Written By January 2014 : Page 36

WRITTEN BY DAVID GRITTEN PORTRAITS BY BARRY MARSDEN S t o p pa r d HOW HE DOES IT. F or 50 years Tom Stoppard has been making a living as a dramatist. His first, largely forgotten stage play, A Walk on the Water, was produced in Hamburg, Germany, in the early 1960s and aired on British TV. But in 1964 Stoppard, with a Ford Foundation grant, holed himself up in Berlin and wrote a one-act play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. It became a full-length work, a brilliant, playful reimagining of Hamlet from the backstage viewpoint of two minor characters. Its debut at the Edinburgh Festival made him an overnight suc-cess while he was still in his 20s; his stage writing has been the cornerstone of his international fame ever since. Yet for three-quarters of his career, Stoppard has also flour-ished as a screenwriter, ever since his adaptation of Thomas Wiseman’s novel The Romantic Englishwoman for director Joseph Losey reached movie screens in 1975. That film set a pattern: Stoppard has since adapted for screen the works of formidable writers, including Tolstoy, Nabokov, Graham Greene, Ford Madox Ford, John le Carré, E.L. Doctorow, and J.G. Ballard. Additionally, he has spent a significant amount of his screenwriting time below the radar, polishing existing drafts or solving structural problems. Much of his work in this latter category is barely acknowledged; Stoppard’s contri-butions exist like some spectral presence hovering over scripts for which earlier writers receive public credit. What adds intrigue to this self-concealment is that in his life as a playwright Stoppard is such a feted public figure—on Broadway, in London’s West End, and other theatrical realms around the globe. He has enjoyed hit after hit on stage, among them Jumpers, The Real Thing, Travesties, Arcadia, The Inven-tion of Love, The Coast of Utopia, and most recently Rock ’n’ Roll. Each is quintessential Stoppard with their wit, dazzling intellect, and thrilling juxtapositions of ideas and themes. He has never been shy about making himself available to the me-dia to discuss his plays but until now has preferred to avoid depth discussions of his media work. Still, if he is relatively reticent on the subject of his film scripts, his fellow writers certainly know his worth. Stoppard shared a Writers Guild Award in 1998 for best screenplay for Shakespeare in Love [written by Marc Norman and Stoppard], as well as an Academy Award. At 2013’s Writers Guild Awards ceremony, he was the recipient of the WGA Laurel Award for Screen, the Guild’s recognition of a lifetime achievement. In recent years, his writing for the stage has taken a tem-porary backseat to his screenwriting. His latest play, Rock ’n’ Roll, was first performed in 2006. Since then Stoppard has busied himself with two significant screen projects: Parade’s End, a five-part TV drama series for the BBC and HBO, adapted from Ford Madox Ford’s epic four-part novel set around the time of World War I; and a feature film of Tol-stoy’s classic novel Anna Karenina, shot mostly in the UK. Stoppard talked to Written By at his home, where he also works: a penthouse apartment overlooking a marina in a fash-ionable part of west London. Predictably, he turns out to be as erudite, provocative, and entertaining in person as his dialogue. 36 • WG A W WRITTEN BY J ANU AR Y 20 14

Stoppard

David Gritten

HOW HE DOES IT.<br /> <br /> For 50 years Tom Stoppard has been making a living as a dramatist. His first, largely forgotten stage play, A Walk on the Water, was produced in Hamburg, Germany, in the early 1960s and aired on British TV. But in 1964 Stoppard, with a Ford Foundation grant, holed himself up in Berlin and wrote a one-act play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. It became a full-length work, a brilliant, playful reimagining of Hamlet from the backstage viewpoint of two minor characters. Its debut at the Edinburgh Festival made him an overnight success while he was still in his 20s; his stage writing has been the cornerstone of his international fame ever since.<br /> <br /> Yet for three-quarters of his career, Stoppard has also flourished as a screenwriter, ever since his adaptation of Thomas Wiseman’s novel The Romantic Englishwoman for director Joseph Losey reached movie screens in 1975. That film set a pattern: Stoppard has since adapted for screen the works of formidable writers, including Tolstoy, Nabokov, Graham Greene, Ford Madox Ford, John le Carré, E.L. Doctorow, and J. G. Ballard. Additionally, he has spent a significant amount of his screenwriting time below the radar, polishing existing drafts or solving structural problems. Much of his work in this latter category is barely acknowledged; Stoppard’s contributions exist like some spectral presence hovering over scripts for which earlier writers receive public credit.