At first glance, the American actor and filmmaker Fisher Stevens wasn’t the obvious choice to helm the four-part Netflix documentary series about English soccer great David Beckham. Even Stevens himself shares that view.
“When they first called me, my response was, ’Why me for David Beckham?’,” the 59-year-old told CNN Sport’s Don Riddell. “I didn’t know his story like you guys in the UK.”
Turns out that looks can be deceiving, as the subject of Stevens’s lens knows all too well.
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The eponymously titled Beckham charts the former England captain’s remarkable rise (and fall, and subsequent rise) from the unassuming schoolboy taken under the wing of Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson to playing stints in Spain, America, Italy and France.
Then, after retirement, his return to the United States as a founder and owner of Major League Soccer (MLS) side Inter Miami, where Beckham has already proved instrumental in the game-changing signing of the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi.
David Beckham’s Netflix documentary was a huge success across the world. Credit: Getty Images
Along the way, the now 48-year-old Englishman experienced incredible highs on the pitch — winning a treble of trophies with Manchester United in 1999, scoring the dramatic free kick to send England to the 2002 World Cup — and lows, notably a red card against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup, which led to him becoming the target of vicious vitriol in England.
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Following the 1998 World Cup, Beckham took solace in his relationship with the Spice Girl Victoria “Posh Spice” Adams, whom he married 24 years ago. The “Posh and Becks” moniker serves as a timely reminder that Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce weren’t the first musical-sporting collaboration.
As for the man behind the camera, Stevens credits Becks’ fellow Brits — Jesse Armstrong, the writer/creator of HBO’s Succession and the show’s executive producer Tony Roche — with convincing him to consider taking the gig (Stevens played the role of Hugo on Succession).
Succession star Fisher Stevens directed the Beckham documentary. Credit: Samir Hussein/WireImage
It probably didn’t hurt the Oscar-winner’s cause that Beckham was familiar with his work, to say nothing of Leonardo DiCaprio recommending Stevens directly to his friend Beckham. DiCaprio and Stevens made the climate change documentary Before The Flood, which was released in 2016.
“I said, ‘Hey, I have a call with David Beckham, but I’m not sure’,” Fisher fondly recalled.
“They’re like, ‘He’s a legend! You have to do it! He’s an incredible player!’ I went ‘Really?’ So I was like, ‘OK.’ And then I just went home and watched and watched and saw how brilliant he was.”
Not so much Bend It Like Beckham but rather Bend Your Ear About Beckham.
A powerful, successful figure consumed by ambition, inevitably comparisons with Succession and the Logan Roy empire abound.
Stevens admitted that “ironically” Brand Beckham didn’t interest him when making the film.
“To be honest, that’s what I kind of thought about David before I met him. Like he’s always building a brand … so the brand is, I guess, it’s strong. I say what’s really strong, their relationship is really strong and if you can work with your wife and it works, God bless, man,” he said.
David and Victoria Beckham attend the UK Premiere of their documentary in October. Credit: Samir Hussein/WireImage
Some of the key themes which emerge in Beckham are his relationships with the influential men in his life — his dad, Ted, but also the imposing Ferguson.
The Scot nurtured Beckham in the 1990s, but their relationship soured at United after Beckham’s celebrity reached global status. The pair talk about the infamous boot-kicking incident — when an enraged Ferguson kicked a boot in the changing room, hitting Beckham above the eye — and Beckham’s subsequent sale to Real Madrid in 2003.
It also focuses on Beckham’s marriage. And while rumors of infidelity are never directly addressed by name, a playful yet respectful partnership is often exhibited by the pair throughout the four episodes.
‘You can’t film me doing this’
So what does Stevens think is the secret of their success as a couple?
“Another thing that’s shocked me about making this film was just how close they are, and how reliant they are on each other, and they kind of don’t make big moves at all without discussing whatever it is,” he said.
“The biggest success for them is that they see eye-to-eye on raising their children and they have a very strong family. They are really ambitious people and I think it’s harder for a woman to be ambitious than a man.
“I think David loves Victoria’s ambition and Victoria loves David’s ambition, and that’s what keeps them together as well.”
In addition to ambition, Beckham’s relentless pursuit for perfection reveals itself, often in unexpected ways, such as his obsession with cleanliness.
“Hates mess,” notes Stevens. “The first day I interviewed him, we moved a couple of things out of the way. And as soon as the interview finished, the first thing he did after his exhaustion or whatever, is he would put the room back.
“I’m like, ‘David we’ll do it’. ‘No, no, no, no. You won’t do it. You don’t know where anything goes’.”
David Beckham and daughter Harper Beckham in France in September 30. Credit: Marc Piasecki/GC Images
“And I’m like, ‘David, can I film you doing this?’ ‘Absolutely not. You can’t film me doing this.’ And of course, by the end, I convinced him to let me, because that cleaning up in the kitchen in the last episode, I mean, I saw him when I walked in one day, he was scrubbing the kitchen and then he saw me and he stopped.
“I mean, that’s crazy. I wish I was that clean. And that’s why his precision of passing, precision of a corner, precision of everything — that’s just who he is.
“And unfortunately, he’s very rarely able to just kind of be still, and happy, and content, because he’s always trying to make everything perfect. But that’s why he’s also such a good guy, because he’s worried about you, too.”
When pushed by Variety magazine about a possible second series, Stevens went as far as using the word “maybe”.
With material left on the cutting room floor about Beckham’s association with Qatar, his lifelong affinity towards Judaism (his grandfather Joseph West was Jewish), and much more besides — including the importance of his tattoos, and getting knighted — perhaps Beckham can go into extra time.
“Honestly, I wish we had another episode because there was so much stuff. We talked about everything. He was super open,” Stevens told CNN.
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