Authors: William Goldman
Tags: #Biography & Autobiography, #Film & Video, #Nonfiction, #Performing Arts, #Retail
came about like this.
I got a call from Rob Reiner saying he was interested in this book by Stephen King and would I read it. He became interested when Andy Scheinman, Reiner’s producer, read it on a plane and wondered who owned the movie rights. The book had been in print for a while, was a number-one best-selling novel, standard for King.
They found out it hadn’t been sold—not for any lack of offers but because King wouldn’t sell it. He had disliked most of the movies made from his work and didn’t want this one, perhaps his favorite, Hollywooded up. Reiner called him and they talked. Now, one of the movies made from his fiction that King
Stand By Me,
which Reiner directed. The conversation ended with King saying sure, he would sell it, but he would have to be paid a lot of money and that Reiner would have to either produce or direct it.
Reiner, who had no intention of directing, agreed. He would produce. He called me. I read
I had read enough of King to know this: of all the phee-noms that have appeared in the past decades, King is the stylist. If he ever chooses to leave the world that has made him the most successful writer in memory, he won’t break a sweat. The man can write anything, he is that gifted.
is about a famous author who has a terrible car crash during a blizzard, is rescued by a nurse. Who turns out to be his number-one fan. Who also turns out to be very crazy. And who keeps him prisoner in her out-of-the-way Colorado home. It all ends badly for them both (worse for her). I was having a fine old time reading it. I’m a novelist too, so I identified with Paul Sheldon, who was not just trapped with a nut, but also trapped by his own fear of losing success. And Annie Wilkes, the nurse/warden, is one of King’s best creations.
When I do an adaptation, I have to be kicked by the source material. One of the ways I work is to read that material again and again. So if I don’t like it a lot going in, that becomes too awful. I wasn’t sure halfway through if I would write the movie, but I was enjoying the hell out of the novel.
the hobbling scene began.
Paul Sheldon has managed to get out of the bedroom in his wheelchair, and he gets back in time to fool Annie Wilkes. This is more than a little important to him, because Annie is not the kind of lady you want real mad at you.
Except, secretly, she does know, and in the next fifteen pages, takes action.
I remember thinking, Jesus, what in the world will she do? Annie has a volcanic temper. What’s in her head? She talks to Paul about his behavior and then she eventually works her way around to the Kimberly diamond mines and asks him how he thinks they treat workers there who steal the merchandise. Paul says, I don’t know, kill them, I suppose. And Annie says, Oh no, they hobble them.
And then, all for the need of love, she takes a propane torch and an ax and cuts his feet off, says, “Now you’re hobbled,” when the deed is done.
I could not fucking believe it.
I mean, I knew she wasn’t going to tickle him with a peacock feather, but I never dreamt such behavior was possible. And I knew I had to write the movie. That scene would linger in audiences’ memories, as I knew it would linger in mine.
The next half year or so is taken up with various versions, and I work with Reiner and Scheinman, the best producer I have ever known for script. We finally have a version they okay and we go director hunting. Our first choice is George Roy Hill, and he says
Then Hill calls and says he is changing his mind. We all meet.
And Hill, who has
in his life done anything like this, explains. “I was up all night. And I just could not hear myself saying ‘Action’ on that scene. I just haven’t got the sensibility to do that scene.”
“What scene?” (I am in agony—I desperately want him to do it. He is tough, acerbic, brilliant, snarly, passionate.)
“The lopping scene.”
What madness is this? What lopping scene?
“The scene where she lops his feet off.”
“George, how can you be so wrong?” (After
we have been through a lot together. The only way to
survive with George is to give him shit right back.) “That is not a
scene, that is a
scene. And it is great and it is the reason I took this movie and she only does it out of love.”
she lops his fucking feet off.
And I can’t direct that.”
“It’s the best scene in the movie when she
him. It’s a character scene, for chrissakes.”
He would not budge. And of course, since it was the most important scene and the best scene, it had to stay. A sad, sad farewell. We were about to send the script to
Barry Levinson when Rob said, “To hell with it, I’ll direct it myself.”
And so the lopping-scene poll came into my life.
Because Hill has a brilliant movie mind and you must pay attention. Rob had no problem directing the scene. But what if George was right? I, of course, scoffed—the
scene was a character scene, unlike anything yet filmed, and it was great and it was the reason I took the picture and it had to stay.
Still, we asked people. A poll was taken at Castle Rock, informally, of anyone who had read the script. “And what did you think of the lopping scene?” Rob would keep me abreast in New York. “A good day for the hobblers today, three secretaries said leave it alone.” That wasn’t exactly verbatim, but you get the idea.
Enter Warren Beatty. Beatty understands the workings of the town better than anyone. He has been a force for forty years, has been in an
number of flops, and whenever his career seems a tad shaky, he produces a wonderful movie or directs a wonderful movie and is safe for another half decade.
