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Now He's a Known Quantity

What if you followed your indie hit with a studio film starring Gwyn and Ben? Don Roos is feeling the pressure.

November 05, 2000|HUGH HART | Hugh Hart is an occasional contributor to Calendar

Ben Affleck calls his new film "Bounce" "the best work I've ever done." The trailer is testing through the roof among women. And Gwyneth Paltrow, playing a widowed housewife, was committed so thoroughly to her role that she dyed her famous blond hair brown for the part.

But writer-director Don Roos doesn't have time to think about any of that right now. He's worried about a stray high heel.

"I hear a clop," says Roos, sitting in Fox Studios' darkened editing room recently. He's surrounded by two producers, two publicists and four sound mixers. On screen, an airline employee crosses a carpeted area to deliver some bad news to Abby Janello (Paltrow), and Roos hears the harsh sound of high heels on tile.

"At 176 I hear a clop," he repeats, referring to the frame count, and the engineers spring into action. Glitch fixed, the boyish 45-year-old twirls around in his swivel chair, grabs a few wasabi peas and leafs through a tabloid while the engineers set up the next scene.

For the past three hours of this sound-mixing session, Roos has been picking nits--and there's more to come. After calling attention to an especially subtle chirping bird background, Roos teases one of the engineers: "Anna, I totally read your back. I want a mirror on your [mixing] board so I can see your eyes roll." Roos' breezy asides keep the mood light, but he's the first to admit that "Bounce," his first mainstream effort, due for release Nov. 17, is generating heavyweight expectations--both good and bad.

"The Opposite of Sex" marked his debut as a writer-director in 1998. It cost a very modest $4.8 million (and took in a very modest $6.4 million at the box office). The cast was made up of fine actors, but, except for "Friends" star Lisa Kudrow and a very grown-up Christina Ricci, they were not household names. And there was no interference from studio suits. The company that originally financed "The Opposite of Sex" "courteously and conveniently" went bankrupt during filming, Roos quips. But the snarky, hip comedy became an indie favorite and media darling, and Roos became a hot commodity around town.

"It's terrible because now they expect things from you; you're not underneath the radar like we were with 'Opposite of Sex,' " Roos explains a few weeks after the sound-editing session at a West Hollywood cafe, where he's dressed casually in faded blue jeans and untucked plaid shirt. "People love to be surprised, love to be delighted by the heretofore unknown."

But with "Bounce," notes Roos, "you have Ben and Gwyneth, a very public pair of actors, and Miramax, which is a very public studio. And Harvey [Miramax co-chief Harvey Weinstein] remains a very-out-in-front kind of character. So it all kind of sets you up for people deciding maybe they'll take all of us down a notch or two. That's what you feel. You feel more exposed."

The buzz on the film has been decidedly mixed in the entertainment press and on the Internet. The fact that its pre-Thanksgiving weekend release date is one of the toughest box office battles of the year--"The Grinch" with Jim Carrey and "The Sixth Day" with Arnold Schwarzenegger also open on the 17th--make for a risky venture.

Roos is also going out on a limb with the film's story. While on a business trip, self-absorbed advertising exec Buddy Amaral (Affleck) picks up a woman at the airport bar and gives his ticket to a man he's just met there. The flight crashes and the man dies. Ridden with guilt, Buddy tries to secretly make amends to the man's widow (Paltrow) and winds up falling in love. It's a dark, serious relationship story, and Roos is fully aware that adult dramas can be a tough sell.

"There are loads of romantic comedies, but when was the last time you saw an adult relationship drama [that worked]?" he muses. "Look at something like 'The Horse Whisperer.' It's very hard to do."

To be sure, "Bounce" is leavened with a few zingers. "Advertising--that's agenting without heart," one character jokes about Affleck's profession. But with "Bounce," Roos is ditching the irony that made "Sex" a critical favorite. He's delivering the straight stuff: an adult date movie about fate that just happens to star two of the most likable young actors in Hollywood.

Affleck's Buddy Amaral is not, however, especially likable. Says Roos, "At the beginning, he hasn't really given a thought to anybody, and you have to make the transformation believable. It can't be too much; you can't turn him into a god. It's a really delicate piece of acting that Ben did in the movie."

Affleck took on the project after the disappointing action film "Reindeer Games" because he admired Roos' work on "Sex," and was impressed with his intelligence and sense of humor. Once work began, Affleck admits, "it was extremely daunting. We had to have faith because it's basically Gwyneth and I, and Don, trying to make this story. There was no set pieces to hide behind. It's the scariest kind of movie to make.

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