We won't be seeing Bill Cosby's famous Fat Albert character on the big screen any time soon. Cosby recently pulled the plug on the project — which was already in pre-production. Director Forest Whitaker tells me that there were the usual "differences of opinion."
Whitaker, who produced the wonderful new indie film Green Dragon starring himself and Patrick Swayze, is philosophical about what happened.
"I think we were about to make an amazing film," Whitaker says. "We were a few weeks before production. Omar Miller was going to play Fat Albert. He's in the new Eminem movie, 8 Mile. He was a good choice. He's a 6-foot 5-inch, 400-pound guy. We had a great group of actors. They were going through clown college learning physical comedy. But it's Mr. Cosby's life, so he has to feel comfortable."
What was he uncomfortable with?
"I'm not sure I got the complete understanding of it. I thought we were in a good place. But the final draft that we had, he didn't feel comfortable with. We were trying to get it to work. But he felt maybe the characters weren't the way he totally conceived them. I was very excited about it."
Will they do it anyway?
"I hope so. I think it's really important. It could be a fun, emotional piece and open a lot of doors for minority artists. Hopefully someone will step in."
Whitaker doesn't need to worry about Cosby, though. He's already directed the huge hit Waiting to Exhale and is currently producing a new indie flick in Los Angeles. He also developed the material that became Door to Door, the terrific new TNT movie with William H. Macy.
But Green Dragon, directed by Timothy Linh Bui, is a real gem, and something for Whitaker to take great pride in. An audience favorite from the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, Dragon tells the true story of Bui's experience at a holding camp for Vietnamese refugees in Arizona in 1975. Bui's brother Tony, who wrote and directed the much admired Three Seasons, co-wrote the script.
One thing the Buis and Whitaker needed was a bankable star to play the lead.
"Patrick really committed to the role," Forrest told me. "He even cut off all his hair."
Swayze, in fact, does nice disarming work as the camp's sergeant who forges a friendship with a Vietnamese émigré played beautifully by Don Duong. Whitaker plays a smaller but pivotal role as the camp cook.
Of course, the subtleties in a lot of Forest Whitaker's work (The Crying Game, A Rage in Harlem) were completely abandoned when he joined John Travolta in the execrable Battlefield Earth, one of the great flops of all time. Whitaker knew Travolta from their time together in a much better film, Phenomenon.
"I was at his home and he was talking about what he was doing. I told him I always wanted to play an alien. I didn't realize that Scientology was going to be such a big issue."
Will there be a sequel?
"I think he'd like there to be, but it didn't do very well. And the critics didn't like it. Perhaps it should have been done in a simpler fashion. I don't think it deserved to be attacked the way it was."
Sunday night's Sex and the City premiere was so astonishingly well done — written, acted, produced — it was hard to believe. Executive producer/head writer Michael Patrick King managed to mature the four leads and work in subtle references to life in New York after Sept. 11. Bravo!
But success has not gone to Kim Cattrall's head. Right now she's joining husband Mark Levinson on a lobster boat that he bought and has learned to operate. They're floating off the coast of New England even as you read this.
Cattrall could be just a real you-know-what by now, but in public at least (there are lots of rumors of backstage fighting, although I kind of think they're exaggerated for publicity) she is very well-behaved, pleasant and seemingly without pretense.
What accounts for her down-home style?
"I'm just a girl from a little town in Canada," she told me the other night at the Sex and the City premiere.
I remember Cattrall from her first days in New York to shoot Sex and the City. She'd just met Levinson, didn't know many people and had no idea whether or not the show would be a hit. Now that it's become a gigantic, pop culture hit, the kind you can't even imagine, she seems just as wide-eyed.
Her performance as sex kitten Samantha could have become very caricatured by now. Instead, Cattrall has managed to soften Samantha over the five seasons and bring out texture that I'm sure was not there originally.
As for the lobster boat, Cattrall says that Levinson, the great innovator of high-end stereo equipment (his loudspeakers, at www.redrose.com, are to die for), hasn't equipped it yet with a sound system, but he will.
"He bought the boat, and learned all about it," she said. "And that's where I'm spending the next two weeks."
Ironically, the first episode of Sex and the City dealt with Fleet Week. Anchors aweigh, as they say.
Sometime before the end of the day today, please crank up the CD player and listen to Elton John's "Funeral for a Friend" from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Gus Dudgeon, the man who produced all of Elton's timeless classics from the 1970s, has died in a car accident at the age of 59. He will be sorely missed.
Dudgeon created the rich sound that became Elton's trademark during an extraordinary run of hits from 1970 to 1976, from "Your Song" through "Philadelphia Freedom."
At one point Elton had four No. 1 hits in a row, and they were all recorded with Dudgeon mixing and remixing to get the right effects. He was to Elton what George Martin had been to the Beatles, a silent partner who didn't get the credit.
Of all the albums, of course, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road gets the most attention. It put Elton on the map for good with a mixture of pop genres, from the kitschy "Bennie and the Jets" to the shmaltzy "Candle in the Wind."
These were records made for the radio, and especially for the car. Over the weekend I stumbled across "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" on a pop oldies station in Orlando. What a gem, full of drama and angst. You have no idea really what it's about, but Dudgeon made it seem urgent.
Rest in peace...