Writing films isn’t glamorous work. Audiences know the celebs. They could even know the directors. But screenwriters not often turn out to be famous. One of the few who did was Robert Towne. As you may anticipate from a guy who was shut with Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty and Tom Cruise, Towne had some nice tales. He shared a number of of them with Lawrence Grobel in this interview from the October 1998 concern of Movieline magazine.
Author/director Robert Towne, who wrote what many individuals assume is the most effective screenplay of the final 30 years, Chinatown, talks about all the things from how he discovered to write down by watching Jack Nicholson act to why Billy Crudup ended up enjoying the position he initially meant for Tom Cruise in his new film Without Limits.
By any commonplace, Robert Towne, 62, is one of probably the most influential and sought-after skills in Hollywood. Back when Robert Redford was one of the most well liked actors in town, producer Robert Evans stated, “I would rather have the next five screenplays from Robert Towne than Robert Redford’s next five pictures.” That was because Towne, who’d written the Oscar-winning script for Chinatown, which was destined to be one of the most-studied scripts in cinema, invariably created screenplays that breathed drama, subtlety and depth of character–and made for nice performances from powerful actors.
Towne is a man who likes to work with associates, and his associates are likely to make memorable films. He worked with Jack Nicholson on The Last Detail, Chinatown, The Missouri Breaks, Drive, He Stated, and The Two Jakes. With Warren Beatty he started by doing a rewrite of Bonnie and Clyde, then labored on The Parallax View, Shampoo, Heaven Can Wait, Reds, and Love Affair. For his good friend Tom Cruise, he started with Days of Thunder, then did work on The Agency and Mission: Unimaginable, and now Cruise has produced Without Limits, the story of legendary runner Steve Prefontaine, which Towne wrote and directed. Towne has also had his hand in some three dozen different films, rewriting scenes or complete scripts, principally without credit. Although his identify might or will not be hooked up, his signature is on The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), Villa Rides! (1968), The New Centurions (1972), The Yakuza (1975), Marathon Man (1976), Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984), Swing Shift (1986), 8 Million Ways to Die (1986), Robust Guys Don’t Dance (1987) and Frantic (1988). He has directed three of his own screenplays: 1982’s Private Greatest and 1988’s Tequila Sunrise, in addition to the brand new Without Limits.
Towne grew up in San Pedro, California, working summers as a business fisherman, dabbling in mortgage banking and even promoting houses one summer time within the San Fernando Valley. He studied appearing with Jeff Corey, where he first met Jack Nicholson, they usually each apprenticed with B-Filmmaker Roger Corman. Towne ended up behind the digital camera quite than in entrance of it, however making allowances for the variations between a writer and an actor in scale of fame, Towne’s renown for finesse with a screenplay is the same as Nicholson’s fame for finesse on the display itself.
LAWRENCE GROBEL: Individuals outdoors the business first heard of you when Francis Coppola accepted his Oscar for The Godfather and thanked you for writing a particularly necessary scene. Did his acknowledgement shock you?
ROBERT TOWNE: I knew he was going to do it. Francis had asked if I needed screenplay credit and I stated, “What the fuck for? It was just a scene. When you win the Academy Award, thank me for the scene.” Understanding Francis, I knew he’d do it.
Q: Do you know the film was going to be a basic?
A: It was apparent. I’d seen about 75 minutes of the footage and I was surprised. I informed Francis it was the best footage I’d ever seen in my life. And I might see the look in his eye: he thought I used to be both a kiss-ass or nuts. He’d been so crushed up by other individuals through the course of that movie.
Q: What was the scene you wrote?
A: In his novel, Mario Puzo didn’t have a scene between Michael and his father passing on the mantle, and Francis felt that their relationship was never going to be resolved without this scene. He had no time to assume–he was going to lose Marlon [Brando] and the scene needed to be ready for his final day of capturing. So I needed to keep up all night time to write down it.
Q: How did Brando obtain it?
A: He was in his make-up chair and he stated, “Read it to me.” “Read it to you?” “Yeah.” “Both parts?” “Yeah.” That immediately pissed me off, as a result of I assumed, “Well, this fucker’s got to know that’s an intimidating thing to do to anybody.” I made up my thoughts about one factor: I ain’t gonna read this nicely. [Laughs] Appearing for Brando is one mistake I’m not gonna make. I read it and he stated, “Read it again.” Then he did something that only Tom Cruise has ever finished since–he took that scene aside, line by line, pause by pause, phrase by phrase. He needed to know absolutely every little thing in my head that I might tell him about it.
