The inspiration for Finding Forrester, a story about how an unlikely mentor helps
a young man reach for his dreams, came from an observation by screenwriter Mike Rich.
"I was doing an interview with someone who had done very interesting profiles on
some of America's greatest authors, and I noticed a trend emerge. So many of America's
greatest writers, J. D. Salinger or Thomas Pynchon, for example, were eccentric, reclusive
types," says Rich, a former news director and radio personality from Portland,
"I thought a story that showed how someone helped a great writer break through
that barrier of isolation and re-enter the world would make a terrific story,"
continues Rich. "It struck me that it would be even more interesting if the person
who brings the writer out is someone young - a teenager, for example- who is also in some
Director Gus Van Sant was also intrigued by the relationship posed by Rich' s script.
Van Sant, who saw Finding Forrester as a logical progression from and natural extension of
his Oscar-winning Good Will Hunting, explains the dynamic of the central relationship
between Forrester and his young friend, Jama1: "Jamal reads seriously and can write,
but to make things simple for himself, he keeps his abilities and his interests secret
from his friends. By chance he meets Forrester, a man who has actually accomplished in
life what Jamal would like to do with his. Forrester takes an interest in the young man
and what he is doing, and he helps him.
"Jamal finds a teacher in Forrester who not only instructs him in his work,"
continues Van Sant, "but also in life." Writer Mike Rich had faith in his
completed screenplay and compelling storyline, but he wasn't sure how to get it produced.
"I faced the typical roadblock for any first-time screenwriter, which is getting
somebody to read what you've written. A friend in the business suggested that if I really
believed in the script, I should enter it into a competition."
"prestigious Don and Gee Nicholl writing
Rich submitted Finding Forrester to the prestigious Don and Gee Nicholl writing
competition that is sponsored each year by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and
Sciences. The only rule is that authors must never have sold a screenplay before. In 1998,
the year of Rich's submission, there were an astonishing 4,500 entries. Forrester survived
several cuts to emerge as one of the five finalists, with a prize of US$25,000 attached.
The word was out in Hollywood about a terrific new screenplay, and everyone wanted to read
Jonathan King, president of production for Laurence Mark Productions, obtained a copy
of Rich's screenplay on a Friday night. He was so captivated by the drama between the two
leading characters that, after he finished reading the script, he read it through a second
time. Early Saturday morning he gave his copy to Laurence Mark, who was also taken with
"totally perfect and a truly exciting"
Mark purchased the script for his company, which is based at Sony Pictures
Entertainment's Columbia Pictures. Everyone at the studio was extremely pleased with the
acquisition - so much so that when John Calley, Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman and
Chief Executive Officer, had lunch with Sean Connery soon after, he gave him the
"This was a tremendous stroke of inspiration," Mark says. "Sean Connery
is not someone you might immediately think of for the role of William Forrester, but if
you ponder it for a moment, he's totally perfect and a truly exciting choice."
Connery's company, Fountainbridge Films, is also based at Columbia. He and his partner,
Rhonda Tollefson, president of the company, are constantly on the search for good material
that they can develop for the actor to produce and possibly appear in.
"a bit of a misanthrope"
"In the eight years that I've worked with Sean, I've noticed that seldom can you
discover a role for him as an actor that isn't something he's already played before,"
Tollefson says. "The character of Forrester immediately stood out as something
different. Sean loves literature. The idea of playing a Pulitzer Prize-winning author held
a lot of appeal for him. The fact that the writer was a recluse and a bit of a misanthrope
made it even more interesting."
But Connery's interest went beyond just playing the role of Forrester. Connery not only
decided to star in the film, he and Tollefson agreed to join Laurence Mark as producers.
"a constructive story about friendship"
"This is the kind of film I like: a contemporary drama that tells a constructive
story about friendship," continues Connery. "The last film I did about
friendship was 'The Man Who Would Be King,' and that was more than 25 years ago. I also
think the literary motifs original and very entertaining, too."
Connery looked forward to playing a significant role in the further development of the
screenplay along with Mark, Tollefson and Mike Rich. "I thought writing the
screenplay was the hard part. Little did I realize that my work was really just
beginning," Rich says with a laugh. "I hadn't written the role with Sean Connery
in mind. Now I had to further refine the character. The first thing to do was to fill in
the Scottish background, but there were other aspects that Sean came up with that never
occurred to me.
"We made him more reclusive, more eccentric, more compassionate. This is a guy
who's ingratiating on one page and infuriating on the next," Rich says.
"tough, cranky, brilliant"
Connery wanted the secrets of the character's background and the conflicts he carries
in his soul to remain unrevealed in the drama for as long as possible. And, as an actor
renowned for playing powerful leading men - hardboiled heroes who beat the odds - he was
intent on stressing Forrester's more vulnerable aspects. Yes, the character was tough,
cranky , brilliant, hard-drinking - but he also had his fears.
"Sean is brilliant at nuancing character," Tollefson says. Mark concurs.
"Sean's character notes were amazing," he says. "It was all in the details.
For instance, it was Sean's idea to make Forrester a birdwatcher. Birdwatching is the
reason he's always looking out his window at the world, and why the world below sees him
looking and wonders why."
Published March 29, 2001