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Nicholas Meyer—Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country: Special Edition—02/01/04

/content/interviews/7/7.jpgThe following interview was conducted on February 1, 2004 at the Clift Hotel in San Francisco, CA. Mr. Meyer was in town for an appearance and DVD signing of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country the night before. The interview first aired February 9, 2004 on Celluloid Dreams. Celluloid Dreams airs every Monday night at 5pm on KSJS radio (90.5 FM) in San Jose, CA.

Groucho: Nicholas Meyer began his film career as a publicist for Paramount Pictures. On the advance he earned for penning the The Love Story Story, Meyer devoted himself to writing screenplays and novels. Meyer's runaway bestseller matching Sherlock Holmes and Sigmund Freud, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, became a Herbert Ross film with an Oscar-nominated screenplay by Meyer. Two more Holmes novels followed, among other books, but it was his screenplay of a friend's concept of H.G. Wells tracking Jack the Ripper in modern-day San Francisco which got Meyer into the director's chair, for the romantic adventure Time After Time. Meyer made uncredited screenwriting contributions to films including Fatal Attraction, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Tomorrow Never Dies, as well as receiving primary script credit for films like Sommersby and, most recently, The Human Stain. Nicholas Meyer has also written radio plays (Don Quixote) and stage plays (Loco Motives). For all this, Meyer is perhaps most widely known to legions of Star Trek fans, as a contributing writer to Star Treks II, IV, and VI; Meyer also directed Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, recently released in a two-disc collector's edition from Paramount Home Video. Nicholas Meyer, thanks for joining us on Celluloid Dreams.

Nicholas Meyer: Nice to be here.

/content/interviews/7/10.jpg Groucho: Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry very much believed in science fiction as an allegory for contemporary social issues, and as it turns out, Leonard Nimoy's concept for Star Trek VI is very much along those lines. Tell us about the concept and what about it appealed to you.

Nicholas Meyer: Well, I agree that science fiction, perhaps Star Trek in particular, can usually, sort of inevitably, do no more than reflect and contemplate issues that are entirely earthbound or at least seen through a down-to-earth—from a down-to-earth perspective. I said yesterday, when I was speaking about the film, that all works of art are ineluctably products of the time and circumstances in which they were created. Star Trek VI is certainly no exception. When Paramount asked Leonard to supervise or executive-produce Star Trek VI, a Star Trek VI film, he found himself looking at a world that was changing a lot. Some of your listeners may or may have been kids when the wall came down, in Berlin, when the Soviet Union suddenly collapsed like Alka-Seltzer. There may even be people for whom the Soviet Union itself is a somewhat hazy, you know, memory: what was this? But there were two super-powers for the bulk of the 20th Century facing each other eyeball to eyeball. Some would argue that World War II was merely an interruption in their confrontation. The communists versus the capitalists. And when it all fell apart, and we were faced with a brave new world, these were the themes that were interesting to Leonard, who said to me, he said, you know, to what extent are the crew of the Enterprise defined by the existence, the fact of their enemies? And who are they if you take away their enemies? Which was certainly a microcosmic example of what we were all going through in 1990 when the Soviet Union was disappearing. And we were going, well now what do we do? Now what are we going to contemplate? Who are we? And this was the jumping-off point for the film. It's interesting that now, umpteen years later, in a world where there is only one, alleged superpower. Do we long for the good old days? Do we sympathize to some extent with the conspirators in Star Trek VI, those on both sides, who tried to stop change because they thought, "Better the devil we know than the devil we don't." Now we kind of know who the next devil is. Do we prefer the devil of an amorphous enemy, an enemy without an army, an enemy without a country, to that sort of reassuring guy on the other side of the table that you sort of knew you were dealing with?

G: Let's talk a little bit about the collaboration involved with working within the Star Trek oeuvre. In my mind this is sort of the epitome of the upside and the downside of collaboration because you have the benefit of reflecting off of others' ideas and a lot of people who want to be a part of that process, but also you're somewhat the servant of 200 masters, I would imagine, and answerable to a lot of suits who have their own ideas, and certainly the cast who have a great many years of investment in their characters.

