movies in the tropics, so Panama wasn't wholly unexpected. Charm, beauty, corruption, drug dealing - this was a potent and exotic mix."
When Columbia Pictures first approached John Boorman about the production of this film, film executive John Calley told him there was a very long script by source novelist John le Carré himself. Boorman recalled: "I found it full of vitality. I met Le Carré and got on with him enormously well. He's wise and funny and a great raconteur. I shaped the script from the book and Le Carré's script. The story had all these elements of drama and humor taking place in an exotic place seething with love, hate and corruption. Then at its heart there is this curious relationship between Osnard and Harry. They are drawn together, feed off each other. Harry is bullied and flattered by Osnard, and Harry cannot escape him because Osnard knows Harry's secret past."
Director John Boorman always visualized actor Geoffrey Rush as Harry Pendel. Boorman said: "You never lose sympathy for Geoffrey on screen, even when he does dreadful things. There's something worn yet innocent about him. He has a tremendous range, and I knew he had the technical equipment to play Harry."
Actor Geoffrey Rush, who plays Harry Pendel aka Harold Pendel, commented on his character and the film's screenplay: "A good script grows on you, and The Tailor of Panama (2001) is a very good script. I like Harry [Pendel]. He is a memorable character, and I love his tailoring metaphors. Of course he goes too far with his fantasies, but he is fundamentally a good man. Harry is an accidental hero, and for an actor that is wonderful to play."
Academy Award Best Actor Oscar winning star Geoffrey Rush brought his usual skills of preparation and diligence to his role of Harry Pendel. With the enthusiastic support of his wife, actress Jane Menelaus, Rush found himself taking tuition from a tailor in Sydney, the capital city of the state of New South Wales in Australia. Packing his bags and flying off to join director John Boorman and the assembled company in Panama City, Rush met with a second tailor who taught him the important mechanics of chalk and cut. Rush explained: "It's amazing the knowledge you acquire for a film. I faked my way through Rachmaninoff in Shine (1996) and then tailored a waistcoat for The Tailor of Panama (2001)!".
Actor Brendan Gleeson, who has often been referred to as the Irish Gérard Depardieu, discussed his character Mickie Abraxas by saying: "Mickie is a tragic character. He is so nearly a hero. There is such a fine line between defeat and success - Mickie took a risk and paid the price. In different circumstances he would be heroic." Gleeson plunged into the role of Mickie, a role that was arguably the biggest stretch of his career at the time thus far. "Having thrown the book at Mickie, I had to settle him into a context so that I could forget about the external things. It has to come from within," said Gleeson. "I can understand the torment of the character, the booze, the rebellion, the passion. He's above the average in leadership, soul and charity, but he went into a downward spiral. The tailor is a myth-maker, a darner of human spirit. He reinvents Mickie into what he could have been." Moreover. Gleeson commented on the film's director John Boorman: "I used to think John edited the film as he shot it. Now I believe he edits it as he writes the scenes."
The role of Marta offered a challenge to then 28-year-old newcomer actress Leonor Varela. "When the script for The Tailor of Panama (2001) arrived, I knew I would do anything to be in this movie," stated Varela, who portrayed Marta. "I auditioned for [director] John Boorman, and he cut straight through my artifice; he gave me such a lot of help in a few minutes. I felt really good, and I knew I had the part." Marta has been physically scarred by General Manuel Noriega's goons, the secret force of the corrupt regime that once operated in Panama. Marta is a good woman who runs Harry's business and is fiercely protective of him. "Marta sees through to the heart of things. She sees Harry's strengths and his weaknesses. She sees through Osnard," Varela explained. "She is very calm and doesn't choose to be involved in any dissent, probably because of the time when she did."
Actress Catherine McCormack played British Embassy ice maiden staffer Francesca Deane. Arriving in Panama City, McCormack faced what she laughingly described as "The first day from hell!". It was a classic meet your leading man for the first time and immediately indulge in some very sexy salsa dancing, followed by hectic antics in a steamy tropical boudoir. Oh, yes, and be observed by a group of movie technicians you've only just met, too. McCormack was attracted to The Tailor of Panama (2001) because she had been a fan of director John Boorman's work all her life. "Working with John Boorman was certainly the lure," she says. "He does the job so well."
Actor John Fortune played the character of Maltby, British ambassador to Panama. He said: "I've admired [director] John Boorman's work for a long time, so I was pleased to come to Panama for him and play the Ambassador." Discussing the character of Maltby, Fortune said: "I think Maltby is the sort of man who is all surface: 'Let's not rock the boat for goodness sake'."
While John Boorman the writer and director concentrated on getting the script right and casting the movie, Boorman the producer grappled with the logistics and practicalities of taking a major film production to the Republic of Panama, a country with no expertise in this area.
