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HOLLYWOOD NOTES: JANUARY 2002

Nick Roddick notes: Julia Roberts (several times, with and without George Clooney), Jim Carrey, (Howard Hughes), Michael Douglas, Kirk Douglas (together at last – with Fred Schepisi), Catherine Zeta-Jones, the Coen brothers, Eric Bana … and many more in this fascinating tease of who’s doing what in Hollywood. Or about to.

It happened while he was casting Notting Hill, recalls British producer Duncan Kenworthy. Julia Roberts walked into the restaurant where they were due to meet and said simply, “Hi, I’m Julia!” There were two things that surprised Kenworthy, he says. One, that, after months of waiting for agents to return his calls, he was actually talking to the star herself. And two, that she felt she needed to tell anyone who she was.

Well, it looks as though Roberts - seen most recently in (and out of) the currently fashionable fat suit in America’s Sweethearts and giving George Clooney as good as she got in Ocean’s Eleven - has been saying “Hi, I’m Julia!” quite a lot recently. Titles expected to contain a dose of her distinctive charm over the next year or so include Mona Lisa Smile, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and, possibly, Perfect Stranger.

Smile, which is due to go in front of the cameras in the eastern US some time early this year, is about a Berkeley graduate who goes to Wellesley to teach in the fifties. For readers not immediately familiar with the US college system, Berkeley is in California and Wellesley… well, isn’t. Since the fifties was the most totally conservative decade in recent US history and that, even then, Berkeley was a pretty radical place, you end up with a rather combustible mixture. Sort of Goodbye, Mrs Chips, but the other way round. The film is being made by Revolution Studios in conjunction with Roberts’ own production company, Shoelace Productions. And, no, I don’t know why she called it that, either.

Confessions, on the other hand, seems to have been around for ever (although in fact the project is only a little over a year old). Based on the memoirs of US game-show producer Chuck Barris, it first emerged as a Mike Myers project early last year. Then, in what didn’t necessarily seem the most obvious move, it found a place on George Clooney’s lengthy ‘To do’ list. Then the financing fell through. Finally, it landed up with Clooney and Steven Soderbergh’s production company, Section Eight (which did Ocean’s), and finally looks set to take off along Miramax’s runway.

Baris, it transpired from his memoir, only produced game shows as his day job: his real role in life was a lethal CIA operative. The film is, of course, a comedy. Anyway, Clooney will make his directorial debut on the film from a script by Being John Malkovich’s Charlie Kaufman. He will also star, alongside Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore and, hopefully, Roberts.

Confessions will be the third Roberts/Clooney/Soderbergh collaboration, after Ocean’s and the low-budget Miramax quickie How to Survive a Hotel Room Fire.

Perfect Strangers, finally, is scheduled to be the next film by Quills director Philip Kaufman, and will again see Roberts’ Shoelace teaming up with Joe Roth’s Revolution. Roberts will play a female journalist who uses the ‘net to help solve the mystery of who murdered her friend and promises shady goings on in cyberspace.

NO MORE MR FUNNY GUY

You have to hand it to him: Jim Carrey keeps trying those serious emotional roles. So far, however, he has done it only about once a year. First there was The Truman Show, then Man on the Moon and now Majestic.

Mind you, when you get involved in as many movies as Carrey does, some of them are bound not to be laughing matters. But the next bunch of projects to which the star’ name is attached skew the balance distinctly away from his trademark rubber face. Of the three, only the first seems to have any comic elements at all.

That one is a Gary Ross comedy which Carrey is due to start shooting in March 2002. Ross, whose notable screenplays include the Tom Hanks comedy Big, more recently wrote and directed Pleasantville, that cable-TV stand-by about a black-and-white burg that goes full-colour when it discovers sex. The new comedy is not entirely naturalistic, either: it’s about a guy (Carrey) who is haunted by his dead wife as he tries to begin a new relationship with a younger woman - a process which Ross described as “both funny and poignant”.

After that, however, things start to get really serious. The next project tentatively on Carrey’s list is Children of the Dust Bowl, based on a non-fiction book by social historian Jerry Stanley about the mass westward migration in the thirties and forties which inspired Woody Guthrie’s best songs and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. The film focuses on the story of a teacher who tackled the problem of giving the ‘children of the dust bowl’ some education, setting up a school in what became known as ‘Weedpatch Camp’. The real life character, Leo Hart, was until recently teaching at Cal State Bakersfield (which is where Stanley came across him). Carrey will play him in the film, as well as producing alongside Rob Cohen, and Stacey Sher, Michael Shamberg and Danny De Vito of Jersey Films (which produced Man on the Moon).