Q: You’ve stated you consider it takes a certain vanity to put in writing a screenplay. Why?
A: My grandmother was a gypsy. She was bought to my grandfather. She used to read tea leaves and inform the longer term. Nicely, screenwriters have that in widespread with gypsies–they’re making an attempt to predict the longer term.What’s going to happen at some unnamed time and place when individuals are going to spend upwards of $50 million with actors they don’t know, with settings and climactic circumstances that no one knows. And also you’re saying that this screenplay shall be an effective story, one that may make the funding profitable. That’s a degree of vanity that’s silly.
Q: You’ve compared films to wars: the guy who turns into an skilled is the guy who doesn’t get killed.
A: That’s proper. And it’s like a warfare when it’s over: you’ll be able to’t tell whether you’ve gained or misplaced. It’s like making an attempt to tell who did what to whom at an orgy if you have been a participant.
Q: You’ve been via a quantity of bloody battles, notably if you directed your first film, Personal Greatest. There was a writer’s strike, you have been dropping your actors, producer David Geffen was making demands, and you sued Warner Bros. and SAG for breach of fiduciary obligation and fraud.
A: I survived, however my life changed endlessly over Private Greatest. In the event you’re dealing with a serious studio and in addition with a billionaire who’s hell-bent on opposing you, you’re not going to win that battle.
Q: What happened between you and David Geffen?
A: That’s a movie–about every part that occurred. This much I’ll say, and it’s not usually recognized: David had taken over the film in the course of the strike, but I hadn’t signed paperwork with him. The very fact is, there had been a deal struck even through the strike the place David had been financially coated, and that had not been revealed to me. Assuming on the time that he was at private danger, I had verbally agreed to two future commitments he had asked from me. [Later] he needed me to satisfy a contractual commitment that was based mostly upon details which [I’d found out] have been merely unfaithful. There have been rumors he was going to take away the movie until I signed the paperwork, so I stole the film. I used to be accused of many issues [at the time], together with being a junkie, but I wasn’t accused of the one thing that I used to be–which was a felon.
Q: Have you ever reconciled with Geffen?
A: We’re cordial. You’ll be able to’t afford not to be cordial. David Geffen is just too wealthy to be something however cordial with.
Q: Was the worst outcome of all of this that you simply misplaced the chance to direct your script for Greystoke?
A: Yeah, that’s the only really inconsolable event of my skilled life.
Q: Do you still feel that Greystoke was one of the best thing you ever wrote?
A: I don’t know. I feel it will have been the most effective film I’d ever executed if I’d been capable of make it.
Q: Your subsequent stab at directing was Tequila Sunrise with Kurt Russell, Mel Gibson and Michelle Pfeiffer. You’ve stated you hated making it, and also you hated taking a look at it. Why?
A: Tequila is a movie whose elements are higher than the entire. There’s some positive work–[cinematographer] Conrad Hall’s work, Kurt’s work, Mel’s; even Michelle’s is sweet. Michelle has been vocal about disliking the movie and disliking me.
A: She needed to do it, however she questioned why her character needed to sleep with the 2 totally different male characters. I stated, “That’s the character.” She needed to vary it. At that point I was fairly prepared to let her go–no hurt. But she stated she’d do it. The difficulties started there.
Q: Do you are feeling the top end result didn’t work?
A: It might have labored higher, but I wouldn’t attribute that to her performance. The underlying drawback with Tequila Sunrise is that for the film to make sense, either Michelle’s character was going to be killed or Mel’s character would have to die to stop it. Like the moth to the flame, he was interested in that method of life [high-stakes cocaine dealing], and it ends in demise. That was all the time the intent–to point out which you could’t get away with it. The studio would not permit the movie to end that approach. I figured I might make it work [their way], but I don’t assume I quite did.
Q: What did you discover about directing from these two movies?
A: That directing is extra feminine than lots of individuals assume. You’re so passive whenever you’re directing. Once you’re writing, you’ve received this entire world in your palms, but if you’re a director, from the minute you say “Action,” you’re the only one on the set that doesn’t have a job. You’re doing nothing however watching. All you’re doing is permitting yourself to answer what’s happening in front of your eyes–shortly sufficient that you simply’re not solely capable of really feel, but to articulate how you are feeling in time to inform the actors before the subsequent take.