/content/interviews/7/6.jpgNM: It didn't feel that way so much, actually, I have to say. In fact, I liken Star Trek to the text of the Catholic mass: the words are pretty immutable and constant, but the music makes each one sound different. The Verdi Requiem bears no resemblance to the Mozart Coronation mass, which bares no resemblance to the Bach B-minor mass. So that you are simply pouring new wine into a bottle of a given shape. I'm one of those people who thinks that art thrives on restrictions and that when you are actually forced to use your imagination to substitute for things you don't have. I found actually that this making Star Trek films, and I knew nothing about Star Trek before I got there, was an utterly liberating experience. Because I could say anything I wanted. I could tackle any subject I wanted, no matter how controversial or alienating—you should pardon the phrase—as long as it came out of these people, in whatever circumstances I could devise. And once they had signed off on my original story, I said, "Okay, this is what it's going to be. You know, it's gonna start with an intergalactic Chernobyl, a huge explosion, the Klingon Empire coming to an end, the Klingon president—let's call him Gorkon, because that's about as close as we can get to Gorbachev—comes to Earth for a peace conference or something, and Kirk, whose son was killed by Klingons and who remains bigoted, is assigned to escort him, and through negligence Gorkon is assassinated, and then we lead into a trial movie, a POW movie, including a POW escape movie, and a locked-room mystery at the same time going on to, you know, who the real killers were—blah blah, blah blah." And they bought all—once they signed off on that, then my conversations with Kirk or Spock or any of them about, you know, could they make a line better because they knew the characters more than I did, or felt they did—it was arguable, but they didn't do it too much either, because after having written two other movies for them, I'd sort of gotten the hang of who I was dealing with, so on VI it was probably the easiest experience of all 'cause I got used to writing for their characters, and used to writing for their egos, and used to writing for their strengths, and used to writing to conceal other things. So actually no, I didn't have any problems. And we were never interfered with by the suits because Paramount was in the midst of a takeover battle amongst who was going to run the studio, and we were like their only non-problem, you know, we'd done it a million times before: leave 'em alone and that was—

G: And every Star Trek film has been profitable, correct, for them, so—

NM: Oh yeah, I think they've all made money. I don't know about—well, let's put it this way: I don't know anything about the other Star Trek movies.

G: Right.

NM: I can only talk about II, IV, and VI, and they were profitable.

G: Star Trek VI is also the film in which Spock calls Sherlock Holmes "an ancestor of mine."

NM: He implies it.

G: Right, or implies it. In your novel The Seven-Per-Cent Solution you wrote of Holmes that he was, quote, "A deeply passionate human being. His susceptibility to emotion was an element in his nature which he tried almost physically to suppress. Holmes certainly regarded his emotions as a distraction, a liability, in fact." And so on. Both the Holmesian and Star Trek worlds inspired fanatical devotion in people. And I wonder what you think—for you personally—what is the appeal of Sherlock Holmes? I know, you're now a Baker Street Irregular, officially.

NM: Oh, how'd you hear that?

G: I was at the event last night, so—

NM: Oh, oh yes. I can sign BSI after my name from now on, Baker Street Irregulars. After thirty years I was inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars.

G: Congratulations on that.

NM: Thank you. A high point.

 G: And I, and I wonder, you know, so what is the appeal of Holmes to you? And what do you think is the appeal of Star Trek to its rabid fans?

