Steven Kampmann is a busy man. On the one hand, casting for the movie Swing Away, which is set to shoot in Crete in the autumn, and on the other hand trying to negotiate his way around the local golf course. And judging by the tenor of his last email, it appears the casting has been more successful than the golf.
“Just finished playing nine holes and let me just say that ANYONE could beat me in a Swing Away Pro-Am..damn I was bad.”
The 63-year-old New Jersey-based director can be forgiven perhaps; a bad back has forced him to take time off from the fairways and greens in recent weeks in order to recuperate.
That, though, has allowed him to focus on Swing Away and put the final pieces of the Greek golfing jigsaw into place.
Last week, that came in the shape of the announcement that John O’Hurley had been cast in the role of the villainous golf course owner Hans Heinrich.
He is the third major part to be cast joining the Greek actors Manos Gavras, who plays the romantic interest for Niki, the lead character, and Renos Haralambidis who will be O’Hurley’s long-suffering golf course manager.
The 58-year-old O’Hurley has an impressive cv which covers many areas of the arts but he is probably best known internationally for two very different roles – J Peterman in the comedy series Seinfeld and King Neptune in Spongebob Squarepants.
He also dances, plays piano and could probably do a rapid change in a phone box if a crisis required the services of Superman.
“We are choosing the cast slowly and carefully and John seemed like a no- brainer for the role,” says Kampmann.
“He’s funny, a wonderful actor, an avid golfer, and a well liked and well known personality. What more could we want?”
Erm, how about Jennifer Aniston for the lead role of Niki, the Greek-American golfer who is suspended from the Pro Tour and heads back to Crete to discover herself? Aniston is, after all, a superb comedy actress and, let it not be forgotten, part Greek.
“Jennifer’s name has definitely come up, not surprisingly given her background,” says Kampmann. “But so has Cameron Diaz as well because she plays a good round of golf.”
Ultimately, it may come down to a question of budget and given that Diaz and Aniston are both at the thicker end of the Hollywood budget, the Swing Away team may have to look elsewhere.
In spite of that, it is still a role which ought to have the cream of the acting world fighting it out in a sudden death play-off.
“It is a very strong vehicle for whoever gets the part because it is a good challenging role,” says Kampmann.
“Niki has to be athletic, there‘s romance and comedy and she gets to work with a child and with grandparents. It is very varied. Whoever gets the role can own this movie.”
Kampmann made his name as an actor, featuring in the first two series of Newhart as Kirk Devane, a character that audiences loved to hate (see below).
He began writing and in 1981 picked up an Emmy nomination for his work on the sitcom WKPR in Cincinatti. He then moved to the big screen with Back to School, The Couch Trip and the Jodie Foster/Mark Harmon movie Stealing Home.
Swing Away sailed across his bows some eight years ago when he met executive producer George Stephanopoulos who had a screenplay written by another Greek-American Paul Lingas.
Kampmann liked the idea and clicked with George. He worked on another draft of the original screenplay with Lingas and then, when it proved difficult to attract a suitable lead actor, rewrote the script with the main character, the golf pro, changing sex.
“It has taken a long time because of the nature of how it started,” says Kampmann.
“We made a few changes in the writing and then of course made the decision to switch the main character from a male golf pro to a female. That takes time and involves a total rethink.
“We did that to give it a fresh coat of paint and it offers something that should attract a lot of actresses. They don’t often get these chances.”
There is no doubt that the idea of shooting a golf movie was one of the main attractions for Kampmann.
“I am a golfer so this is a comfort zone for me, it is in my blood,” he says.
“My great grandfather was the Texas champion, my mother was a superb player, my father, my nephews too, one of them is pretty much pro standard.”
Kampmann used to play out of Riviera in Los Angeles when his handicap dropped to a very creditable six. Now based on the East Coast, he occasionally tackles Pine Valley in New Jersey, when his back allows.
“So, sure I know how to shoot it and make it look good on screen.”
The key element is to make sure that his lead actress and the boy who will play ten year-old Spiros understands how to hit a golf ball.
“Matt Damon, Kevin Costner had to do it, so we can do it here,” says Kampmann.
“The most difficult thing is the swing. That has to look natural and comfortable. There are ways of shooting it if the actor really can’t get to grips but it works better if they can. If the actress is athletic then it will be fine.
“In Stealing Home, Mark Harmon was a baseball player but he couldn’t catch for his life. So we had to find ways of shooting it that didn’t upset the flow and feel of the movie and didn’t have the audience playing spot the body double whenever the ball was in the air.”
Five years ago, Kampmann and Stephanopoulos visited Crete to scout the ground and took in a round at the Crete Golf Club. Kampmann was suitably impressed.
“It is a very entertaining course with some good terrain and some breathtaking views,” he says.
“It is new so it hasn’t had time to settle. Courses are organic so it needs time to grow. But there are all sorts of little chasms and rocks so it’s a fair course with a lot of aesthetics.
“We will probably pick four or five holes and use those. Part of our job is to show off the environment.
“We also found a lovely little town where we will be shooting, it is in a horseshoe with the waves crashing in from the sea. It should be very atmospheric.”
Five years may appear a long time to have a movie on the back burner but in MovieLand it is not out of the ordinary.
“It is five years since that trip to Athens and to Crete and we are all still attached to the project,” says Kampmann.
“The reason for that is simple: Swing Away is a good movie. We all know that, we just have to make it now and prove it.”
©Barney Spender 2013