Beatty was interested in playing Paul. Rob and Andy met with him a lot and I spent a day there when the lopping scene came up. Beatty’s point was this: he had no trouble losing his feet at the ankles, but know that if you did that the guy would be crippled for life and would be a loser.
I said nonsense … it was a great scene … a character scene … was the reason I took the movie … Beatty waffled, casting continued. As did the lopping queries. I went on vacation as we were about to start, and while I was gone, Rob and Andy wanted to take a final pass at the script. I was delighted. They wanted it shorter, tighter, tauter, and are expert editors. When I got back, I read what they had done.
It was shorter, tighter, tauter—
—only the lopping scene was gone, replaced by what you saw in the movie—she breaks his ankles with a sledgehammer.
I got on the phone with Rob and Andy and told them
they had ruined the picture, that it was a great and memorable scene they had changed, it was the reason I had taken the job. I was incoherent (they are friends, they expect that) but I made my point. They just wouldn’t buy it. The lopping scene was gone now, forever replaced by the ankle-breaking scene. I hated it but there it was.
I am a wise and experienced hand at this stuff and I
when I am right.
And you know what?
It became instantly clear when we screened the movie. What they had done—it was exactly the same scene except for the punishment act—worked wonderfully and was absolutely horrific enough. If we had gone the way I wanted, it would have been too much. The audience would have hated Annie and, in time, hated us.
If I had been in charge,
would have been this film you might have heard of but never have gone to see. Because people who had seen it would have told you to ride clear. What makes a movie a hit is not the star and not the advertising but the word of mouth. So in the movie business, as in real life, we all need all the help we can get. And we need it every step of the way.
Casting Kathy Bates
“I’m going to write the part for Kathy Bates.”
“Oh, good. She’s great. We’ll use her.”
I was the first speaker, Rob Reiner the second. And lives changed.
I had seen Kathy Bates for many years on stage. We had never met but I felt then what I do now: she is simply one of the major actresses of our time. I’d seen her good-heartedness in
where she played a Texas cheerleader. I’d seen the madness when she played the suicidal daughter in
I had no sure sense that her talent would translate—a lot of great stage performers are less than great on film; Gielgud,
Kim Stanley will do as examples—but there is an old boxing expression that goes like this:
Bury me with a puncher.
And it was a moment in
Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune
that made me know she was the lady I had to be buried with. She plays a waitress who has a fling with a cook and at one point she is wearing a robe and he wants to see her body.
The scene was staged so that he saw her naked body and the audience
saw her face, and there was such panic in her eyes and at the same time, this wondrous
(Casting note: when
Michelle Pfeiffer, who I think is a brilliant character actress, played the same part in the movie, the same moment was there, but it didn’t work for me because Pfeiffer is so loved by the camera that all I kept thinking was, Why was she worrying when the worst that could happen would be a pubic hair maybe out of place?)
Anyway, Kathy got the part.
It was really almost that simple because Reiner had seen her on Broadway and thought she was as gifted as I did. We could have had almost any actress in the world. Obviously it’s a decent part—Kathy won the
Oscar for it—but the main reason so many women were interested is there is almost
for women out there nowadays. Sad but very true. Rob had lunch with Bette Midler, who would have been fine and would have helped open the picture. But she did not want to play someone so ugly, and Rob realized she would be wrong for the part.
stars would be wrong for the part, he decided. Annie is this unknown creature who appears alone out of a storm. We know nothing about her. Stars bring history with them, and I believe, in this case, that would have been damaging.
Example: there is a scene where Annie asks Paul to burn his most recent book in manuscript. It is the last thing on earth he wants to do and he says no. They argue but he is firm.
Fine, Annie says, I love you and I would never dream of asking you to do anything you didn’t want to do. Forget it. I never asked. But—
—while she is saying forget I ever asked, what she is doing is walking around his bed, flicking lighter fluid onto the sheets. She is threatening, in Annie’s sweet, shy way, to fry him.
Rob and Andy and I talked so much about that scene. Was it enough? Did she have to do more? We decided to go with it. But my feeling is that even with as brilliant a performer as Streep in the part, it would not have worked, because sitting out there in the dark, some part of us would have known that
Meryl Streep wasn’t really going to incinerate Jimmy Caan.
But no one knew who Kathy Bates was. And because of that, not to mention her skill, the scene held. One of the advantages to working with an independent—which Castle Rock was in those days—is that they have more freedom in casting. No way Mr. Disney or the Brothers Warner would have us go with an unknown in the lead of what they
hoped would be a hit movie. And you know what? If I had been the head of a large studio, I wouldn’t have cast her either …
Casting Jimmy Caan
It was as simple and discouraging as this: no one would play the part.
We knew the role was less flashy. Had to be, the guy’s in the sack most of the movie. We also knew he was under the control of the woman, something stars
But we also felt the movie was essentially what the Brits call a “two-hander.” The Paul Sheldon character is not only the hero, he’s in almost every scene. Wouldn’t