/content/interviews/7/11.jpgNM: It's—first I should preface it by saying that anything I say is a guess. And/or merely another guess. For me, the fifty-six short stories and four novellas that make up the Holmes opus is a sort of a secular bible. I find that, you know, the stories, they encompass all aspects of human dealings. Everything, you know, from jealousy, greed, drug addiction, interracial marriage—the whole gamut of human experience. And wading through this is this sort of night errant who lives long enough ago to sort of be in a galaxy far away, on the one hand. But on the other hand he inhabits a world that is still recognizable to us, as this, you know, a world with streets and traffic and trains and things like that. So he sort of bridges an interesting gap. And also as the first, he's not really the first, but as for all practical purposes, the first detective. You know Edgar Allen Poe might lay claim, and there's a Chinese 7th century circuit court judge who might lay claim, but for all practical purposes, in the popular imagination as the first detective. He does something that we find very reassuring. Now, I think detective stories deliver exactly the opposite of what they promise. Which is to say, they promise thrills and chills and horrible deeds and the body splayed at an unnatural angle with the head bashed in from a blunt instru—blah blah—terrible, terrible stuff, but people like to curl up with a good mystery. They like to go to bed with a good—a more intimate conjunction could hardly be imagined than to take this book to bed that's promising all these things. So perhaps it's not delivering those things, but delivering something else. In fact, I think what detective literature delivers is a very reassuring view of an otherwise meaningless world. What's real life? Real life is you slip on a banana peel and fall into a manhole, you know open, and cover, and you die. And things happen for no rhyme or reason. You are minding your own business in the World Trade Towers, and somebody crashes a plane into it. But in detective stories, as people always say, sooner or later, it all adds up. Nothing happens without a reason. And Holmes makes everything reasonable. He, he parses it for you. He, he takes it apart and says this is what is going on, this is what things really mean. And I think we yearn for a world in which that happens or, failing that, a world in which somebody like Holmes can explain it to us.

G: Yeah. It's reassuring to have a genius as a hero.

NM: Even a flawed genius. Which is, I think, the other thing that's sort of interesting about him, is that there are cases that he loses. He does have a drug addiction problem. Um, so he's a sort of recognizable human being. Interestingly, when I used to talk about Spock with Leonard Nimoy, and he says, you know, people think of Spock as being very unemotional, but that's not the way I played him. I always played him as a man who's always trying to suppress his emotions, to keep them in check. And that's when I started thinking about Holmes and that's when I leveled that crack in Star Trek VI. What the hell. And what's interesting is I thought, you know, the only people who were going to get this are the Holmes buffs, who will recognize the line. Spock says, "An ancestor of mine once said that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable must be the truth." And I've never been to a screening anywhere in the world of Star Trek VI where people didn't go berserk hearing that, that line.

G: So Star Trek VI was, in a way, in a definite way, a byproduct of the Cold War. The Day After was, in its time, the most widely watched film ever produced for television—

NM: Still is.

G: It still is.

NM: It's never been topped. And it never will be, because there's too many channels. (Smiles.)

G: Right, right. That's true. It provoked intense scrutiny and conversation. What were your hopes in embarking on the project and were you pleased with the response?