<br /> <br /> What adds intrigue to this self-concealment is that in his life as a playwright Stoppard is such a feted public figure—on Broadway, in London’s West End, and other theatrical realms Around the globe. He has enjoyed hit after hit on stage, among them Jumpers, The Real Thing, Travesties, Arcadia, The Invention of Love, The Coast of Utopia, and most recently Rock ’n’ Roll. Each is quintessential Stoppard with their wit, dazzling intellect, and thrilling juxtapositions of ideas and themes. He has never been shy about making himself available to the media to discuss his plays but until now has preferred to avoid depth discussions of his media work.<br /> <br /> Still, if he is relatively reticent on the subject of his film scripts, his fellow writers certainly know his worth. Stoppard shared a Writers Guild Award in 1998 for best screenplay for Shakespeare in Love [written by Marc Norman and Stoppard], as well as an Academy Award. At 2013’s Writers Guild Awards ceremony, he was the recipient of the WGA Laurel Award for Screen, the Guild’s recognition of a lifetime achievement.<br /> <br /> In recent years, his writing for the stage has taken a temporary backseat to his screenwriting. His latest play, Rock ’n’ Roll, was first performed in 2006. Since then Stoppard has busied himself with two significant screen projects: Parade’s End, a five-part TV drama series for the BBC and HBO, adapted from Ford Madox Ford’s epic four-part novel set around the time of World War I; and a feature film of Tolstoy’s classic novel Anna Karenina, shot mostly in the UK.<br /> <br /> Stoppard talked to Written By at his home, where he also works: a penthouse apartment overlooking a marina in a fashionable part of west London. Predictably, he turns out to be as erudite, provocative, and entertaining in person as his dialogue.<br /> <br /> David Gritten: Why is it that you seem happy to talk about your stage plays but not your screenwriting?<br /> <br /> Tom Stoppard: Because any ideas I have, I use for stage plays. And a screenwriter who does an original screenplay isn’t really quite the same sort of person as somebody like me, who is usually called upon to adapt something. I’ll say parenthetically that as somebody who comes from the theatre and still works in the theatre, film industry protocol is quite uncomfortable. Suppose a [theatre] producer called up and said, “Look, we’ve got this rather interesting Christopher Hampton play which we think needs a polish.” And you suddenly realise what a bizarre situation one is in, in the world of screenwriting. Yet this is standard behaviour.<br /> <br /> I gather something of that kind happened to you with Steven Spielberg.<br /> <br /> I don’t know many filmmakers intimately. Steven’s a friend. He is somebody who likes his friends to read what he’s got on his desk, and rightly or wrongly he likes to have comments. The thing is, I was asked to do Schindler’s List. I read the book and I wasn’t sure how to do it in a couple of hours. It just frightened me. Steven sent me Steve Zaillian’s script because that’s what Steven does. I should say that Zaillian is one of the writers I admire most—not just screenwriters—among writers. He hadn’t told Zaillian he was sending me the script—that would be unnecessary. So I read this script, and I wrote Steven a letter, which was quite cross. I said, “Look, I didn’t know how to do Schindler’s List, and Zaillian has done it. It’s an amazing piece of work. It’s incredibly economical and deft and in control. It’s ridiculous for you to send this script to someone else for comment. You should just shoot the sodding thing.”<br /> <br /> So he did. But he stubbed his toe on a scene while he was shooting. Zaillian was in the middle of another film by then, so he called me with Zaillian’s knowledge and, as it were, permission. It was just one little fragment. I was about to get into the bath, and where I lived at the time my desk was only six feet from the bathtub. I explained the problem; I could see the way to go on it and made a simple suggestion which he adopted. So I’m fond of saying I wrote that scene stark naked. I called Steven, and by the time I got into the bath it was done. If only all hang-ups in movies were that quick and easy.