David Beckham Documentary Director Fisher Stevens on Netflix Series



There’s no better way to encapsulate David Beckham’s unbridled star power than the story of how Fisher Stevens ended up directing his Netflix docuseries “Beckham.”

“I got a call from Leo DiCaprio’s office,” recalls Stevens, who directed the DiCaprio-produced 2016 climate change film “The Flood.” “Leo and David were hanging out, and David [had] been looking for a director of his documentary — and Leo suggested me.”

The anecdote doesn’t end there. Stevens, a multi-hyphenate who won an Oscar for producing the 2009 dolphin documentary “The Cove,” and appeared on three seasons of HBO’s hit series “Succession” as Waystar Royco publicist Hugo, wasn’t sure he wanted to take on the job directing the Beckham project. “I didn’t really know much about him other than, you know, he was kind of a good-looking brand guy married to a Spice Girl,” he tells Variety.

So Stevens did what anyone might when faced with a career dilemma — he asked some colleagues for advice. The colleagues in question just happened to be “Succession” creator Jesse Armstrong and writer Tony Roche (both British) who had watched Beckham’s stratospheric rise in real-time. “They’re like: ‘You have to do a documentary — you have to do it!’”

Which is how Stevens ended up spending more than 30 hours interviewing David Beckham over the course of two years. “I definitely felt like I was his therapist,” Stevens admits.

“Nothing was really off limits,” he says of the conversations, all caught on camera. “I felt like I could have gone anywhere.”

Fisher Stevens and Leonardo DiCaprio attend the screening of National Geographic Channel’s “Before The Flood” on Oct. 24, 2016 in Los Angeles (Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images)

The result is an epic four-part series which drops on Netflix today, charting David Beckham’s arc from working class kid to global celebrity. “This guy, his life was so operatic and so big,” says Stevens. “My inspiration [for the documentary] was, like, watching a Puccini opera.”

Bearing witness to the intense peaks and troughs of Beckham’s fortunes are an exhaustive cast of contributors, ranging from Beckham’s wife Victoria (the aforementioned Spice Girl), his parents, former colleagues, Sporty Spice and even some of the paparazzi who stalked him throughout the late 1990s.

Stevens even got Anna Wintour on board to relay the cultural impact of Posh ‘n’ Becks (as they were nicknamed by the British tabloids) in the mid-2000s, as well as Kath Phipps, a former receptionist at Beckham’s first soccer club Manchester United, who is undoubtedly the doc’s breakout star. Phipps was responsible for dealing with Beckham’s mountains of fan mail during his tenure at the club — not all of it decorous. (“It’s not nice, is it, sending underwear to a boy,” the no-nonsense octogenarian sniffs in “Beckham.” “I put them to one side, and didn’t reply.”)

But there is one figure notable by his absence: Glenn Hoddle, the former manager for England. Hoddle was the man in charge during Beckham’s most controversial moment, a 1998 World Cup match that saw the soccer star sent off the pitch with a dreaded red card after he instinctively kicked an Argentinian player who had knocked him over. England subsequently lost the match, and with it their hopes of winning the tournament. Rather than defending Beckham, then aged just 23, Hoddle publicly accused him of “costing” England the match, turning the celebrated midfielder into Public Enemy No. 1 overnight.

While even the Argentinian player who’d knocked Beckham over during that fateful match was willing to be interviewed for the documentary, Hoddle was not. “I reached out numerous times, and he didn’t want to participate. I guess he felt guilty, or he thought we were going to — I don’t know,” Stevens trails off.

Beckham eventually bounced back in the public’s affections, going on to become a cultural icon (alongside Victoria), and a champion of soccer across the world. In the U.S., he has been almost single-handedly responsible for raising the game’s profile, first with his transfer to the L.A. Galaxy and, more recently, his establishment of Inter Miami. “I thought I was making a portrait of working-class England,” Stevens says of the documentary’s route from inception to screen. “But as I started to explore, and get deeper into David and David’s journey, his life, there’s just so much more. And then I realized I’m making a love story. Not just about David and Victoria, but about David and his love for football.”

David Beckham celebrates after scoring the third goal in the 1996 FA Charity Shield between Manchester United and Newcastle United at Wembley Stadium in London, England.

A quarter of a century after that infamous red card, Beckham has become something of a national treasure in the U.K., with a rare reputation for being a genuinely nice guy. (Last fall, for example, he was spotted waiting in line for over 13 hours with regular members of the public to pay his respects to Queen Elizabeth II following her death).

Which is great for his public profile, but can make a biographical documentary challenging. “That was why I turned it down,” says Stevens. “At first, I was like, where’s the conflict with this guy? But there is. He struggles.” The director points to Beckham’s OCD (he apparently spends his evenings trimming candle wicks), his tattoo addiction (“He kept getting more tattoos while we were filming — like, who does that?”) and the relentless rumors of marital strife between him and Victoria.

“There’s a struggle inside of this man, even though he presumably has everything and is one of the best- looking dudes you’ve ever seen,” Stevens says. “I think there’s a real inner turmoil to him that is the ticking clock of our film.”

Why did Beckham decide to do this documentary now? “I asked him that numerous times,” Stevens replies. “Because it’s a pain in the ass, man. And also, to relive that shit — who wants to? He had some dark moments, and you’re gonna see it gets pretty grim at certain points.

“He said he wanted to tell his story before someone else did.”

While the series is very much focused on Beckham’s arc, his wife is, of course, a key part of his story. “It hasn’t all been rosy with his relationship with Victoria. There’s constant controversy,” Stevens says, describing the couple’s 26-year partnership as “co-dependent.” But he adds: “Frankly, I was quite moved by their relationship at the end of the day, and — after all they’ve been through — how much they love each other, and how close they are.”

As well as interviewing Victoria Beckham for 14 hours, Stevens catches what is often genuinely funny banter between the couple on camera. He was also given access to reams of never-before-seen archive footage, including personal video of Beckham joining the Spice Girls on tour immediately after England lost the 1998 World Cup match.

Between the copious access, interviews and archive, editing the documentary into just four episodes was the biggest challenge, says Stevens. Initially the director signed on to make a three-episode series, but soon he was “begging Netflix for six.” Does that mean Netflix subscribers are likely to get a second season of “Beckham”? Instinctively Stevens says “no” before switching his answer to “maybe.”

“Let’s see what happens,” he says. “The thing is, David has lived all these lives, he’s had all these acts. It’s pretty clear that owning Inter Miami is just the beginning of a new act.”


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