It's a Family Affair for the Hurleys in Strictly Confidential

How Elizabeth tried (and failed) to keep son Damian out of the film biz

Elizabeth Hurley in Strictly Confidential, the debut feature as a director by her son, Damian (Image Courtesy of Lionsgate)

There's a famous song by Noël Coward called "Mrs. Worthington" in which the singer tries to convince the good mother to not let her daughter become an actor.

One cannot help but wonder if Elizabeth Hurley, who has been through the Hollywood wringer, ever tried to convince her son Damian not to venture into filmmaking. “I was always trying to put him off,” she laughs. “He wanted to be an auteur since he was tiny [but] I was like, ‘Noooo, this is a tough, mean industry. No, no, no, there's other areas that you can go into.’”

However, she admits to sabotaging her own efforts as she gave him his first camcorder when he was eight, “and he started making his own little movies non-stop. The second he was out of school he'd thrust a script at me or anyone who was in the vicinity and make us act in his movies.”

Or, as Damian puts it, “running around and torturing every long-suffering family member I could get my hands on.”

Elizabeth realized that her son was a quick student of the game, learning to direct, light, be his own cinematographer, “and then he came on to some of my grown-up sets and was just like, 'Oh my god,' and I went, well, he's never going to be a banker.”

“At first when I pitched my mum to be in it, I told her, ‘It’s a tiny cameo, you just come in for one or two days’ work, fly in, fly out, then you’ll be free.’”
Now Damian has taken his home movies (although who else's home movies feature the star of the Austin Powers films?) and made his first feature: Strictly Confidential, an erotic thriller filled with menace and intrigue, filmed on the sultry and enchanting islands of Saint Kitts and Nevis. In it, Hurley plays a widow who invites her dead daughter's friends to the island for a reunion. However, one of those friends (Georgia Lock) realizes that there's a dark secret hiding in the Caribbean waters.

The location came about through filmmaker Philippe Martinez, who had previously directed Elizabeth in two films: 2014 crime thriller Viktor with Gérard Depardieu, and 2022's Christmas in the Caribbean which was also filmed on the islands. His company, MSR Media, was running a program for young filmmakers, and brought Damian out to Nevis to make his first short, "The Boy on the Beach." The 22-year-old recalls that Martinez asked him, “Will you be our first, our guinea pig?”

This was just one part of a much larger project to build a film industry on Saint Kitts and Nevis. As part of a commitment to produce 35 films over five years, for a total investment of $150 million. Then "The Boy on the Beach" got into the hands of an executive at Lionsgate, and they asked Damian to make his first feature, “which is the most surreal, insane thing you can tell a 20-year-old,” Damian says. “Part of me wanted to run away screaming, but I rose to it.”

Like every first-time filmmaker, he looked around at the resources he had at hand. First, he dusted off an old script that he'd written in 2017, and then he tried to cast the most talented actor he knew: his mother. “At first when I pitched my mum to be in it, I told her, ‘It's a tiny cameo, you just come in for one or two days' work, fly in, fly out, then you’ll be free.’” Then he flipped the genders at the heart of one the mysteries, so her character became a murder suspect rather than the victim, and suddenly his mom was part of the full shoot.

While it was family time for the Hurleys, it was the first time for Lock to spend time with Elizabeth, who she called an “absolute icon. Amazing. What a privilege to be able to share the screen with her. And not only is she exceptionally talented, she's such a nice person ... super caring, super considerate.”

Finding out that her castmate was a delight was one less stressor, especially since just getting to set was a feat of endurance. Lock had literally landed back in the UK after a 17-hour flight from Australia. “I had 11 hours in the UK, then I flew to the Caribbean, so I was quite tired when I got there, so my first few days are a little hazy.”

Once there, Damian got a quick lesson about the difference between shooting a small project at home and the demands of a professional set. “I'm a perfectionist,” he says, “so my preference would be to spend a day shooting someone getting out of a car. You've got an hour, max.”

“I remember looking at this mountain and this volcano, and then the beautiful sea, and I’m just sat on this boat going, ‘This is amazing.’”
Moreover, that idyllic location, and the optimistic idea of helping build a film industry from basically scratch, came with some serious challenges. “There was nothing on the island if something went wrong,” Elizabeth says. “If a camera broke, if a light failed, there was absolutely nothing.” Director of Photography George Burt brought the lenses to the island in his hand luggage, “and a load of the costumes didn't clear customs, so I literally had to buy stuff on my credit card and convince a friend to fly in a suitcase of illicit stuff because we wouldn't have had it.”

However, at the end of the day, they were shooting the movie in a dream location. “It wasn't a bad time,” Lock recalls. “There's a moment when my character arrives, and Damian's directing, and the crew's there, and I remember looking at this mountain and this volcano, and then the beautiful sea, and I'm just sat on this boat going, ‘This is amazing.’”

And, for all the struggles, it reminded Hurley of her own early experiences on small films like Rowing With the Wind, filming in exotic locations but on a shoestring budget. “It really made this independent film like I remembered.”

“It was a terrifying ordeal,” Damian adds, “but I do think it's prepared me for the rest of my life. If I were fortunate enough that my next movie has a little more time, I'll just soak it up and appreciate every single second.”

Strictly Confidential is available on VOD now.

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Strictly Confidential, MSR Media, Lionsgate, Elizabeth Hurley, Damian Hurley

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