<br /> <br /> Something like that doesn’t happen in the theatre.<br /> <br /> That’s the point. It simply couldn’t. he whole notion of the writer and his work is much more coherent in the theatre. The reasons are circumstantial and historical. I don’t think anybody made a manifesto out of it, but the truth is, in the broadest terms, theatre is what happens to a script. The script is the reason for it. And in film, it’s the other way round.<br /> <br /> Still, you keep returning to film work.<br /> <br /> There’s a script on my desk upstairs, which arrived yesterday. I got a phone call: It’s a rather interesting film. It just needs possibly a little work on the character, i.e. the dialogue. But having got Anna Karenina and Parade’s End properly out of the way, I’m Thinking it’s six years since I wrote a stage play [Rock ’n’ Roll ], and that’s what I should be writing. I’ve been telling everybody for an embarrassingly long time that I’m not available for anything much because I want to write a stage play. But I keep being derailed. Parade’s End was the major derailment that occupied the time I might have spent writing a play. It went on for three or four years. I’m trying not to get tempted into a movie, but I may yet fail.<br /> <br /> I’m still at a kind of crossroads, where I find myself periodically. It’s not a matter of principle with me; it just seems to be a matter of fact: I adapt for the screen, and I write my own ideas from scratch for the stage.<br /> <br /> It’s interesting that you talk of failing to resist temptation. Does it not occur to you to write original work for film?<br /> <br /> Oh, it occurs to me all the time.<br /> <br /> But you’d rather save it for the theatre, is that how it works? As if it’s a higher calling?<br /> <br /> It’s a fair point. But I don’t have enough ideas to keep me busy in both film and theatre. The imperatives of a screenplay exert something on the work you’re doing, which are not exerted in theatre. You can write a stage play, have it [performed] at the Royal Court in front of 400 people for six weeks, and that’s major. I can even have it done at a much smaller theatre than the Royal Court. So it’s not a make-orbreak— something with big stakes. If you write a stage play, you’re less concerned about keeping everything on a level where it would go all the way to being a movie. It’s much more personal to write a stage play.<br /> <br /> If I get sparked by a subject or area of interest, it’s not exactly that I feel I’m wasting it if I try to write an original screenplay. But I know I’m putting it and myself into the hands of a lot of people who are going to have opinions. Anyone who finishes a script, either a movie or a play, doesn’t think, Well, there’s my first draft. If he or she is like me, I don’t show it to anybody until it’s the way I want it to be. Now in theatre, that’s the piece, until you’re in rehearsal and you may need to fiddle with it. In movies, it is the first draft. I’m sure it’s quite rare for someone to read a screenplay and say, “This needs nothing. It’s done and dusted. Shoot it.” So there are differences.<br /> <br /> Often in films, many people read that first draft. You’d rather not submit an original work of yours to that?<br /> <br /> That’s right. Of course, if one is being objective about oneself, the second draft is often better than the first. But who are those people who read it? I feel the writer is the director’s creature, if anybody’s. I don’t think the writer ought to be the actors’ creature.<br /> <br /> There’s this expectation with some bankable actors that they do have input into scripts and tailor them to what they want.<br /> <br /> In fairness, they have a lot at stake and some of them probably should be listened to, in certain ways. Someone told me about Robert De Niro looking at a script and saying: “I’m not going to say all this, am I?” And of course, he was quite right. It would probably be better if he didn’t.<br /> <br /> But your writing for the stage, which you’re best known for, is notably eloquent. You’re not afraid to use words, and plenty of them if necessary.<br /> <br /> When I got the WGA Screen Laurel award, I tried to make a point. It was great, talking to a large room of fellow writers— a tremendously bonding experience and very moving because when I got up there, I was aware of a welling-up of welcome.