After playing Iago on stage, Oliver Parker wanted to play the role on film so badly that he decided to write a screenplay of Othello. As he got deeper into the project, though, directing held more interest to him in starring. "So I sacked myself," he says, "and that began my career."
Since filming "Othello" in 1995 with Laurence Fishburne, Irène Jacob and (in the newly vacated role of Iago) Kenneth Branagh, Parker began work on several aborted projects before returning to a film adaptation. His second film, Oscar Wilde's "An Ideal Husband," closed the Cannes Film Festival and opens June 18 in New York and Los Angeles. The cast includes Rupert Everett, Cate Blanchett, Julianne Moore, Jeremy Northam and Minnie Driver.
Two producer friends had recommended An Ideal Husband to Parker almost simultaneously. "I had a look at it and decided that it wasn't really a good idea. Then I saw it on stage and was further convinced that it wasn't a good idea. But something in it stuck in my head, and I begun working on a rough draft." Five drafts later, he felt he had something that could actually work.
A fair amount of plot exposition changed along the way, well beyond the usual opening up of scenes to, as Parker calls it, "ventilate the story." The most obvious modification to the play is an expansion of the role of Mabel (Driver), the Beatrice to Everett's Benedick. "I thought Goring [Everett's character] has in the past done really well with other people's problems but not so well with his own. I wanted to change that a bit by raising the stakes for him and Mabel." Moore's villainess has also been fleshed out a bit, and the basic plot thrust has been streamlined. "I think Wilde was almost satirizing the conventional narrative, whereas we play it a bit more straight." Both Blanchett and producer Uri Fruchtmann have stated that Parker's screenplay is superior in some ways to the original.
Parker has talked about adapting Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest for the screen, but first he wants to delve into horror, of all things. He's in discussions about directing a new thriller with a John Sayles script, and he may adapt Clive Barker's cult classic "Hellraiser" for the stage. The latter project would mark a sort of homecoming for Parker, who dropped out of Cambridge University to work with Barker's phantasmagoric theatre company; he calls those three years his most satisfying in the theatre. Parker was delighted with the cast that came together for "An Ideal Husband." "We have Mr. Wilde to credit for the quality of this cast. These people were expressing interest before they'd even seen a script." Parker credits much of the current Wilde vogue to a similar fin de siècle mood today. "Without being heavy, he had something of the prophet in him. For me, he will always be a modern man."
It's not uncommon to see screenplays by some of the bigger playwrights (David Mamet, Tom Stoppard, John Patrick Shanley), but a younger batch of would-be hyphenates has just recently made its way to Hollywood. Projects announced at Cannes included scripts by Phyllis Nagy (The Scarlet Letter) and Doug Wright. Wright is adapting his 1995 Quills for director Philip Kaufman as well as writing "The Church of Dead Girls" for Joel Schumacher. (Shifting from the director of "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" to the man behind "St. Elmo's Fire" is about as big a stylistic leap as you can make.)
But the current "It" playwright-turned-screenwriter has to be John Logan, whose Leopold and Loeb play Never the Sinner earned several strong notices off-Broadway in 1997. This year will see no fewer than four Logan scripts reach the screen: "RKO 281," the biopic behind the making of "Citizen Kane," with John Malkovich and Melanie Griffith; "Gladiator," the new Ridley Scott action opus; "Bats," a relatively low-key project with Lou Diamond Phillips; and "Any Given Sunday," Oliver Stone's football movie with Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz and a slew of other stars.
Cutting-Room Floor: Notwithstanding Alex Cohen's plans to revive Waiting in the Wings this fall, Noel Coward's centenary hasn't received much fanfare in the United States. London, however, has been mounting productions left and right. One of Coward's more obscure works, the 1951 comedy Relative Values, will begin filming next month in the Isle of Man. Julie Andrews and Stephen Fry are slated to star; pneumatic starlet Denise Richards ("Wild Things") plays a gauche movie star with designs on the son of Andrews' character. ... Lindsay Duncan recently starred in Harold Pinter's Ashes to Ashes Off-Broadway. Now the two are teaming up in front of the camera, in a new film of Jane Austen's "Mansfield Park." Pinter recently had a small role in the film of "Mojo." ... Disney may be focusing more and more on stage musicals, but its newest animated film, "Tarzan," sounds like a step away from an integrated score. Virtually all of the songs are sung as narration rather than plot numbers. Can it be? A Brechtian Disney flick?
Eric Grode is New York bureau chief of Show Music magazine and a theater critic for Back Stage.