/content/interviews/7/5.jpgNM: The Day After was probably the most worthwhile thing that I ever got to do with my life, so far. My hopes and the results—it's interesting, I didn't achieve my, what was my hope, but actually the result may have been far better. I fantasized that The Day After was going to contribute to the defeat of Ronald Reagan in the next presidential elections. This it utterly failed to do, but it did something more peculiar. And that is it changed Ronald Reagan's mind about a winnable nuclear war. And if you read his memoirs or his autobiography, he basically says this about the movie. Which at first glance is either interesting or pathetic depending on your point of view, but, in a way, what I've discovered about The Day After is that there are people whose imaginations, and Ronald Reagan was not alone, are so deficient in this area that it takes seeing a movie of a nuclear war to explain it to them. I happen to know that this movie was screened for the joint chiefs at the Pentagon before it was aired. And a friend of mine who works in the government was called—or who worked in the government—was called to view the movie. And these guys were shattered. They were shattered. These, we're talking about the heads of the army, navy, marines, and the air core were shattered by what they saw. Really upset. I happen to know that—'cause in the aftermath of this, I heard—I, you know, I collected over the years all these stories, that there was a general working for Castro in Cuba who said the Cuban Missile Crisis was not real to him until he saw the movie and realized what could have happened. Same thing came out of the Soviet Union when it was shown there: complete shock. It's as though we all know this Damoclean sword hangs over us. The possible threat of nuclear conflagration and annihilation. But a) number one, we prefer not to think about it, we prefer not to dwell on it, we prefer not to visualize it. And number two, the consequences of actually realizing what is happening, even depicted as benignly as we depicted them in The Day After—and let's face it, it's the optimist's view of nuclear war—is still shattering enough to make you—you know, the day after the movie came out, the press went running around, and shoved microphones under various, you know, viewers' noses and said, "Did this movie change your mind about nuclear war?" And then they came running back to me with the result and shoved a microphone under my nose and said, you know, according to our survey, this movie didn't change anybody's mind about a nuclear war, what do you have to say to that? And my answer, which I thought was really good and prescient and more good than I knew, 'cause I was sort of trying to put the best face on it, but I, I said what came into my head, which was, it's too early to say whether people's minds have been changed, and a) if they know what they really think to begin with—because sometimes I think unless there's a gun to your head and you're in the voting booth or the something and the pressure is on, what do you really, really believe about anything as opposed to what you think you believe or what you want others to think you believe, or what—they say their minds are not changed. Would you want to wake up and say, oh yeah, my mind was changed by a TV movie? It sounds dorky. And by the way, that process of having one's mind changed may not be a conscious process. It may be an unconscious process. It may be a gradual process. And by the time your mind is changed you may not even realize the part that a TV movie played in, in changing it. So we may never know. But these things take time. Just evaluating works of art, and whether they're good or bad or—you know, it's hard to get a permanent fix. When Nixon said to Chou En-lai in China, he said, "What do you think of the French Revolution?" And Chou En-lai said, "Too early to tell." So, in the end, I think the movie achieved far more than in my wildest dreams. I was dreaming too small. You know, I dreamt about unseating Ronald Reagan. It never occurred to me that I could change his mind, you know, and when he signed the Iceland Treaty, Intermediate Range Weapons Treaty, at Reykjavik. I got letters from people saying, don't think your movie didn't have something to do with this. And sure enough, in his memoirs, he essentially confirmed it.

/content/interviews/7/12.jpgG: Yeah. It's pretty remarkable to see how many very prominent players in politics were obliged to respond to the movie. It's a testament to the—

NM: Oh, well, my favorite story about that is that, the reason they screened for the joint chiefs—and David Gergen, who was Reagan's press secretary, was there, and he said, "Now," when the screening was over, he said, "The president wants to know what were going to do about this movie." And so they sat around, and my friend, who was a childhood friend who winds up working in government, sitting there, you know, trying to figure out how they're going to chill out the whole country after this movie. And they finally, you may or may not remember that the moment the movie ended, you saw, before Nightline came on, Ted Koppel sitting there with George Shultz, the secretary of state, saying, "Is this the way it's going to be?" And George Shultz saying, "No it's not the way it's going to be." (Laughs.) Like we all had to calm down.

G: All right. Your first and best experience with directing was Time After Time. It's a supremely entertaining and involving picture. What to you made that project so charmed?

/content/interviews/7/14.jpgNM: I really don't know. Somebody said, "Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise." I had directed a lot of theater, and I had directed radio, so I had some experience with actors, but my film experience was very limited. And just as I had parlayed my way into feature screenwriting by saying that they could only buy the rights to my novel The Seven-Per-Cent Solution if I got to write the screenplay, I took the same tack with the screenplay of Time After Time and said, "You can only buy the screenplay if I get to direct it." And by this time I'd been around long enough for them to have a certain comfort level, and I went in with a terrific producer that I knew that they would trust who was a real gent. He's no longer alive, but wonderful man. And, um, so I had a kind of red carpet treatment. I had everybody, and everybody loved the original script at Warner Brothers and Orion, so they were very, very supportive and protective of me, but I certainly hadn't a clue what I was doing and when I interviewed people to be the crew or the cameramen, or whoever, I said you're gonna have to a) you're gonna have to teach me, and b) you're gonna have to not mind teaching me, and c) you're gonna, you know, don't go away mad if I don't want to do it your way. If having heard what you have to say, I now wanna, you know, do it my own way. Because I have this theory that you should let your failures be your own, and if you're asking them to let you direct the movie, then why? If you're going to direct it the same as everybody else, why do that? So—they played all kinds of tricks on me and had a lot of fun at my expense. They left me up on the crane and went to lunch. Silly things. Silly things.