<br /> <br /> Alfred Molina, a sweet man and terrific actor, presented it and had a few words to say about me. I’m sitting there while he’s talking, and thinking: Here we go again, I’m this philosophical writer, this intellectual person who sometimes writes for movies, but I come from what you might call a different school of eloquence.<br /> <br /> Rightly or wrongly I’m sitting there feeling a slightly exotic beast in the company of proper WGA members. I had a strong desire to dissociate myself from this view of myself. And here’s what I resist: I’m envious of what I think of as the cinema school of eloquence. I’d love to be able to do it well.<br /> <br /> So I mentioned a couple of lines I’d like to have written. The point being they’re not literary, memorable lines out of context. They detonate entirely out of their situation. And what I really enjoyed was that for once I had an audience who understood exactly what I meant. One line was from The Fugitive. Harrison Ford says to Tommy Lee Jones, who plays the cop chasing him: “I didn’t kill my wife.” And Jones says: “I don’t care.” And the room went up because they understood exactly the point: There’s hardly a more banal sentence available. But it was the most eloquent line in the movie because it made you completely readjust and rethink what a cop was and why he was there. It was nothing to do with justice, guilt, or innocence. His job was to get Ford. So “I don’t care” was a beautiful moment.<br /> <br /> I also mentioned I’d really love to have been the author of Bill Murray’s line in Ghostbusters when he zaps some appalling Amazonian ghost queen and says: “This chick is toast.”<br /> <br /> Because you can’t say it any better than that.<br /> <br /> You can’t. And when I’m dead, there’ll be no obit saying, “Tom Stoppard, author of that memorable line: ‘This chick is toast.’” They’ll be talking about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. I’m trying to hang on to the position that writing is about those kinds of things equally. It’s about raising the language, but it’s also about using the language—the language of the street and the pub.<br /> <br /> It occurs to me that many people will be amused by you saying you don’t have that many ideas, because you seem to cram so many ideas into a single play.<br /> <br /> Perhaps I expressed myself badly. An idea is not a play. A topic is not a play. A play is a storytelling art form. Maybe that’s why I don’t write films from scratch. When I say I don’t have an idea for a film, I mean I don’t have a vessel to contain an idea. It was a holiday to have been given Anna Karenina. A genius has provided the plot and the characters. And you’re left to do some restructuring because the rhythm and structure of a film is not the same as a novel. Now that’s a very interesting line of work. Secondly, you’re left to write the dialogue and all I can say is if there’s anything God-given about writing, with me it’s the gift of dialogue. Not to be falsely self-deprecating about this in a nice English way: I know I write nice dialogue. But I don’t know how I write nice dialogue.<br /> <br /> You make your contribution to the adaptation process sound enjoyable.<br /> <br /> It’s extremely enjoyable. On Anna Karenina, it helped that Joe Wright was very congenial, a clever, nice guy. I haven’t had many director relationships, really, but they’re valuable to me. I don’t mean as a writer, though they probably are. I consider great directors to be essentially great artists, and I want to be in their ambience. I did some work on Robin Hood because I’d never met Ridley Scott. It wasn’t that I thought, Oh, this is great, just what I feel like doing—a polish on ‘Robin Hood.’ But I’d never met Ridley. I’d almost met him for 30 years. He is the maker of one of a small handful of modern masterworks, Blade Runner. Along with Chinatown, these are works that take my breath away. So I ended up sort of working with Ridley, though not the way I would have liked.<br /> <br /> Any other directors you’ve admired through being around them?<br /> <br /> John Madden was the most amiable, courteous, and bright person you could hope to work with. I always knew from the moment Shakespeare in Love was done that Madden understood something I’d made light of: that it was a romantic film, not just a funny one. It was what made the difference between a good film and a very good film. I just took the romance for granted. He didn’t.<br /> <br /> He teased it out of the script?