The new documentary “The Ghost of Peter Sellers,” now available on demand, is about a troubled comedian and how one film never saw the light of day. It’s also director Peter Medak’s exploration of a traumatic filmmaking experience that altered the course of his career.
In the early 1970s, Peter Sellers was a big name in Hollywood. He was the star of “Dr. Strangelove” and “The Pink Panther.” Hungarian-born Medak was fresh off directing “The Ruling Class,” a success at Cannes that earned actor Peter O’Toole an Oscar nomination. When Sellers approached him to direct “Ghost in the Noonday Sun,” a comedy about bumbling 17th century pirates, Medak was thrilled.
The film, shot off the coast of Cyprus, encountered many problems: complexity of shooting on the water, a literally sinking ship, and a crew in revolt. But perhaps the biggest problem was Sellers. He was known to be temperamental. He fired the film’s producers and at one point faked a heart attack to get time off. That ruse became obvious when two days later he was seen dining in London with Princess Margaret.
“The Ghost of Peter Sellers” documents these mishaps and more. Despite the disaster, Medak says he’d work with Sellers again if given the chance, though Sellers died of a (real) heart attack not long after their final meeting.
Though Medak remains haunted by the experience, he did go on to make other films and to direct episodes of “The Wire,” “Hannibal,” and “Breaking Bad.”