Q: Do you agree with Movieline’s evaluation of your new film, With out Limits, that runner Steve Prefontaine’s story is finally concerning the triumph of dropping?
A: It’s a very good method of placing it. Right here was a guy who didn’t win the most important race of his life, didn’t end up with the lady he liked, and died. And but his life was a triumph. The voyage of self-discovery might finish in victory or in defeat, it doesn’t matter as long as you squeeze as much dwelling into your life as you’ll be able to.
Q: Is the guts of the film concerning the relationship between Prefontaine and his coach, Invoice Bowerman?
A: Oh sure.
Q: Was Donald Sutherland your first selection for Bowerman?
A: No. I didn’t need him. I needed Tommy Lee Jones. After which a number of other individuals. I knew I needed Billy Crudup [to play Pre] the minute I laid eyes on him. But I was very lucky, because I don’t assume I might have had anybody higher than Billy and Donald.
Q: You by no means thought-about a extra recognizable face than Crudup’s for Pre?
A: I had seen a pair of individuals. For silly and not so foolish reasons, Tom Cruise was originally going to do it. He liked the story and I wrote the script right after he completed Mission: Unattainable. But he stated, “I’m in my 30s, I’ve got a wife and two kids, everybody knows who I am, they’re not going to believe I’m 16.” And he stated, “I do love it and I promise you I will make sure we’ll get it done. I’ll produce it if you’d like.” And indeed, without Tom, this film wouldn’t have had an opportunity.
Q: When did you first get to know Cruise?
A: On Days of Thunder. We turned instantly friendly. Where we actually turned close was on Mission: Inconceivable. I was there for 5 weeks rewriting, and he and I labored by telephone and by fax every night time. Beneath that super strain we actually received to know one another. He was just enjoyable. There’s nothing like a man who’s a champ beneath strain.
Q: What did you assume of the movie?
A: I favored it. I had warned him, “I don’t think it’s going to be perfect in five weeks, but it’s a start.” I was making an attempt to do greater than might be achieved in that time-frame.
Q: You’re a person who has cultivated friendships with some pretty spectacular individuals–do you contemplate Cruise among them?
A: The relationship I’ve with Tom is in some ways the purest I’ve ever had with anyone. I all the time feel there’s nothing extraneous in my relationship with him.
Q: Do you ever speak about his beliefs or curiosity in Scientology?
A: If Scientology is what makes Tom Cruise what he is at present, I really feel about it precisely the best way Lincoln felt about Grant and booze: let’s give it to my different generals. Any question that I’ve ever asked Tom relating to our work has been answered with wit, humor and candor. That’s all I have to know.
Q: Let’s return to some of your earlier friendships. How close have been you with Jack Nicholson again in the ’60s?
A: Jack and I have been roommates. We have been on the similar degree on the Hollywood meals chain, the very backside. The great-looking women in our appearing class wouldn’t exit with us. So we shared goals and hope for the longer term. In that sense I was never much nearer to anyone than to Jack.
Q: Did you ever predict that Jack’s career would exceed his ambitions?
A: Part of my vainness is with the ability to say that I noticed this kid of 18 improvise for the primary time and I stated to him, “You’re gonna be a movie star.” And he stated, “Yeah?” And I stated, “And I’m gonna direct you.”
Q: You once stated that whenever you’re writing it’s exhausting not to think about Jack even when you’re not writing for him.
A: Positive. We have been in that class for seven years. I watched him improvise twice every week. I improvised with him. I discovered to put in writing as much by watching Jack as anything. He was so gifted. He drove residence the point that what an actor says just isn’t almost as essential as what’s behind what he says, the subtext. Also, you would not write a sentence too lengthy for him to say. His cadences have been such that he might carry it on and on and it will get funnier and higher. Even if I’d say, “I once drilled a whore with a glass eye who would then wink you off,” Jack would say “and wink you off for a dollar.” Part of it’s that his seemingly monotone delivery isn’t monotone at all. I discovered to take heed to different actors’ cadences.
Q: Do you agree with what Bob Evans as soon as advised me, that Chinatown made Jack’s profession?
A: Chinatown allowed Jack to take his place in a pantheon of film stars, in a means, as a result of of the maturity of the part. It steered both his cruelty and his heat.
Q: Are you estranged from Nicholson now?