G: Did you at least have a cigar up there with you?

NM: I can't—I really can't remember whether I had a cigar up there or not. But it was a) a very joyful experience, in a way because I was being protected, b) because I didn't know any better, and c) because the script was so rock-solid. The worst nightmare is to be working on a film—you know, on the first Star Trek movie, the original Star Trek movie, they were changing the script not by the day, but by the hour. Actors were saying, you know, did you get the 4:30 changes? And that's just, to me, is like complete horror to have to work under those conditions.

G: Yeah, you said that, in some ways, you know—in that art thrives on limitations—in some ways that it's better to just power through the screenplay and get it out and be done with it and not second-guess it. But I almost think nowadays that's par for the course, to rush into production with an unfinished script. Um, so—

NM: I've done it once, and I had the worst movie I've ever made.

G: Uh-uh. Yeah, which, which one was that?

NM: It's a picture called Company Business.

G: Company Business, yeah.

NM: Where the movie fell together so fast—

G: Sure.

NM: That what was essentially a first draft and very, very half-cooked, you know, was what we filmed. And the result is pretty miserable.

G: Though you write original work, you've become associated with adaptations. How do you approach transforming a novel into cinematic terms and has your visual style evolved over the years, do you think?

/content/interviews/7/2.jpgNM: My visual style has evolved over the years to the extent that it's probably gotten better and more sophisticated, and the more you do it—the more you get to do it—the better you're likely to become at it. Practice may not make perfect, but it certainly makes for something. I think the more I direct and the more I write, the more I'm interested in simplicity and stripping away everything that is inessential. My screenplays become sparer and sparer. Um, when I adapt novels, which is not exclusively what I do, but lately I've been doing a lot of it, and there's no particular pattern; there's never been a pattern to my career, in the sense of anything that was planned. It's just whoever's writing me checks is, I go to work. Um, if you take a novel that no one's ever heard of, and no one's ever read, that's not any good, and use it as the jumping-off point for a movie, you are a good deal freer in what you can do than if you're adapting The Brothers Karamazov. If you take a novel that is famous or beloved, there's all sorts of problems. I think that when you look at Gone with the Wind, you sort of see it done pretty well. Three-quarters of that movie, up until Rhett Butler starts to épater le bourgeois, is pretty much fun movie-making. Now I never read the book and that's the desideratum here, is to be able to make a movie that stands on its own as a movie. So that you don't have to have read the book in order to appreciate the film, but if you are a rabid fan of the book, you can also love the movie. The opposite end of that, you know, is the sort of the Harry Potter adaptations in which, I think, most people would agree, that if you haven't read the books, you look at the movies, and you can't quite understand what the fuss is all about. Something has been lost in the literalness and completeness of the translation, that a certain amount of irreverence, and I don't mean rude irreverence, just lack of inhibition, is really helpful. That anything you adapt, whether it is Shakespeare's Henry V for the screen or Philip Roth or Dostoyevski, somehow you have to be loose enough to fool around, while at the same time, mysteriously managing to capture the essential alchemy of the original. And if you do that, sooner or later, they'll forgive you for the literal things that you fail to deliver on. In The Seven-Per-Cent Solution there was a scene in my novel where two people play tennis, there's a tennis match. And I remember saying to Herb Ross, we should lose this tennis match: it doesn't give us anything. It's not about—the plot doesn't move forward, who cares? It's okay in a book. And Herb said, "No, no, you can't! Because everybody loves this scene." In my opinion, that was not a valid argument for putting it in the movie. In adapting that movie I noticed, you know, and I had not yet directed a movie when I adapted The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, very top-heavy with words. They may be good words, they may be smart words, but there's way too many of them. And I feel looking at that movie now the way, you know, Stravinsky allegedly responded to the original orchestrations of "Firebird," and said, oh my God! I can get the same effect with, you know, half the guys in the pit. And he re-orchestrated it and made it more efficient. You know, if I did The Seven-Per-Cent Solution again, it would be a much better screenplay, much less talky, much less verbose.

