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COVER STORY : Meet the New Addams Family : The weird brood from Charles Addams cartoons and '60s TV is back in a big-name, $30-million movie

March 31, 1991|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN | Patrick Goldstein is a frequent contributor to Calendar. and

"It's a pretty extraordinary situation to be working with a studio that has to sell the movie three-quarters of the way through the film," Rudin says. "When we started, we were at close to $25 million. But we've added new scenes that probably constitute about 15% of the script. So I suspect we'll end up in the high 20s--we might even hit $30 million. But Orion approved everything all along the way."

Sonnenfeld has learned to ignore all the tumult and focus on shooting the film. "I've just tried to put it all out of my mind," he says. "When things were at their worst, Scott had the best idea of all. When we were showing our teaser trailer in the theaters, he said we should just pass a hat down the aisle, asking for contributions.

"We could say, 'If you like the trailer, help us raise the money to finish the movie.' "

A bearded, bearlike bundle of energy who looks like a hyperactive rabbinical student, Rudin also seems unruffled by all the uproar. "I just take every battle as it comes," says the producer, who is a constant presence on the set. "You have to keep your eye on the prize. So I just try to remember two things. One--how good the movie is."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday April 14, 1991 Home Edition Calendar Page 87 Calendar Desk 3 inches; 76 words Type of Material: Correction
Concerning "Meet the New Addams Family": Lady Colyton--the widow of cartoonist Charles Addams, creator of the Addamses--wrote the Times to clear up information supplied to writer Patrick Goldstein by the film's production company: She is not executor of the late cartoonist's estate and never has owned the rights to the Addams Family characters. She says that Charles Addams was alive when the Orion deal was made and was the principal in that agreement. She adds that it was never a condition of the Orion deal that Scott Rudin be producer.

Rudin flashes a quick grin. "And two--that it's almost over."

The producer says events unfolded so fast that he first learned of Orion's plans to sell the film from a reporter. "I first heard the rumor from (Hollywood Reporter writer) Andrea King, and I told her she was crazy," Rudin recalls. "After all, I was working with the Orion guys every day. They'd certainly tell me. And I had a great relationship at Paramount, where I have another movie. So surely they'd tell me.

"But when I was on the phone with (Paramount production chief) David Kirkpatrick, suddenly (then-studio chief) Frank Mancuso got on the line and said, 'So how's your movie?' "

Rudin throws up his hands. "That's when I realized, 'Wow. Something is going on!' "

With the film now at Paramount, where Rudin has an exclusive production deal, concerns about its future have abated. With the movie now scheduled for a Christmas release, Sonnenfeld's biggest challenge has been keeping track of the much-revised script.

Written by the "Edward Scissorhands" team of Caroline Thompson and Larry Wilson, it was substantially rewritten, says Rudin, by Paul Rudnick, a novelist--and a longtime Rudin pal. The new version, Rudin says, has an archness and theatricality that was missing in the original script.

Sonnenfeld confesses he's a little overwhelmed. "This script has gone through more rewrites than all the other films I've worked on put together. You know how the colors of the pages change whenever you have a new revision? Well, we've gone through every color that's possible to Xerox. Now we're on to the ones that come out black."

Anjelica Huston may be dressed in black but you would have to color her mood bright. After playing a concentration camp survivor in "Enemies: A Love Story" and a mob bagwoman in "The Grifters," both of which earned her Oscar nominations, she's clearly relishing her role in this spirited farce.

"There's something really great about doing comedy," she says, lighting up a cigarette in her trailer. "It's like having a secret that you keep in your cheek all day. It's not as ragged as playing dramatic parts. It doesn't carry all that emotional baggage."

It's easy to see why Huston was the filmmakers' first choice to play Morticia. A bright, thoughtful woman from an extraordinary film family, Huston has an austere, regal air, even when sitting in a cramped trailer, wearing sweats, with her hair pulled back in a knot.

"We always wanted Anjelica," says Rudin. "She's a hothouse flower, she's Mrs. Miniver in this movie, the mother hen of the family. She can be sweet and arch and then turn on a dime and be very passionate too."

Having grown up in Ireland, Huston's first exposure to the Addams clan was through Charles Addams' cartoons. Still, she acknowledges watching a few "Addams Family" episodes before the film went into production. "But I thought it was wrong to try to 'do' Carolyn Jones. She was the ideal Morticia. You couldn't really find any fulfillment doing her."

Instead, Huston screened a 1975 documentary called "Grey Gardens." Shot by the Maysles Brothers, it was a striking portrait of a pair of eccentric old women--both relatives of Jacqueline Onassis--who were found living ankle-deep in garbage and cat droppings in a decaying East Hampton mansion.

"I was fascinated by the way they'd found a certain serenity in their eccentricity," Huston explains. "You realized that it didn't matter if everyone else thinks you're highly peculiar. You accept your own eccentricity."

Huston sounds as if she's found a similar serenity in her own work, which often finds her working from 5:30 a.m. until after dark. To see her trudge back and forth to the set, waiting endlessly for her call, you realize the glamour of moviemaking comes on Oscar night, not during the arduous days of location shooting.

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