<br /> <br /> I think it’s to do with how you work with your actors. There’s a way of doing dialogue in a slightly bantering sense that doesn’t engage the emotions entirely. And then there’s a way of doing it which is truly felt, and then it does engage the emotions. The simple point I’m making is that for the film to be that successful it had to work on an emotional level. I must have had 50 people coming up to me saying, “Oh, it was such a brilliant thing that The little boy in the film turned out to be [dramatist] John Webster.” But that’s not why Shakespeare in Love was a good movie.<br /> <br /> That’s the equivalent of a witty aside.<br /> <br /> Exactly. So what makes a play or a film right is something which I’ve come to believe in much more clearly and strongly in the second half of my career. My play Rock ’n’ Roll was only six or seven years ago, and I didn’t even think there was a love story in it. There hardly was, if you counted the pages. But I understood when the play was up on its feet that that man and that woman getting together at the end was the satisfaction in the play, not my smart remarks about what was going on in Communist Czechoslovakia or rock ’n’ roll, or whatever. The gift for dialogue isn’t what does it. It’s a line like I don’t care that does it.<br /> <br /> Has it happened that the gap between your understanding of your script and a director’s view of it ended less happily?<br /> <br /> Yes, I’m not always on the same side of the fence. With The Russia House, for example, I was and still am utterly enthralled by manoeuvring and infighting between people on the same side— in that case MI6 and the CIA. And I wrote the script on that basis. Of course, the studio saw a movie in which Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer were the love interest. And they were probably right. But when it came to the finished film, there was less of what had enthralled me and more of what didn’t particularly enthrall me, which was a love story coming to its happy conclusion.<br /> <br /> Has there been talk of a film adaptation of Rock ’n’ Roll?<br /> <br /> I’m sure there’s been talk of a film adaptation of half the plays I’ve written. There’s something significant about the fact it doesn’t happen, and I can’t make it happen. Actually, I took Hapgood, a play about spies, away once to make it into a screenplay. Three days later I stopped and gave the money back. I didn’t know how to revisit it. [Producer] Scott Rudin writes to me every six months about Arcadia being a movie, and if I ever wanted to direct again, that’s what I would do. The first thing you’d have to do with Arcadia is leave out half of it.<br /> <br /> Because film is a different animal?<br /> <br /> Yes, but I learned an interesting lesson when I adapted and Directed Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. It was about the interior and the exterior of filmmaking. The external thing, which I wasn’t expecting, was that the producer, Michael Brandman, found that people were much more receptive to kicking in a relatively small amount of money as required, if I were directing it.<br /> <br /> If one pauses at that, you think: That’s completely absurd—I’d never directed a film. The second thought is: That’s why. There was something potentially sexy about my directing my own play, never having done a film. And the fact is, if you’ve never done a film, you might turn out to be Orson Welles. Once you’ve done one, people know you’re not. But I knew I had to do it because I was the only person who wouldn’t be trying to defend the play from the filmmaker. In other words, here’s this “modern semiclassic” you’re mucking about with, and you might feel uncertain about what you’re supposed to be doing—whereas I didn’t. I was happy to add things, take things out. So that was enjoyable too.<br /> <br /> With your script for Parade’s End, you seem to have augmented the novel. Is that something you haven’t done before in adaptation?<br /> <br /> You’re right, and that’s why I was able to feel proprietorial about Parade’s End. I felt it was my piece because the novel didn’t begin to offer the concrete situations and dramatic momentum that a TV dramatisation would need. I just immersed myself in the entire book so I felt I had it in my consciousness to draw on, and then started writing without worrying about what was in the book and what wasn’t, and using events which are in the book but in a different place. I felt very much at home with the language the characters were using. So between what was coming from me and what was coming from Ford became blurred in my mind. To this day I have difficulty remembering whether some things came from me or not.