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A 'Killer' Memoir

A producer's book on the making of 'Natural Born Killers' is talk of town, but Stone, Tarantino are keeping mum.

September 10, 1997|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The group was somewhere outside Taos when the drugs began to take hold, Jane Hamsher recalls in "Killer Instinct," her controversial new memoir of the making of "Natural Born Killers." Her book, published this week, has kicked Hollywood fax machines into overdrive over the past few months.

A first-time producer only a few years out of USC's Graduate School of Film, Hamsher found herself in early 1993 in a van with director Oliver Stone, she writes, scouting locations in the New Mexico desert, when one of Stone's production team started handing out psychedelic mushrooms. Soon many of the occupants of the van were laughing hysterically, at least until they spotted a police roadblock just ahead.

As Hamsher tells it, they hastily pulled into a Kentucky Fried Chicken parking lot. "Oliver reached around and grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, dragging me out of the van and into the KFC," writes Hamsher, who says she ordered a Pepsi while Stone ducked intoa men's room.

"When I returned to the parking lot, I looked to the field next door and saw Oliver running back and forth with his suede bomber jacket spread wide to catch the wind," she writes. "Oh, good, I thought. That'll throw the cops off." (For the record, a longtime Stone associate agrees with Hamsher's portrayal of the incident.)

Chock-full of outrageous firsthand tales, "Killer Instinct" is the publishing industry's latest attempt to exploit America's continuing fascination with inside-Hollywood revelations. Sold to Broadway Books by top literary agent Amanda "Binky" Urban, who also represents novelists Jay McInerney and Donna Tartt, the book has been a hot subject of debate long before its publication.

Hamsher describes Hollywood as a world "ruled by short, bald men with too much money and way too much power, who are driven equally by the universal desire to [have sex] and punish women who wouldn't [sleep with them] on a bet when they were nobodies." Her book chronicles the chaotic production of "Natural Born Killers," and is especially unflattering toward Stone and Quentin Tarantino, who wrote the original script before achieving stardom with "Reservoir Dogs."

Highlights include:

* A wine-drenched dinner with Stone and Peter Gabriel, where Stone demonstrated his knowledge of rock music to Gabriel and his teenage daughter by saying he'd always wanted to have sex with Grace Slick.

* Hamsher's full-page reproduction of a suggestive, crudely scrawled note she says Tarantino sent her at the Venice Film Festival, which reads in part: "You look great with blonde hair. When we sat next to each other at lunch, you wore these great shorts and your leggs [sic] looked so sexy, I couldn't keep my eyes off of them. Were you wearing them for me?"

* A day on the set where Juliette Lewis is so exhausted from nonstop filming that she falls asleep in the middle of a scene. After she is revived, she plays a fight scene so spiritedly that she breaks actor Tom Sizemore's nose. "She's awake now," Stone says when someone suggests that Sizemore receive medical care. "We're not stopping, let's go!"

The book has received respectful early reviews, with the Hollywood Reporter praising Hamsher's "clear sharp voice, its steel charm whetted on the stone heart of Hollywood." And Hollywood insiders hardly sound shocked by the book's portrayals of Stone and Tarantino. Both filmmakers have endured a wealth of criticism after their early successes.

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To industry insiders, the true surprise is that Hamsher and her producing partner, Don Murphy, had enough chutzpah to write such a bridge-burning book after having produced a grand total of one movie. Producer Art Linson made a dozen films, including such successes as "The Untouchables" and "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," before recounting his backstage adventures in "A Pound of Flesh." John Gregory Dunne labored in Hollywood for decades before publishing "Monster," his account of the making of "Up Close and Personal."

But Hamsher and Murphy, who are in their early 30s and now producing the upcoming Bryan Singer film, "Apt Pupil," relish their roles as Hollywood enfant terribles. "If you can't take Don and me in the book, then you certainly couldn't take us in person either," Hamsher explains. "It's just the way we are. I don't think we burned any bridges. The people who didn't like us before aren't going to dislike us any more because of the book."

If nothing else, the book offers an intriguing insight into Hollywood power politics. Hamsher and Murphy fought several messy legal battles acquiring the rights to "Natural Born Killers," which Tarantino had penned as an unknown screenwriter, never intending to direct it himself. At first, every studio turned down the script, put off by its violence. But when Tarantino catapulted to stardom, the script became a hot property. After Stone took control of the film, the young producers found themselves scrambling to retain a degree of influence over the project.

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