Q: Because the failed Chinatown sequel, The Two Jakes?
A: Yeah. Does that have an effect on my admiration for his work or the fondness of my reminiscences of him? Under no circumstances. The Two Jakes wasn’t what prompted the falling-out. It was all the occasions that led as much as it. Jack and I have been, at totally different occasions in our lives, as shut as brothers. I liked him a lot–I liked his artwork, I beloved his spirit, I liked all the things about him. And I do know so much about him. I can’t truthfully sit here and inform you for public consumption what went flawed with our relationship without adopting a posture that might [unfairly] recommend it was his doing and not my doing.
Q: Would you say the identical things about Warren Beatty, with whom you have been additionally very shut at one time?
A: Sure. Each men have had such powerful influences on my life that what went flawed is far much less vital than the years we have been associates. With Warren, I turned very close on Bonnie and Clyde. I championed that script when 50 directors turned it down. So our closeness began on knowledgeable degree, whereas Jack and I began on a private degree. I can say basically that ours is a enterprise where all of us are tempted to confuse the private with the professional, and so much of mischief happens there.
Q: Is fame part of the issue?
A: Yes. I mean, look, you’re so close to somebody each day of your life and then out of the blue they turn out to be famous. A yr or two will go by and you don’t understand you haven’t seen them since you’re seeing them in everyday life the best way the public is seeing them–on TV, within the films, in magazines. You run into each other and say, “Let’s catch up and talk.” You assume you’re the same individuals, but time has passed by and also you’re not.
Q: Warren was talked about in political circles as a possible candidate. Did you ever assume he’d run for office?
A: Warren’s expertise have all the time been at their peak as a diplomat slightly than as a politician. His is the pressure of personal persuasion. Get him in a room of his peers and he can dominate. Get him in a public discussion board and he’ll fear about saying the incorrect thing.
Q: Who among at present’s younger actors would you examine the early Nicholson and Beatty?
A: Johnny Depp has something in widespread with early Jack. Jack started with Roger Corman, not as Warren did in pedigreed performs and with Kazan as his first film director. Jack was an outsider and Johnny was in 21 Bounce Road.
Q: Have you ever needed to work with Depp?
A: Depp ought to be one of the most important movie stars on the earth. Everybody seems to comprehend it. The difference between Tom and Johnny is that Johnny’s a bit vainer than Tom. Johnny doesn’t need to be caught lifeless in something that looks like he’s pleasing an audience.[Laughs] Tom doesn’t mind.
Q: You’re also close to Kurt Russell.
A: Kurt and I speak typically. Both Kurt and Tom are possessed of more bodily braveness than any two men I’ve ever met. Tom is more discreet than Kurt–by that I mean his decisions are more cautious. Tom makes decisions that he thinks will work and shall be difficult. With Kurt, I’ve teased, “You’re the best actor with the worst taste that I’ve ever seen.” And he laughs. He’s a ballplayer who’s been obliged to develop into a movie star now making $10, $15 million a movie, having been derailed in his primary, true job.
Q: Is there anybody you had a preconception about who turned out to be utterly totally different?
A: Bob Evans is an instance of a man you possibly can’t consider isn’t a flaming asshole [laughs], and he comes to be one of one of the best individuals on the planet. He’s surprisingly insightful and even sensible on films.
Q: Again once you have been going to be the director on The Two Jakes, which Nicholson ultimately took over, you forged Evans, who’d solely been a B actor earlier than he made his career as a producer, reverse Nicholson. What have been you considering?
A: Oh jeez … I forged him because if Bob might have behaved on-screen the best way he behaves on any given day of his life without appearing, he’d have given one of the good performances of all time. It was my vanity to assume I might get him to behave and never act. However he acted.
Q: Did Evans get indignant with you over this?
A: Oh yes. However who provides a fuck? I really like Bob. He’s received one of the good hearts.
Q: Was it Evans who obtained Polanski to direct Chinatown?
A: He pressured Roman into materials Roman won’t have picked himself: Rosemary’s Child and Chinatown. Roman [himself] picked Fearless Vampire Killers.
Q: You fought with Polanski over the ending to Chinatown and Polanski prevailed. Who was right?
A: Roman and I’ve been much misunderstood about this. We both agreed that it ended darkly. The only difference was I felt it was too melodramatic to finish it his means. The best way I had it figured was nearly as dark, but Roman felt it wanted that finale. I used to be fallacious and he was right. Roman is one of probably the most gifted filmmakers of all time. As the years have gone by, I see that he taught me greater than anyone. One of the best working relationship I ever had was with him. By far. He’s an enormous.