Director John Boorman is a consummate filmmaker according to the movie's production notes. "I like the variety of the process," he said. "Writing is solitary, directing is public and producing is about holding it all together. Best of all I like the collaboration, the intensity of the relationships with actors and crew. I'm often asked if there isn't a conflict, doing all these jobs. As the director I often curse the writer, while the director often falls out with the producer. As I'm all three, I am usually at war with myself."
The reason each major actor took the film, and each member of the crew signed up, can be summed up in one name: John Boorman. He is exacting, but most demanding of himself. A master of economy, he shoots not a foot more film than is necessary, and very few takes.
"What a great job this is!", commented a stunned Pierce Brosnan during principal photography, busily snapping his own pictures of the Miraflores Lock as a giant tanker inched through, and waving a greeting at a surprised sailor. Brosnan added: "We get to travel to places like this and see amazing things!".
One of John le Carré's characters says of the country of Panama in the film's source novel "The Tailor of Panama" (1996): "We've got everything God needed to make paradise. Great farming, beaches, mountains, wildlife you wouldn't believe, put a stick in the ground you get a fruit tree, people so beautiful you could cry."
There was huge enthusiasm locally about the arrival of nearly one hundred technicians and an even greater enthusiasm for the arrival of the then "James Bond" - Pierce Brosnan, whose presence always drew a crowd on location. Brosnan was more famous than most people on the planet at the time and was mobbed wherever he went. Unlike many other cities, Panama has not yet become used to seeing major screen stars in its midst. Brosnan took it all in good spirits.
Drawing from the poor Panamanian communities in Casco Viejo as well as the wealthy suburbs in the Republic of Panama, the filmmakers an production recruited over one hundred eager extras and background artists to appear in the movie.
Several local Panamanian actors appeared in the film, including former diplomat and actor Adolfo Arias Espinosa, who played the President of Panama, and local theatre director Bruce Quinn, who played an American tourist.
In the course of six weeks' shooting, director John Boorman's production would put scenic Panama on the map. Permission was sought and ultimately granted to film in some rarely seen places in the Republic of Panama.
Notable Panamanian locales in the Republic of Panama featured in the film included the President's Palace, the main lock at Miraflores in the Panama Canal, the home of the Canal Commissioner, and the Control Center of the Panama Canal, the latter which was a filming location so sensitive only absolutely essential shooting crew were allowed in.
At the Miraflores Locks in the Panama Canal, cameras turned as gigantic containers four stories high on ships edged their way through the lock system with just inches of clearance on either side. This was precision work at its zenith.
The film's production notes say of the Republic of Panama: "And so to Panama, a worm on the map that is geographically the link between North and South America. It is hot, humid and wet for eight months of the year; hot, humid and dry for four months of the year - heaven for malaria mosquitoes who killed a staggering number of the men who built the Panama Canal. Panama is where the Caribbean and the Pacific meet at one of the world's greatest man-made wonders, the Panama Canal. On one hand, Panama is a land of rain forests and deserted beaches, of natural flora and fauna, and on the other, a labyrinth of high rises and seemingly brand new banks to outnumber Wall Street. Panama is probably best known internationally for three things - the famous national hat, the magnificent canal and the infamous '80s regime of General Noriega ['Manuel Noreiga (II)']. In fact, Panama is a land of stunning beauty in both its vistas and its people, a rich mix of Spanish and Indian. Now restored to democracy, the country respects its seven Indian tribes and its Spanish heritage and embraces its visitors with enthusiasm. Panama has some of the most remote and some of the most accessible rainforests in the world. There are a recorded 940 bird species here-more than in all of North America. Jaguars and pumas prowl a short drive from the capital and yet the country has vast jungles containing not a single road. There are scores of picturesque beaches with hardly a human on them. Historically, Panama's story is one of riches - of Peruvian gold carried by Spaniards across the Isthmus from Panama City on the Pacific coast to Nombre de Dios and Portobello on the Caribbean coast, where the precious metal was stored until it could be shipped to Spain. Huge forts were built from blocks of rock and coral to protect the gold from marauders, but the bastions failed to deter pirates - like the Welsh buccaneer Sir Henry Morgan, who sacked the city in 1671 and made off with all its treasure. And then there is the Panama Canal. Its construction by the U.S. during the early 20th century is, like the pyramids of Egypt, a stunning testament to what humans can accomplish. The Panama Canal remains one of the engineering marvels of the world almost 90 years after the SS Ancon became the first ship to traverse the lock-and-lake waterway. Whether they are seen from the deck of a boat or from a viewing stand, the great locks of the canal leave no visitor unmoved."
