Museum guards are hired to protect paintings and sculptures—not steal them. But in the new film The Maiden Heist, three such professionals betray their duties for the love of art.
The adventure begins when the new chief curator at the fictional Boston Art Museum decides to ship objects from the museum’s historical collection off to Europe. He’s embarking on a trade, bringing over contemporary works in exchange. Having fallen deeply in love with paintings under their protection, two longtime museum guards—Roger (Christopher Walken) and Charles (Morgan Freeman)—conspire to take action.
They decide to substitute reproductions of their desired artworks and make off with the originals. But they realize that, to accomplish this, they will need a third accomplice.
Roger and Charles carefully study security-camera footage of their colleagues. When they find a tape revealing George (William H. Macy) stripping down naked after hours and assuming the precise, defiant pose of his favorite sculpture, the 19th-century Bronze Warrior, they know they have their man.
The Maiden Heist—set to hit theaters this fall—has all the makings of a comedic caper, but at the core of the film, says director Peter Hewitt, is “that intangible attraction people have to art of all shapes and sizes. And not necessarily people who have a profound art education, but those who know very little about it and still have that visceral reaction.”
Written by Michael LeSieur, the script bounced around to various Hollywood execs for years before Hewitt and producer Rob Paristook it on. The timing was serendipitous: the premise seems to hint at recent headlines, as museums seek ways to save money while staying relevant.
Visually, the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts served as the inspiration for the institution in the film. The crew constructed an off-site set that resembled the building’s interiors, and a few scenes were shot on location in the museum’s opulent Renaissance Court.
“Everyone here loved the subject,” says Worcester Museum director James Welu, who has a walk-on role in the film as a curatorial assistant. “We know how our own guards fall in love with artworks here at the museum, and a few of them were even asked to go on as extras.”
The museum’s collection of American and European paintings and sculptures also makes a cameo, but Hewitt and Paris commissioned original works as the objects of their protagonists’ affection. “We couldn’t use anything that existed already for the control we wanted to have over it,” Hewitt says. To that end, he and Paris enlisted the help of Film Art LA—an agency that puts directors and producers in touch with fine artists.
The Lonely Maiden, attributed to the fictional 19th-century artist Marcel de Robert, depicts a woman on a beach, looking wistfully out to sea. Painter Jeremy Lipking created the work, using Marcia Gay Harden (who plays Walken’s wife in the film) as one of three models. Art imitates life again in the case of Macy and his character—the actor posed nude for sculptor Judy Dryland-Shapiro, who crafted George’s beloved Bronze Warrior. Freeman’s character falls for the Vermeer-esque Girl with Cats (by Hal Yaskulka).
Throughout the film, the guards prove their encyclopedic knowledge of and adoration for their respective works, correcting docents and reading up on artists after hours. Freeman’s character even paints Girl with Cats over and over again in his spare time, trying in vain to capture its essence. “Why is it that we fall in love with a few brushstrokes on canvas?” Hewitt remarks. “At the center here is a man who is lost in a painting. He’s utterly besotted in it, and we’ve all been in that place.”