Screenwriter Lesley Paterson tells Chris Evans about winning a triathlon with a broken arm to help fund All Quiet on the Western Front

Virgin Radio

27 Sep 2023, 11:45

Lesley Paterson talks to Chris Evans at Virgin Radio.

Not only has Lesley Paterson co-written a BAFTA and Academy Award-winning movie, but she is also a champion triathlete. She joined the Chris Evans Breakfast Show with cinch to talk about both.

With a screenplay by Lesley, Edward Berger and Ian Stokell, anti-war film All Quiet on the Western Front won four Oscars from nine nominations, and seven BAFTAs from 14 nominations. But it turns out that making it was a long and expensive process, which the writer and athlete part-funded with her race winnings. “Let's be honest, getting into the industry is so difficult, when you're on the outside,” she told Chris.

Talking about how she got the ball rolling on the film, Lesley said: “I was writing and producing with a partner of mine at the time, also credited on the film, his name is Ian Stokell. And we were both reading the book. There was a sale on at a bookstore. We both loved it, we read it in school, we were like, ‘Wow, it's not been made recently?’ 

“He was a journalist. He started to investigate who had the rights to it, we went to the estate, we made a pitch, they accepted, which was shocking, because most big IP (intellectual property) like this is taken up by the studios or big producers, and it had just lapsed by Universal. So we swept in there, gave him an offer, gave them the pitch. They said yes. It cost us a bunch of money. So every year we had to renegotiate the contract.”

All this was happening far from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. “I was working in a bike shop,” she told Chris. “I used to go to the loo all the time, so I could make phone calls to try and option this book. They must have thought I had a problem. You know, like, ‘She needs to go to the bathroom all the time. What the hell's wrong with her?’"

Lesley recalled: “Every year we have to pay 10 grand. Where are we getting that from? We beg, borrow, steal. We've got mates who gave us money, family, credit cards, remortgaged the house, I would use my race earnings, on and on. And it was 16 years to get it made.”

Speaking about raising funds, she spoke about taking on a triathlon in 2016 with a massive injury. “I really needed the prize money to put towards the film, re-option the book. 

“The day before the race I fall off the bike, break my shoulder. I'm like, ‘What the heck am I gonna do?’, and my hubs is like, ‘Okay, let's see if you can ride your bike. You know, prop your hand up’. I can do that. And I'm like, ‘I'll walk the descents. No big deal’. 

“‘Can you run?’ Up and down motion… okay. Get down to the water. ‘Can you swim?’, ‘Can I heck, not a chance in hell’, and he's like, ‘Well, Les, you're really good at the one-arm drill, why don't you just swim it like that?’"

She continued: “I've practised it all my life, and I'm like, ‘You know what, what's the worst that can happen?’ Do you know what I mean? Like, I come out way down? Big whoop. So I get on the edge of the water and off we go. And I swim a mile. That's 1500 metres with one arm. And let me tell you, that was exhausting. 

“So, I come out of the water 12 minutes down. And I’m like, ‘Oh well, at least l got out of the water. And then I get on the bike, and I ride up to second position, walk down the descents, and then run myself into first!”

Lesley also spoke to Chris about how her adaptation of All Quiet on the Western Front differs from the source material, and about the lessons we can learn from the story. And she talked about her upcoming project, Hidden, with Doctor Who star Karen Gillan. Read about it.

All Quiet on the Western Front is available to watch on Netflix now. Hidden Begins Shooting Early 2024.

For more great interviews listen to  The Chris Evans Breakfast Show with cinch weekdays from 6:30am on Virgin Radio, or catch up on-demand here.