In the picturesque old town of Casco Viejo in Panama, which is reminiscent of the French quarter of New Orleans in the USA, the film unit filmed among the crumbling buildings which were largely inhabited by the poor. Also in Casco Viejo, the film crew re-staged the excitement of Carnival with its exotic costumes, floats and steel bands providing hot music. During several nights of filming, most of the local inhabitants joined in the fun, even those not officially recruited as extras and background artists. The street children of Casco Viejo did not sleep much during the days and nights when their district became a film set.
In the new Panama City, a monument to steel and glass, blocks of modern high-rise apartments offered a stunning view of the bay to witness the ships queuing up to enter the Panama Canal. This was the visible film production evidence of Panama's wealth.
While the local police and private security personnel hired by the production struggled to keep the crowd at a slight distance from the immediate on-set action, they always had more trouble in the wealthy areas of Panama, where the residents showed far less respect for their authority.
The Marriott Hotel in Panama, which was at the time the latest high-rise tower to open in Panama City, and was the host hotel for the entire cast and crew, allowed their lobby and bar area to be used as a film set. Over several days the hotel lobby and bar became the "Two Oceans Club", an exclusive watering hole for the rich Turks of the film's story. It is there that Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush) explains the hierarchy of the city to Andy Osnard (Pierce Brosnan), the new boy at the British Embassy in Panama.
Filming began at Gatun Lake with scenes involving Pierce Brosnan and Jamie Lee Curtis in the water near one of the small islands on the lake. Curtis commented: "There were oil tankers in the background, a camera crew in the water with the camera floating and two safety guys in the water in case of alligators. 'Ah, yes', I thought, 'I'm in a John Boorman movie,' because John makes more vivid adventure movies than anyone else."
Before principal photography began, director John Boorman spent two weeks of intensive rehearsals with stars Geoffrey Rush and Pierce Brosnan, and joined after a few days later by star 'Jamie Lee Curtis', and then later again by actress 'Leonor Varela' and actor Brendan Gleeson.
During the rehearsal period, different approaches to the work meshed into a cohesive whole. Unlike some actors' rehearsals, that are eaten into by other demands on everyone's time, the rehearsals on The Tailor of Panama (2001) were sacrosanct.
Actress Jamie Lee Curtis said of the film's rehearsals period: "Pierce Brosnan and I are more instinctual actors; we've both done work where you are left on your own to get on with things. [Director] John Boormanand Geoffrey Rush have an intellectual approach to the rehearsal process, and I found I had an emotional curiosity about it. I found it very interesting to be in a room talking about it as intensely as John and Geoffrey were doing. I thought, 'OK, I can go there'."
Once on location filming in Panama was complete, the production company headed for Ireland to begin what in some ways was the most difficult part of the film: the studio shoot. Interiors were shot at the Ardmore Studios in the glorious Wicklow countryside outside Dublin in Ireland.
The exterior of the home of Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush) and Louisa Pendel (Jamie Lee Curtis) is in residential Panama, but the minute you walk across the threshold, one is on an Ardmore Studios sound stage in Ireland. The same applies to the exterior of Harry's tailor shop and Andy Osnard (Pierce Brosnan)'s apartment. These were three of the main sets constructed at the Ardmore Studios in the Wicklow countryside near Dublin, Ireland. Moreover, there was also an elaborate Pentagon Control Room set built there complete with dozens of then state of the art IBM computers.
The actors agreed that the move from the location filming locale of the Republic of Panama to the studio shoot at the Ardmore Studios in the glorious Wicklow countryside outside Ireland's capital city of Dublin was a difficult adjustment. Star Geoffrey Rush commented: "In Panama it's easy to feel in character. But it's not nearly as easy to convince yourself you're in Panama when you're in Ireland...".
While the main production unit was shooting exterior scenes in Panama, following production designer Derek Wallace's instructions, supervising art director Sarah Hauldren was working with her team preparing several complex interior sets at the Ardmore Studios in the glorious Wicklow countryside outside Dublin in Ireland.
Star Pierce Brosnan was the current James Bond when this movie was being made. One Bond film has filmed in Panama. This was the later Daniel Craig Bond movie Quantum of Solace (2008) which made and released about 007 years later. This Bond picture shot in such Panamanian locations as Casa Viejo in San Felipe, Panama City and Colon. Casa Viejo was also a filming location for The Tailor of Panama (2001).
The Art Department's Props Buyer Shirley Henderson, who traveled to Panama for three weeks, and ended up staying three months, bought loads of Panamanian odds and ends that were then used on the sets at the Ardmore Studios in the glorious Wicklow countryside outside Dublin in Ireland. These props and cinematographer Philippe Rousselot's hot lights, helped the actors and the technicians transport themselves back to the steamy temperatures of Panama. The illusion was even helped by unusually warm weather in Ireland at the time of the studio shoot.
