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Seen Through Charlie Kaufman's Eyes

Question: What was it like seeing yourself as a character in \r\nthe film "Adaptation?"
 

Robert McKee: I took my son to\r\n a screening at Sony.  And it’s one thing... I’ve seen myself on screen \r\nmany times because I’ve done umpteen TV series when I lived in England \r\nand interviews on TV, so it’s not surprising, even though I myself \r\nplayed myself in another movie called, “20 Dates.”  And so it wasn’t \r\nthat big a thing to see Brian Cox do me.  But imagine what it would be \r\nlike for a son to see his father portrayed in a major motion picture.  \r\nAnd so he came out of the screening and I said, “Paul, what did you \r\nthink?”  And he said, “Dad, he nailed you.”
 
That whole thing \r\ncame about as I was sitting in my office one day working and the phone \r\nrang and it was a producer, Ed Saxon, calling from New York with a very \r\napologetic tone saying, “This is the most embarrassing phone call I’ve \r\never had to make.  I don’t know what to do, but here’s the situation.  \r\nThere’s a screenwriter named Charlie Kaufman.  He’s written a screenplay\r\n and he’s made you a character in it, and he has freely quoted from your\r\n lectures and quoted from your book without permission, without \r\ncopyright.  We don’t know what to do.”  I said, “Well, send it to me, \r\nI’ll read it.  And I’ll give you a sense of what I think.”  And so I \r\nread it and I saw what he needed to do.  He was trying to write this \r\nfilm about the worse case of writer’s block in history, and he needed an\r\n antagonist.  And he needed somebody to represent Hollywood in an \r\nantagonistic way.  But in a way that would cut both ways.  And so he had\r\n twin brothers.  One loves my book and is writing a huge action piece \r\nwith great success.  The other is struggling to make an independent film\r\n and this is the inner conflict in Charlie Kaufman and many \r\nwriter/directors like him.  How to make a commercial art movie.  Okay?  \r\nAnd so he needed my character to have something to push against.
 
The\r\n third act of that script was awful.  He just ran out of ideas.  It was \r\nreally awful.  And so I called Ed Saxon back and I said, well first, I \r\ncalled William Goldman, and I said, “Bill, they’re trying to make a \r\nmovie and they’ve made me a character in it.  What should I do?”  And he\r\n said, “Don’t do it.”  And I said, “Why not?”  And he said, “It’s \r\nHollywood.  If they’re out to getcha, they’ll getcha.”  I said, “But I’m\r\n going to ask for and I’m going to get control over the casting.”  He \r\nsaid, “Okay, okay, let’s say you got control of the casting.  Who do you\r\n want?”  I said, “Gene Hackman.”  He said, “Fine.  It’ll be Gene Hackman\r\n with big bows of purple bows around his neck.  If they’re gonna getcha \r\nBob, they’re gonna getcha.  Don’t do it.”
 
So then I called my \r\nson and I said, “Paul,” and I told him, and he said, “Dad, do it.”  And I\r\n said, “But William Goldman said, they could satirize me.”  He says, “So\r\n what?”  He says, “You’re going to be a character in a major motion \r\npicture.  What difference does it make?”  And so I thought about it and I\r\n thought, if it’s done with humor, if it gets a laugh, I know I’m a \r\ncontroversial person and so I called Ed back and I said, "If we have fun\r\n then I’ll play his villain for him, but if two things... one, I have to\r\n have a say in the casting. Two, the third act sucks and I can’t be a \r\ncharacter in a bad movie. Three, I want my redeeming scene." And so they\r\n agreed to all of that and so we had many, many meetings over the act \r\nthree problems until it got to a point where I would finally agree.  And\r\n then of course, my redeeming scene in the bar, which becomes a pivotal \r\nscene, I think Charlie understood from that scene that even McKee \r\ncouldn’t help him.  And that’s why Donald writes Act 3.  And if you \r\nwatch the film carefully you’ll realize that Charlie’s character only \r\nwrites the first two acts and then he brings in Donald from Hollywood \r\nand Act 3 is Donald’s version of an Act 3.  Right?
 
And then I \r\nasked for a list of the actors that they were thinking of casting and \r\nthey gave me a list.  Surprisingly, because see I didn’t know whether \r\nthis could be the Dan Akroyd, Danny Devito school of casting, right?  \r\nBut the list they gave me was the top 10 middle-aged British actors \r\nalive; from Christopher Plummer to Michael Caine.  And on that list was \r\nBrian Cox.  And I said, start there and ask him.  And they didn’t even \r\nknow who he was.  The casting director knew, of course, but I said, \r\n"He’s the best British actor you don’t know."  And Brian’s a friend of \r\nmine.  And he was a student of mine up in Glasgow.  And I know Brian’s \r\nwork.  And Brian would not sentimentalize me.  Other actors I couldn’t \r\nbe sure because actors love to be loved.  And so while they’re going \r\ndown the poor screenwriter’s throat in that lecture scene, an actor like\r\n Christopher Plummer, or somebody would also put up, but I’m doing it \r\nfor the right reasons, I’m kind of – you know?  And I didn’t want that \r\nbecause that’s an idiotic question.  And he deserves to be answered in \r\nthat tone of voice so that he gets it, the notion that there’s no \r\nconflict, that real life is without conflict is the most naive \r\nridiculous thought a person could have. And right now you and I are in \r\nthis interview full of conflict.  As we’re sorting out ideas and trying \r\nto make this work, or whatever, I said that being – so anyway... I \r\ndidn’t want to be sentimentalized because I don’t lecture that way.  I \r\ndon’t want to be loved.  I want them to love the art.  I want them to \r\nlearn from me and love the art, but I don’t want groupies, I don’t want \r\nto be loved.  And so I knew Brian would do that and give that kind of \r\nedge to it, and it was great.
 
So, my answer to the question is:\r\n I thought it was wonderful.  I loved it.

The screenwriting guru talks about what it was like to see himself portrayed by Brian Cox in the film "Adaptation."

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