Fisher Stevens found himself in the role of Succession’s most sycophantic character when an unexpected call came in: Leonardo DiCaprio was reaching out to him with a proposition to direct a Netflix documentary centered around David Beckham. Initially, Stevens hesitated; he was thoroughly enjoying his portrayal of Hugo Baker, the conniving communications strategist for the detestable Logan dynasty.
“At first, I thought, ‘No way.’ That’s a two-year commitment, and I’d have to genuinely enjoy immersing myself in that world,” explains the 59-year-old Stevens, speaking from an editing suite in New York.
His reluctance is understandable. In the final series of Succession, Stevens delivers some of the show’s most memorable lines. As the sociopathic siblings and their entourage jet off to Norway to salvage Waystar Royco with the help of a Scandinavian business expert, Stevens delivers a self-reflective gem: “We’re snakes on a plane.”
“But then the writers, especially Jesse Armstrong, the English creator of Succession, convinced me,” he continues. “They told me, ‘You can’t pass up on this. It’s an incredible story.’ I didn’t know the details.”
So, how did an American with limited knowledge about the subject matter become the chosen director for a documentary about England’s iconic soccer star? Three reasons stand out. First, Fisher Stevens is more than just an actor; he’s a documentary filmmaker with a notable track record. His 2009 film about dolphin hunting in Japan, “The Cove,” won an Oscar. In 2010, he collaborated with DiCaprio on the climate crisis documentary “Before the Flood.”
Second, DiCaprio and Beckham are friends. Stevens recounts, “David was hanging out with Leo and asked him for a recommendation. Leo suggested me. David watched ‘Before the Flood’ and also ‘Palmer,’ a 2021 Apple TV+ drama I directed, and saw something he liked—perhaps the emotional aspect.”
The third reason is revealing. Stevens isn’t just an uninformed outsider when it comes to soccer. Although he remains loyal to the Chicago Cubs (baseball) and Chicago Bears (American football) for life, he owns a collection of Ivory Coast football shirts. “I visited Stamford Bridge, Chelsea FC’s home, and fell in love with Didier Drogba,” he confesses. “I was there because the first documentary I produced was ‘Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos’ in 2006. I didn’t know much about football back then, but John Battsek, the producer, took me to see Chelsea play, and I fell in love.”
“I came to the soccer party a bit late,” he adds. “That might be why David wanted me for the project. I didn’t have preconceived notions about Beckham. I didn’t even know about his red card incident.”
Ah, the infamous red card. On June 30, 1998, during the World Cup match between England and Argentina, Beckham, fouled by Diego Simeone, retaliated while lying on the turf by kicking out at the Argentine defender, who dramatically collapsed. If Oscars were awarded for football acting, Simeone’s trophy cabinet would have one.
In his documentary, Stevens meticulously dissects this moment in slow motion. This act, committed by a young working-class lad from East London with dreams of scoring goals for Manchester United and England, turned Beckham from a potential national hero into one of the most reviled figures in England.
Back in England, Beckham was scapegoated for the loss. He received death threats and was symbolically hanged outside a pub in effigy. The Mirror ran a headline that read “10 Heroic Lions, One Stupid Boy” and even offered disappointed fans a Beckham dartboard as an outlet for their anger. Bullets were even sent to Beckham in the mail. Stevens’s documentary holds up a mirror to this era of hatred in England.
Years later, when I interviewed Beckham’s wife, Spice Girl Victoria Beckham, she expressed her fury at fans who shouted at her husband, “Your wife’s a whore. Hope your kid dies of cancer.” Brooklyn Beckham, now 24, was born on March 4, 1999. These were toxic times, revealing not only the ugly side of English culture but also the prevalence of public bullying, which existed before the advent of social media.