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Scott Rudin: unafraid of Virginia Woolf

The feisty producer found an acclaimed movie in the pages of a good book. He might try to do that again.

March 05, 2003|John Horn | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Scott Rudin has made 35 movies, but not until "The Hours" did he receive his first best picture Oscar nomination. One of Hollywood's busiest -- and most demanding -- producers, Rudin holds movie rights to many of the best books published in the last decade, from Michael Chabon's "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay" to Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections."

In making "The Hours," Rudin, whose temper is legendary, wrestled not only with Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning story about Virginia Woolf but also with the equally fiery Harvey Weinstein, whose Miramax Films co-financed (along with Paramount) the $22-million adaptation. A veteran of Broadway theater (he has won three Tonys), the 44-year-old Rudin spent an afternoon in his Times Square offices talking about art, commerce and prosthetic noses.

Question: You have said good books often make bad movies. Why did you think there was a good movie in "The Hours"?

Answer: There were two things that made me want to do it. I was tremendously moved by it, and I love what I refer to as the math of it. How do you tell the stories of three women and make it hang together? The two women in period stories live in these physical prisons, and one woman for whom there is no prison except her own grieving for what she has missed. I loved that as a battleground for a movie. It never occurred to me that all of the problems I have tried to avoid in adaptations were monumentally present in it.

Q: Because the book is novelistic and not inherently cinematic?

A: I just didn't think of it that way. When I was 18, Philip Kaufman approached me about casting "The Wanderers." I read the book and said, "This will be such incredible fun to cast." I got the job, and then I reread the book and said, "What did I get myself into? Where do I find the Ducky Boys? Where do I find the Wongs? It is just not possible."

Q: Why did you and screenwriter David Hare go through 30 screenplay drafts?

A: Always the balance of the three stories. It's very hard to think of a movie with multiple story lines in which there is not one story that is not a drag. It's not the story you want to be watching. In "The Hours," Clarissa (Meryl Streep) has the least tangible problem and is the hardest to dramatize. Her problem is basically ennui and loss. Somehow you have to make her past alive. Can you add a flashback? Probably not -- then it's not Meryl Streep. Do you do it in a voice-over? Probably not. And you have to keep the presence of Richard (Ed Harris) alive, when he only has two scenes. We worked on it the hardest, and I think it turned out to be the most moving. And it's very scary to put in big, long set pieces. The first scene between Meryl and Ed Harris is so long it's essentially a one-act play. And movies tend not to allow for that anymore.

Q: Why is that?

A: There's a general contempt for the audience. People are trained on a much faster style of storytelling now.

Q: Do you prefer working alone?

A: As opposed to working for two studios? In my experience, the studios will get together and decide which company is running the production. But it never really works that way. Everyone at both companies always wants to have some relationship, and it can be very time-consuming, and frequently they don't agree. When that happens, I will just say, "Guys. Work this out between yourselves. Come to me with one opinion, and I will deal with your opinion."

Q: Did that happen on this movie?

A: Yes. A couple of times, including the much-reported disagreements about the nose [Rudin wanted Nicole Kidman to wear a prosthetic and Weinstein did not] and the music [Rudin liked Philip Glass; Weinstein initially didn't]. I wouldn't have objected to either of those discussions, frankly, had they not gotten into the press. In the end, as the producer of the movie, I have to trust my own instincts. I can't follow someone else. I feel somebody has to be in charge.

Q: Was there a day when you thought "The Hours" wouldn't get made?

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