Children will apparently be made once the Ross comedy has wrapped, and will be followed on the Carrey CV by the long-mooted Howard Hughes biopic (one of several), based on Hughes: The Private Dairies, Letters and Memos by Howard Hack (now what kind of name is that for a writer?). Christopher Nolan (Memento) is adapting it for the screen and will also direct the film.

Others eyeing the life and times of the reclusive (and hygienically challenged) multi-millionaire include (or have at one time included) Michael Mann, Leonardo Di Caprio, Milos Forman, Edward Furlong and Nicolas Cage. All of which indicates that Hollywood’s least charming trick of the past couple of decades - ignoring a subject for 50 years, then making two movies about it in the space of 12 months - could be due for a comeback.

FAMILY AFFAIRS
Movie star marrying other movie stars is not all that unusual. After all, who is a movie star going to think of as a worthy partner if not another movie star? Or, to put it a different way, who is going to put up with them? Marriages outside the business - or ‘this town’ as they say in Hollywood - seem to last even less long than ones inside it. But we’re not talking star marriages here: we’re talking dynasties - as in the Barrymores, the Fondas… and now the Douglases. So far, Michael and wife Catherine Zeta-Jones have appeared in one film together (Traffic), though never in the same scene. But Michael and father Kirk have never appeared together in a film, although they have both, over the years, made the obligatory noises about “…if the right project came along”.

Now, finally, it apparently has. It’s called Smack in the Puss, and it looks like being directed by Fred Schepisi, whose career is on a critical high following the recent success of Last Orders. Shooting is due to begin next month (February) for Douglas junior’s production company, Furthur Films, and there even rumours that Douglas junior’s junior - son Cameron Douglas - will play a part as well.

The script - by Jesse Wigutow - found Furthur when its writer was angling for a job directing Michael in the movie adaptation of Arthur Miller’s The Ride Down Mount Morgan. Wigutow got the job - and another one as well, which is directing Smack in the Puss, a comedy on the ever-popular American dysfunctional family theme. Oh, and he’s also written David Fincher’s next film, Seared, which will star Brad Pitt and is based on Kitchen Confidential, the bestseller in which chef Anthony Bourdain revealed the horrors of working at the cookface of a top New York restaurant.

But to get back for a moment to the Douglas family, and Catherine in particular. Having proved her comedic skills with America’s Sweethearts, she is now looking to take things even further down that route by collaborating with the Coen brothers on Intolerable Cruelty for Universal.

As usual these days, Joel will direct, with Ethan producing in the story of the ex-wife of a divorce lawyer who is so pissed off with him that she decides to ruin him - except that the process of doing so rekindles some of the old spark.

Zeta-Jones will play the wife, with George Clooney - who last worked with the Coens on O Brother, Where Art Thou? - as the lawyer husband. The whole thing is apparently a dark screwball comedy in the style of Howard Hawks classics like Ball of Fire, and will go into production when Zeta-Jones is through with the musical, Chicago. The Coens, meanwhile, have temporarily given up on plans to produce and direct Brad Pitt in the Japanese-set drama To the White Sea.

AT LAST THE SEVENTIES SHOW
With flares, knitted tank tops and other fashion disasters making an improbable comeback and Charlie Angels II on a fast track, two more of the top shows on seventies television are getting closer to big-screen playdates: The Incredible Hulk and Starsky and Hutch.

The Hulk project, of course, has received column inches here before, partly due to the fact that Ang Lee, a director who seems able to turn his hand to more or less anything, is lined up to handle the movie version of the story of mild-mannered Dr Bruce Banner whose uncontrollable green alter ego appears whenever her gets angry. It has all now moved several steps further forward, with the casting of Australian comedian Eric Bana - who made his acting debut in the grisly biopic Chopper and has since co-starred in Black Hawk Down - as the unfortunate Banner. And Jennifer Connelly - who seems finally to have graduated from smouldering small-town sexpot roles thanks to Requiem for a Dream and A Beautiful Mind - will play Betty Ross, the scientist who is a close friend of Banner (but less fond of the Hulk).

And Ben Stiller, fresh off Zoolander, is reported to be trying to set up a movie version of Starsky and Hutch, playing Starsky (originally played by Paul Michael Glaser) to Vince Vaughn’s Hutch (that part, of course, was played on TV by David Soul). How serious all this is, I don’t know. But Stiller is also attached, among other projects, to the Farrelly Brothers’ Stuck on You, a script about Siamese twins that they wrote over a decade ago. Their dream casting for the film was reportedly Jim Carrey and Woody Allen, but they have now apparently settled for Stiller and Steve Martin. To find out exactly how the age difference between the two twins (in both versions of the cast) is accounted for, I guess we’ll all have to wait for the film.

Published January 17, 2002

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Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Kirk Douglas


Julia Roberts


Jim Carey


Ben Stiller







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