Lonny Price takes viewers behind the legend with the documentary Harold Prince: The Director’s Life, premiering November 23 as part of PBS' Great Performances Broadway's Best. Price, who starred in Prince's production of Merrily We Roll Along (and later made a documentary about the short-lived, adored musical, Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened) had no intention of making another documentary—but the opportunity to do one about Prince for PBS turned out to be too good to resist. Price spoke to Playbill about making the documentary with writer David Thompson (who knows a thing or two about Prince after writing the book for the recent Broadway revue Prince of Broadway) and what he hopes The Director's Life will accomplish.
On securing the A-list talking heads.
We didn’t get anyone turning us down, let’s put it that way. [Laughs] Everybody loves Hal, for good reason. He’s generous and kind to so many people and gave so many people their first breaks, so I think everyone we asked was more than happy. In fact, their interviews were so wonderful we only used clips, but I hope to give Hal the whole interview with everybody. You can’t find anything even remotely negative about working with him!
On being approached for the project.
Honestly, PBS had the idea, and I’d only done one other documentary, Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened, which took me nine years to do. A labor of love but a long process. It was hard. Of course, this was an offer I couldn’t refuse because he’s like my theatre dad. And though I was shying away from doing any more documentaries, this one I knew I had to do. And, happily! I was delighted to do it. But I’d be lying if I said it was my idea because after the Merrily one, I said never again. It’s a very short oeuvre!
On directing a documentary versus a play.
It’s totally different. Interviewing people is exhausting because you have an idea of what you’re hoping they’ll talk about, so you’re acting interested in everything they say and then trying to get them to talk about what you want them to talk about. I found it exhausting, the interview process. I like working with narratives that exist, and [documentaries] you kind of end up writing with your editor.
On utilizing his extensive knowledge for the documentary.
I know all the stories and all the anecdotes and all his achievements and accomplishments. I worked for him when I was 15 years old—I’ve known him for over 45 years. He’s been my hero, so I know his story backwards and forwards. And David, having done Prince of Broadway last year, was so immersed that we finished each other’s sentences. Now everyone else can know him as well as we know him. I didn’t want to do, “And then he directed…,” so it has an organizing principle that answers the question of what does a director do. And, it takes each task in a director’s job and reflects different musicals of Hal’s. So it was an organizing principle that not only illuminated the seminal shows I wanted to talk about, but also by the end of it, I think it will cut down on sitting at a gala and some very nice rich person asking me, what does a director do anyway? Now I can hand them a disc and say, “It’s an hour and 20 minutes.” [Laughs] And, I’m hoping it’s entertaining and educational and illuminating and helpful to young directors.