<br /> <br /> The four books that make up Parade’s End are forbidding to read.<br /> <br /> But paradoxically, when instead of reading it for pleasure you’re reading it for work, it becomes fascinating. Ford’s work becomes fascinating. It’s full of thought. The characters are thinking things all the time that you want to use, but they’re not saying them. There’s no one to say them to.<br /> <br /> So you’re free to create them.<br /> <br /> You’re not only free to, it’s your obligation. What I had to do was go into history in order to augment the fiction. It wasn’t just including what happened in the book but pulling in events that were in the newspapers at the time.<br /> <br /> There’s something comically arbitrary about the way these things pan out. For Parade’s End, I was sitting in with the BBC and [production company] Mammoth and I said: “It’s five episodes.” And they said: “Five, jolly good.” But then I didn’t know how long each segment would be. I hadn’t decided that 59 minutes would be enough—and it wasn’t sometimes.<br /> <br /> That would be quite a restriction.<br /> <br /> But working within imperatives is part of what I see as enjoyable. Although I’ve done a lot of different things, I can see how they connect with my temperament. Because I can see, I’ve always chosen to work within impositions and restrictions. The Real Inspector Hound is basically an Agatha Christie play. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern has a locked-in timeline. And so on. So working within parameters has a deep appeal for me. And the appeal is frankly that it takes a lot of decisions away from me. I use words [speaking] to you like restriction and imposition, but behind that is the confession that I’ve chosen it and actually it suits me. So I’m now looking for a peg to hang a new play on.<br /> <br /> In the past you’ve been dismissive about your movie scripts.<br /> <br /> I didn’t have good experiences all the time at the beginning.<br /> <br /> You’re also modest about scripts that you’ve polished.<br /> <br /> Well, there are two different things going on there. Firstly, my understanding was and still is, that it’s bad manners to the writer to blab on about something that has someone else’s name on it. So whenever I’m asked to do work on a script, most of the time this is happening between friends, but I always feel there’s a tacit understanding that it’s anonymous and you don’t talk about it. Next thing I know it’s in a newspaper that I’ve worked on it. So I always try to downplay and backpedal because it seems bad manners to try and claim some credit on a piece which hasn’t got your name on it. The other thing is, if a script isn’t great, it’s unlikely to be a lot better because of what you’ve done to it. There’s something fundamental about an existing piece of work.<br /> <br /> Even though you’ve been hired to do a polish?<br /> <br /> Yes. There’s a handful of films which I’ve done something to at some point, but it hasn’t made them movies you’d want to boast about. This will go on because there’s something appealing to me about what is possibly a romantic notion, which is we’re a brotherhood and Sisterhood, a camaraderie who come to each other’s support and assistance. It’s an easy thing to feel if you’re mucking about with somebody’s work. I’m not sure it’s as easy to feel that if somebody else is mucking about with yours.<br /> <br /> I know you worked on The Golden Compass.<br /> <br /> Yes, I wrote a script for that first book of the trilogy. I don’t know how many directors were approached before and after I wrote it, but there was some delay in attaching a director to it. In the event New Line went with Chris Weitz, who always wrote his own scripts. My understanding is he didn’t want to read my script and never did. He didn’t want to be thrown by it, as it were. I also wrote the bible for books two and three and gave them that. I met Philip Pullman [author of the trilogy], talked to him a lot before writing the script, and ran into him after the film had come out. I remember him saying they’d done it wonderfully well. All the things that were difficult to do, the [CGI] bears and everything, he was very pleased with. But he was a bit rueful about the fact they’d forgotten the story. That simple phrase has somehow resonated in all the filmmaking one’s ever been involved in. You either forget the story or you don’t. And if you do, there’s a real problem.