The shoot was comprised of six weeks in Panama, followed by four weeks of interiors at Ardmore Studios in Ireland. Director John Boorman at the time that this movie was made had made Ireland his home for thirty years. Post-production on the picture also took place at the Ardmore Studios in the glorious Wicklow countryside outside Dublin in Ireland.
The film was entered in and selected to screen in competition for the Golden Bear and Silver Bear Awards at the Berlin International Film Festival during February 2001. Star Geoffrey Rush attended this film fest.
In response to the unusual and different comic tone of the film's source novel of the same name "The Tailor of Panama" (1996), something which is reflected in this movie being partially a comedy, with humour not usually overtly representative in a John le Carré penned book, source novelist le Carré said: "I think I'm in the same mood as ever, but in some ways more mature. I guess you could say that, at sixty-five, when you've seen the world shape up as I have, there are only two things you can do: laugh or kill yourself. I think my character does both. In some ways it's a very personal book. I was exploring the relationship between myself and my own fabricator. Anybody in the creative business, as you might call it, has some sense of guilt about fooling around with fact, that you're committing larceny, that all of life is material for your fabulations. That was certainly Harry Pendel's position. So I found some kind of buzz running between me and the main character, which I had not really felt since 'A Perfect Spy' [(1985)" ; See A Perfect Spy (1987)].
Both Basic (2003) and John le Carré's The Tailor of Panama (2001), which were both first released around just a couple of years apart, are both movies of intrigue, and both predominantly set in the country of Panama, and both include scenes in the region of the Panama Canal. Basic (2003) did a small amount of filming in Panama whereas The Tailor of Panama (2001) did a much larger amount of filming in Panama. About at least five crew and technician personnel worked on both pictures.
One key difference between John le Carré's "The Tailor of Panama" (1996) novel and this filmed cinema movie adaptation is that the book was set before the United States of America's handover of the Panama Canal's sovereignty to the Republic of Panama whereas this movie is set afterwards.
This film's opening prologue states: "Often called the 8th wonder of the world[,] The Panama Canal was built by American engineers and operated by the U.S. Army for 85 years. At the end of 1999, it was controversially handed back to Panama leading to intense speculation about the future of this vital gateway. Meanwhile in a corner of Panama City, plying his trade was . . . THE TAILOR OF PANAMA."
Actress Naomie Harris, who plays Miss Eve Moneypenny in the James Bond films, became the sixth major actor who has starred in motion pictures based on works of both John le Carré and 'Ian Fleming (I)', both famous spy novelists. Harris' role as Gail Perkins in Our Kind of Traitor (2016) follows her two previous appearances in Bond movies, in Skyfall (2012) and Spectre (2015). Pierce Brosnan and Sean Connery are actors who have both previously portrayed James Bond on screen and both have starred in le Carré filmed adaptations, they being The Tailor of Panama (2001) and The Russia House (1990) respectively, the latter which has a title that evokes Fleming's From Russia with Love (1963) which starred Connery as Bond. Of Connery's 007 Bond films, his one unofficial Bond movie, Never Say Never Again (1983), co-starred Klaus Maria Brandauer, who also appeared in The Russia House (1990). Alas, Connery and Brandauer have starred in the same two Bond and le Carré spy movies. Moreover, Harris and Brosnan both appeared in the thriller adventure cinema movie After the Sunset (2004). The first actor to portray an M character in the Bond films, Bernard Lee, was the first actor ever to do both Bond and le Carré. Lee appeared as Patmore in le Carré's classic spy movie The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), which was the first ever filmed adaptation of a le Carré novel. The le Carré adaptation film The Constant Gardener (2005) starred Ralph Fiennes, who played Justin Quayle, and has portrayed the Bond series' new M character Gareth Mallory in both Skyfall (2012) and Spectre (2015), as has Harris played Eve Moneypenny in the two. Rachel Weisz, the wife of James Bond actor Daniel Craig, previously starred as Tessa Quayle in The Constant Gardener (2005), for which she won a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award, with Wiesz and Fiennes playing husband and wife in that movie.
The character of Andy Osnard (Pierce Brosnan) was originally meant to be killed by Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush) at the end of the film. Ultimately, however, director John Boorman thought that such an action would cast a pall on the character of Harry, and that it would be far more realistic for Osnard to get away with it.
The DVD shows the film's alternate ending where Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush) shoots Andy Osnard (Pierce Brosnan). The studio didn't like this downbeat heavy-handed ending so the ending in the film has Osnard live, seen on a plane leaving Panama and flirting with an air hostess.