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WGA Members Prize 'Sensibility' and 'Braveheart'

Movies: Neither winner Randall Wallace, nor a spokesperson for Emma Thompson, would speculate on what the awards might mean to their film's Oscar chances.

March 19, 1996|ROBERT W. WELKOS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

One is a former seminary student who said that when he first learned Mel Gibson was interested in his screenplay "Braveheart," he didn't tell his wife where he was meeting the actor for fear she would show up and gawk "like Lucy and Ethel."

The other is a veteran British actress who became one of the year's most honored film writers after adapting the Jane Austen novel "Sense and Sensibility" into a screenplay.

Together, Randall Wallace and Emma Thompson walked away with top prizes Sunday night in Beverly Hills as the Writers Guild of America held its 48th annual awards ceremony to honor achievement in film, television and radio.

Both "Braveheart" and "Sense and Sensibility" are among five films nominated for best picture in next week's Academy Awards, but neither Wallace nor a spokesperson for Thompson would predict whether that the Writers Guild awards give either film a leg up in the Oscar race.

"I'd love to take some comfort in it," Wallace said, "but I'll just wait and see how the academy will make up its own mind."

Lindsay Doran, producer of "Sense and Sensibility," said she was also "wary of optimism" in what is shaping up as a wide-open Oscar race.

Thompson, the first actress to be nominated by the academy for writing and starring in the same film, did not attend the Writers Guild ceremony. Doran said she was on a long-planned vacation, her first in five years.

"She is some place with a beach and a palm tree," Doran said.

Doran said Thompson was thrilled to win the Writers Guild award, but the producer said it would have been understandable had the writers bypassed Thompson.

"I think a lot of writers would say, 'The hell with it. She's doing perfectly well as an actress. She doesn't need this,' " Doran said. "Somebody said in one of the reviews, 'We love her so much as an actress that she has to earn our respect as well.' And, it's true. I think everybody thought that writers would be kind of grudgy about this. It certainly is not the case. I think she'll really be thrilled that they overcame their natural intent to hate her guts."

Doran said Thompson currently is looking for another writing project, but has not yet selected one.

*

Wallace, who was given the award for best original screenplay, gave a moving acceptance speech in which he told his fellow writers: "I'd rather be a man in your eyes than a king in any others."

Wallace cut one of the most colorful figures of the evening, arriving for the festivities decked out in a Scottish kilt.

The screenwriter, whose film about the fight for political freedom in medieval Scotland has received 10 Academy Award nominations, was asked if he would attend the Oscars similarly attired.

"I don't know," the author said sheepishly. "I guess I might. I thought about it, but I wonder if everybody would think it's too much like a costume."

Wallace said "Braveheart" was the film in which he "found my voice as a writer." Twenty years before, at a writing class at Duke University, Wallace said a teacher had given him some advice: "Find a vessel big enough to put your passion."

Wallace said he did not try to send any specific message to audiences with his film. "I think if you tell a story of the heart, if you tell a story that is your own inspiration, people will find many messages in that story--sometimes conflicting messages. I have heard that President Clinton has seen 'Braveheart' many times and thinks it's a fantastic movie. I have also heard that [House Speaker] Newt Gingrich and all sorts of guys on the other side of the [political] fence have seen it and loved it. I'm thrilled with that."

"Braveheart" was a screenplay written without compromise, Wallace said, and he knew that he had to convey those ideas to Gibson honestly.

"I walked around my neighborhood and prayed to God Almighty that I would not become a kiss-ass," Wallace recalled. "That I would not try to tell Mel what I thought he wanted to hear, but what I believed to be the truth and that was the only value that I would have. . . . It was easier going into that meeting [with Gibson] because I had written that story without compromise."

(Winners of Writers Guild awards have frequently gone on to win the Oscar, although the organization says it has kept no records on how often this has occurred. In some cases, the Oscar-winning screenwriters weren't eligible for a WGA award because the film was produced by a company that was not a signatory to guild's minimum basic agreement, as was the case last year when Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary won the original screenplay Oscar for "Pulp Fiction.")

In long-form television awards, novelist Michael Crichton won for NBC's "E.R." pilot and Chris Gerolmo won for the HBO movie "Citizen X." Best episodic drama went to Lance A. Gentile for the "E.R." episode "Love's Labor Lost," while the comedy award went to Joe Keenan of "Frasier" for an episode called "The Matchmaker."

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