It was studio editorial interference, and not budget matters, that kept Ron Howard from making his Alamo movie.
The Academy Award- winning director of A Beautiful Mind told me last night that the real reason his $100 million epic starring Russell Crowe, Ethan Hawke and Billy Bob Thornton never got off the ground was because Disney would not let him make the movie he wanted to make.
Previous reports put the blame on a burgeoning budget. But you know, if you thought about it, when did that ever stop a motion picture from being green lit?
Howard, who came into New York from his suburban idyll to show off the IMAX version of his 1995 classic Apollo 13, talked to me at the new stylish Compass restaurant on a wide range of subjects. But The Alamo was first and foremost on our list.
"I wanted to do a gritty, no holds-barred film about the wild gang at the Alamo. It would not have been the Cocoon version. It was going to be very graphic -- and Disney said no. They wanted a PG movie. They didn't want an R movie with controversy, so it became this battle that was brewing. Did I want to take this huge project knowing what I was up against? Because what they were going to do was say, 'Okay, go ahead, get going,' and then somewhere down the line think they were going to soften me into cutting the film into what they wanted. And even I have final cut on my films, it didn't seem worth it, to know that fight was going to be constant. With a movie like that, everyone has to be working together with the same goals -- and there are other directors who I'm sure started out wanting to make one kind of film and wound up making another."
The Alamo instead will be produced by Howard and Brian Grazer, with John Lee Hancock of The Rookie directing the PG version. Howard says the script is very similar, but changed to fit the Disney ideal. And that's fine with him, it's just not the movie he wanted to make. So forget every other story you've heard on this subject.
I have to tell you that Howard is one of the few people who give me reassurance about the future of the movie business. He came to the Apollo 13 IMAX relaunch with astronaut Jim Lovell, and they pitched in to help this seven-year-old movie find a new life. Howard sat and talked to a series of newspaper reporters, and took pictures with everyone, and signed every autograph in the place. He is either a mensch or a glutton for punishment, I offered.
"I was very excited when I saw what IMAX had done to Apollo 13," he said. "It cost about $2 million and it looks beautiful. If it plays in the IMAX cycle it could have a ten year life. So I promised to help them promote the film, and here I am."
Howard and I also had a long talk about A Beautiful Mind and the various controversies that surrounded it last spring. I asked him if in retrospect he might have included some of the deleted information about John Forbes Nash: his rumored homosexuality, his illegitimate son, etc.
He shook his head. "No. Nothing. We tried to get all those things in. They didn't fit. We said from the beginning this wasn't the whole story. If you want the whole story, then read Sylvia Nasar's book. But we had to look at it making a basic arc for the story and then telling what it was like to be schizophrenic. And that took up more than half the movie. We couldn't use everything."
Without The Alamo to direct, Howard is now without a project. "And I'm ready to go back to work. I've had a nice break, but I like to work." He's interested in a script about Cortez conquering Mexico, but it's not ready. And while he looks, he can fret over his 20-year-old daughter Bryce. She's just taken a break from New York University so she can make her Broadway debut this December in the Roundabout Theatre's production of Tartuffe. It's a lead role, and I'll tell you now: this girl is the next Gwyneth. It's written all over her.
"I want to do The Graduate!" That's what Peggy Lipton said over lunch Tuesday. "When Lorraine Bracco's finished, I'm up for it."
You will recall Lipton either as the cool hippie chick from The Mod Squad TV show in 1969, or the cool diner waitress who served a lot of cherry pie in Twin Peaks in 1989. Are you doing the math? According to her bio, Lipton is supposed to be 55 years old. She must have a portrait in the attic turning gray, though, because -- without any sign of "work" -- she looks like she has not aged.
Next week, TV Guide anoints her as the fifth sexiest person ever in the history of the box. Not bad, huh?
Lipton is also one of the great Hollywood people, someone with a terrific, detached attitude and no pretensions. She was married at 24 to much-older music legend Quincy Jones in her parents' Los Angeles apartment. They have two daughters -- Kidada and Rashida -- who are both beauties.
But Lipton has returned to New York (she hails from the splendid area of Long Island known affectionately as "The Five Towns") to do theatre. Last week, she participated in the September 11 readings at Town Hall. On October 15, she steps into The Guys, the two-person play about a fire chief recounting his September 11 losses to a reporter, whom Lipton will play. It's a five week run at the Flea Theatre, and then she will not flee at all but look for more New York stage work.
It's ironic because all she wanted to do as a teenager was leave New York. "I hated Long Island and I had to get out." So she became a Ford model at 17, and between classes went on go-sees. She also studied acting. When she started getting work, her parents picked the family up and moved to the west coast. (Her brother, Robert, was a well-known soap actor on As the World Turns for years.)
She's made a lot of movies and appeared in a lot of TV shows since then. But the former never really worked out. "I've been in some terrible movies. I ran into Neal Patrick Harris recently. We were in something called The Purple People Eater about twelve years ago. He was maybe ten, but he still remembered it as the worst experience of his life!"
So we'll welcome Peggy Lipton back to New York, and watch for her as she knocks over Broadway. I can't wait.
New York is awash in celebrities and parties, between Fashion Week and movie premieres. Yesterday, the famed Four Seasons restaurant was buzzing as GQ magazine editor Art Cooper feted American literary agent Ed Victor. Ed, who's headquartered in London and is a favorite among the smart set, lost 50 pounds this year and wrote a book about it called The Obvious Diet.
Cooper followed the diet and lost 55 pounds himself -- they both look great, and join Tribeca Grill owner Drew Nieporent and Sony Pictures Classics's Michael Barker in the 2002 Weight Loss Hall of Fame. I don't know how they got through the Four Seasons' illustrious menu, but they did it with the help of Mel Brooks, great editor and writer Harry Evans, legendary architect Richard Meier, his book publisher Dick Seaver and attorney Ken Burrows, the latter who is also the husband of writer Erica Jong, one of Victor's clients.
(This didn't compare too badly with the party for Victor the night before at Harry Winston's jewelry store, which had no hors d'ouevres but plenty more power types, including Tina Brown, art critic Robert Hughes, Celebrity Service maven Bill Murray, as well as Jong and Burrows, former Simon & Schuster chief Dick Snyder, and so on. No diamonds in the gift bag, but everyone asked anyway.)
Somewhere between the glasses of water (no liquor!) and pristine servings, Cooper toasted the great agent. "There is no doubt that Ed Victor has added 10 years to my life. Ten years without cheese ... without pasta ... without ice cream ... without vodka ... Thank you, Ed, and bless you for not adding 20."