<br /> <br /> It had happened previously?<br /> <br /> With Billy Bathgate. I loved the book, thought it was a marvellous dramatic novel: this young teenager who falls into the ambit of Dutch Schulz and has a sexual affair with the gangster’s mistress, played by Nicole Kidman. I remember going to a casting meeting in New York with Robert Benton. There were a lot of photographs of young boy actors. I was shown the favourite. He was five foot 10 and he looked about 22 with a good tall body. He was a nice young actor, but I thought, We’re fucked, actually, because of what [author E.L. Doctorow] had written. This was a rite of passage—a child being taken up by a gangster’s moll. That was the story of the book, but not the film. In the film, this love affair was not dangerous in that way.<br /> <br /> But studio executives and some producers aren’t looking at the integrity of a story, they’re looking at hitting the widest demographics. It’s just a different set of imperatives for them.<br /> <br /> It is [sighs]. Being involved in a film is thrilling, then you stub your toe on things. The first film I ever wrote was The Romantic Englishwoman for Joseph Losey. Then something really exciting happened—there was the prospect of [German director] Rainer Fassbinder making a film in English, based on a book by Vladimir Nabokov called Despair. I wrote the script, didn’t go to the filming or anything. Before I knew it there was a print and a screening. And I realised Fassbinder and the movie had no irony. The script was written in an ironic vein, but it was played completely straight. So I felt I’d walked straight into a brick wall with my second movie. That made me a bit shy of films for a while.<br /> <br /> How do you feel about films in general now?<br /> <br /> There’s a wonderful movie by Paul Haggis called In the Valley of Elah. But why do I have to push it on people? Most people don’t seem to know about it. I’m thinking of that film as a corrective to a tendency in a blockbuster age which in a rather cruel way defines a lot of filmmaking now. The way I express that tendency is: “Advanced technique in the service of arrested development.” That covers a huge amount of product, all over the world, I would think. Yet people do get to make In the Valley of Elah. They make Amour. They get them made, despite the “windows” phenomenon. You know: There’s a window for that star, that director, or the combination of two stars. That is the window. Nobody ever says: “This script needs another two months, therefore the window has shifted.” There are times when they’ve got away with it, like Casablanca, when they didn’t know how to wrap it, I’m told. But mostly, what’s par for the course [is] they never got the script right.<br /> <br /> You said you used to feel shy about films. Is there still any wariness?<br /> <br /> No. I jumped at Anna Karenina. I love films and if something is straightforward and simple—“There’s a book; could you make a screenplay out of it?”—and if it appeals to me, it’s a redletter day and I’m a happy man. But it doesn’t happen often. What does happen is: “Here’s a book, here’s a script, would you like to do a number on this?” No, that doesn’t get to me.<br /> <br /> So it’s easy to resist that temptation?<br /> <br /> Very easy, because one has learned that our particular form of purgatory is to be committed to a screenplay which for one reason or another has turned into a labour. This is a mantra of mine: that the ideal at the end of it is not that you’ve been clever but you’ve been lucky. Things fall right, and you can hardly keep up with writing it down.<br /> <br /> Yet you’ve worked to varying degrees on several screenplays.<br /> <br /> I have a somewhat undeserved reputation for being prolific. I don’t feel prolific at all. Because three-quarters of the time I spend on a project is my attempt to get to the top of Page 1.<br /> <br /> “When I got the WGA Screen Laurel award, I tried to make a point. It was great, talking to a large room of fellow writers—a tremendously bonding experience and very moving because when I got up there, I was aware of a welling-up of welcome.”<br /> <br /> “If there’s anything God-given about writing, with me it’s the gift of dialogue,” says Tom Stoppard. “Not to be falsely self-deprecating about this in a nice English way: I know I write nice dialogue. But I don’t know how I write nice dialogue.”<br /> <br /> <br />

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