Q: What made Roman so good at narrative?
A: Guts is what makes Roman so good. A willingness to take the time with what other directors contemplate shoe leather and need to get via shortly. He understands that the credibility of a melodramatic story is to let the man take his time.
Q: You labored with him on Frantic, which didn’t end up so properly.
A: I feel it will have been more fascinating to make it the story a few man who goes to Paris to honeymoon together with his spouse to recapture one thing that had died together with his success, then loses his spouse actually, and through having an affair, remembers what it was like to like his spouse. The affair should have taken place that means, and didn’t.
Q: Any impressions of Harrison Ford?
A: I knew Harrison before that. He virtually did The Two Jakes. Harrison’s a strong presence, a really cautious, cautious, guarded man. One who, in a approach that I like, takes care of himself higher than I’ve been capable of take care of myself. He’s a great man. I requested him to play the lead in With out Limits. He by no means read the script. He was in the middle of The Satan’s Personal and stated he just needed to go residence. He’s an actor of larger range than his selection of roles would point out. However he does what he does better than anybody else on earth.
Q: What other writers have influenced you?
A: Like everyone else of my era, I was profoundly influenced by J.D. Salinger. He was the primary man who used language suggestive of what I heard on the street. He used refrain and a sort of careful imprecision. Behind his fixed phrase “If you know what I mean,” is an unwillingness to get too particular in speaking. In life, individuals are very often detest to say precisely what they mean, even when they will articulate it. Furthermore, we are likely to suspect people who find themselves too articulate.Who’re the actors who seem to be the ones that we consider? “Yup,” John Wayne. Henry Fonda. Gary Cooper. Clint. Monosyllabic guys. We are likely to consider they’re more trustworthy precisely because their feelings are virtually too necessary to have the ability to be put into phrases.
Q: What screenwriters influenced you?
A: One of the good scenes I’ve ever seen was between van Gogh and Gauguin in James Agee’s [unproduced] screenplay Noa Noa. Gauguin was a troublesome man who gave up banking and left his family to pursue portray. Van Gogh was in many ways a hothouse flower. There’s a scene by which they’re painting and a daddy longlegs will get caught within the paint on Gauguin’s canvas. When he brushes it away, van Gogh goes to pieces as a result of it loses a leg. He begins to wash the paint off the spider and says, “There, there, it will be all right.” Gauguin seems at him and says, “I want to paint your picture.” Then there are close-ups of the two men, with van Gogh unable to keep still, understanding he’s being judged. Gauguin finishes it and van Gogh asks to see it, and now the shoe is on the opposite foot, it’s Gauguin who’s nervous: “What do you think? What do you think?” “Well, Paul, it’s very good, but you painted me as if I’ve already gone mad.” That scene floored me, because it relies upon in its entirety on silences, these two guys and a canvas which you don’t actually see.
Q: What films have most affected you?
A: Renoir’s Grand Phantasm. Rules of the Recreation. Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Mild, Smiles of a Summer time Night time and_ The Seventh Seal_. Physician Zhivago, which one acknowledges as very sloppy in phrases of element, however Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia both moved me. Dr. Strangelove, Paths of Glory and 2001: A Area Odyssey. Big–I’m all the time grateful for the robust emotional effect of films. One of one of the best films ever made is Double Indemnity, in phrases of just dazzling expertise. It ages better than Sundown Blvd., although I like that one very much too. Definitely The Maltese Falcon. I acknowledge John Ford as fantastic, like Milton, however like John Milton, I’m not drawn to learn him. There’s one movie in the last five years that’s caught with me: One False Move. It’s in a category by itself. When have you ever seen a movie where for 60 % of it you haven’t any concept who the protagonist is? That’s the advantage of a movie without film stars.
Q: What would you wish to see taught to younger screenwriters immediately?
A: The screenwriters I’ve admired brought other disciplines and other lives to their writing. They worked in different professions, have been exposed to walks of life which gave them a broad perception into society. That bleeds into their movies, which provides them the vitality that perhaps screenwriters who go to cinema faculty and feed on previous films might use.
Lawrence Grobel interviewed Wesley Snipes for the August 98 challenge of Movieline.
Robert Towne: Out of Towne