By Jill Serjeant
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Making a movie about Elizabeth Taylor takes courage. Casting wayward starlet Lindsay Lohan as the Hollywood screen legend was both daring and asking for trouble.
And indeed, trouble is what producers got during the shooting of Lifetime TV movie "Liz & Dick" - but they say the payoff made it all worthwhile.
"Let's say that producing a movie with Lindsay Lohan is not for the faint of heart," said executive producer Larry Thompson. "I turned 50 shades of white during production...But the risk was worth the rewards; the pain was worth the pleasure."
"Liz & Dick," which premieres on November 25, recounts the scandalous and tumultuous romance between Taylor and British actor Richard Burton in the 1960s and 70s. Lohan is one of the few people ever to have portrayed the diamond-loving, larger-than-life, two-time best actress Oscar winner on screen.
The idea was irresistible. Who better than Lohan, 26, a former child star herself, would know the pressures of having her every move scrutinized by the media, the allure of drink and drugs, and the thrills and risks of living life on the edge?
"I think Lindsay Lohan...literally knows no boundaries and that becomes dangerous and exciting. And she has the ability to bring to the screen and her performance that danger, that raw emotion," Thompson told reporters ahead of the premiere.
"If you are going to make a movie about Taylor, you damn well want some great magic. And we felt that Lindsay Lohan could bring that."
Some reviews for "Liz & Dick" have been savage. The Hollywood Reporter called Lohan "woeful as Taylor from start to finish" and the TV movie "an instant classic of unintentional hilarity." Variety was kinder, calling Lohan "adequate" and the film "hammy" but "pretty good, all things considered." Both noted casting Lohan was a sound publicity move.
Thompson however is proud of the 90-minute TV film. "I think people will see (New Zealand actor) Grant Bowler as Richard Burton just steals your heart, and Lindsay Lohan breaks it."
PAGES OF 'WHAT IFS'
After five years of legal troubles, numerous trips to jail, rehab, and courtrooms, the "Mean Girls" star was looking for a project that could re-establish the credentials that had once made her among the most promising young actresses in Hollywood.
But her past brought problems with insurance for the movie, shooting schedules and the personal setbacks Lohan faced during the making of the TV film earlier this year.
Thompson said the deal with Lohan included "pages and pages of 'what if' clauses. What if there is a car accident? What if there is a violation of probation and she would be incarcerated? She might be the most insured actress to ever walk on a soundstage."
The clauses were needed. During shooting, Lohan was involved in a serious car crash in the California beach city of Santa Monica, and on a separate occasion she was rushed to the hospital suffering from what as described as "exhaustion and dehydration."
And just as Taylor and Burton were hounded by (and sometimes courted) the media during their highly public extra-marital affair, Lohan and the production staff had the paparazzi to deal with.
"There were paparazzi following us around, hanging out of trees every day. And while we were making a movie about Elizabeth Taylor being followed by paparazzi, we had real paparazzi following our paparazzi following Elizabeth Taylor. So it was life imitating art, art imitating life," said Thompson.
Thompson acknowledged that fans of Taylor, who died in 2011 at age 79 after eight marriages - two of them to Burton - will believe there is no actress who could possibly play her. Burton died in 1984 at the age of 58.
Yet Lifetime chose Lohan also in the hope she would bring a younger generation of her own fans to the movie.
"A lot of young people today think Liz Taylor is an old woman sitting in a wheelchair next to Michael Jackson, whereas our movie is about the young, vibrant, highest-paid movie star in the world at the height of her beauty and power," Thompson said.
As for whether he would work again with Lohan despite the challenging shoot?
"Sure," Thompson said.
(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Christine Kearney and Lisa Shumaker)