A couple weeks back, I went to see John Guare speak at an Old Vic event held at the fancy-schmancy Core Club on 55th between Park and Madison. I had to wear a suit but I wore no underwear out of spite.
I went because a) it was free, b) there was free alcohol, and c) I always wanted to ask John Guare about one of the few movies he’s written in his career: Atlantic City. If you haven’t seen it, go netflix it. Really funny and heartbreaking. Top-notch performances from an old Burt Lancaster and a young Susan Sarandon, who end up sleeping together.
But in scouring the internet I could never find anything Guare said about it – how it came to be, what the process of writing it was like, etc. And almost no one I knew had even heard of it, even though it got Oscar-nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Actress.
(Lost all of them – Colin Welland, who wrote Chariots of Fire beat John Guare for Best Original Screenplay. Know what the best part of the Chariots of Fire screenplay is? The soundtrack. Boom! Dissed!)
Anyway, John Guare came out, thanked the Old Vic for doing their new production of Six Degrees of Separation, talked about Six Degrees of Separation and then asked if anyone in the audience had any questions about Six Degrees of Separation. I promptly raised my hand and asked him to talk about Atlantic City.
He then told me this story, which was so great I thought I should share it. John Guare called it: The Advantages of Having Your Name In The Phone Book:
John Guare was sitting at home one day when the phone rang. “Hello is this the same John Guare who wrote a play called Landscape Of The Body?” Guare answered that yes, indeed he was that person. The caller identified himself as Louis Malle, a French film director. Malle explained that the Canadian government was offering a 100% tax write-off for movie investments to encourage filmmakers in Canada to make more films. Malle had already secured the funds to make the movie from a Rabbi (what?) in Winnipeg, by putting together a package consisting of “a bankable male star” and Susan Sarandon. And he wanted Guare to write it. Guare said great, he’d love to. “Just one problem,” Malle said. “The tax-write off only applies to movies that finish shooting by the end of the year.” It was August.
So him and Guare got together immediately and started talking. Guare mentioned that he had these relatives in Atlantic City – so they rented a car and drove there for the day. Malle was completely enchanted by the city. And what’s more, one of Guare’s relatives was able to show them around the casinos, where they saw dealers-in-training working the disgusting fish-bars. “That’s Sarandon!” Guare exclaimed. “She’ll be an oyster girl!” Guare had two weeks to finish the script. He did. They tried to get everyone for the bankable male star. They could only get Burt Lancaster. Fine. They quickly started shooting. Finished just before New Years. Cut it, released it. Five academy award nominations.
Now go and watch it.