G: Let's talk about The Human Stain, which you adapted from Roth's novel. You've said that, at first, you were convinced you couldn't adapt it. How did you find your way into the story?

/content/interviews/7/9.jpgNM: You know, at the end of the day, the creative process is completely mysterious. And this is not a new piece of observation on anybody's part. Socrates was told by the oracle at Delphi that he was the wisest man in Greece. And he figured, that can't be right. (Laughs.) So, and he said, "Alright, the way to do this is to find people who are wiser than I." So he went around talking to all segments of Greek society until finally he got around to the poets, by which I think we can assume he meant artists in general, but anyway, said, "Surely these men," and I guess they were mainly men then, "who wrote so insightfully of the human condition and so perceptively and observed the, you know, the workings of the heart and were wiser than I—" And he said he was surprised to find out that: nope. The poets were the dumbest people he ever talked to. They were like children, he said, they were just idiots. Except when they created, at which point they went into a kind of trance, during which time they took dictation from God, and this they call inspiration. And I would submit that an honest answer to your question about how I adapted The Human Stain, finally is that I don't know. I can give you anecdotal or circumstantial—I give you stories, that's what writers do, I'll give you, I'll give you up to the point where it happened, I can tell you that a) I didn't know how it was going to happen, b) my wife said forget about it, just tell 'em you can't do it, and c) I , I did, I let it go, which is not a bad way to get things done. You don't fall asleep by scrunching up your eyes and saying now I'm going to sleep, I'm going to sleep, I'm going to sleep. You fall asleep by lying down and letting go, and then things start to happen. So once I'd decided that I was going to tell them that I didn't know how to adapt The Human Stain, I was sitting in the tub and watching my toes wrinkle, it was a day or so later, and I wasn't, I wasn't aware that I was thinking about the book at all. When suddenly, like tumblers clicking into place, there was, click click click click, Act One, click click click, Act Two, click click click, Act Three. And I have no idea where that came from, but that was the most important part. The rest was busywork. The rest was the mechanics of implementing those acts. So I can't really answer the question, but I can take a lot of time telling you why I can't answer the question.

G: Did initially that thought to begin the film at the end, was that, was that something that convinced you that you had, you had a place to begin? Or was that something that came to you later?

/content/interviews/7/4.jpgNM: That came later. The act thing came first. I am a real academic product of an education obtained largely at the University of Iowa, in Iowa City, at the writer's workshop, which is the oldest and most prestigious place in the world to study writing, so it's where I went. And there was a man named Howard Stein who taught playwriting there and a man, no longer alive, named Peter Arnott, a Welshman from Oxford, who was a professor of mine. And he said, in one of the classes, he says, "Why does Macbeth begin with a clap of thunder?" And, you know, we all sort of looked at each other. And he said, "To get your attention." It's a good way to, you know, start off something with a, with a bang. So people, you know, can say, "Whoa, wake up! Alright, we're doing this now." So I, I thought that the car crash—and, and also what Howard Stein taught me and what—and he made everybody in the playwriting class read Aristotle's Poetics in the Francis L. Fergusson translation—that a drama works at least skeletally, by asking a question at the beginning, and the audience stays to see the answer to the question at the end, and they go home. So at the beginning, Hamlet is told, you know, to kill Claudius for murdering Hamlet's dad, and you wait for the whole play to see if he's going to do it. And after he does it, you go home. And it's the job of the dramatist to work as much suspense up as to the outcome of this answer as possible. So: I thought, let's start with a car crash, and let's kill off the principals in the opening scene. And then people are gonna say, who are these people, why were they in this car, and why did that guy run 'em off the road? So we've a) started with a bang, and we've asked the question. So that struck me as pure University of Iowa thinking.

G: This year in particular, it seemed to me that Aristotle was back in vogue with the tragic, you know, Oscar-time movies that we had like House of Sand and Fog and Human Stain, though I think Human Stain was really an under-looked film by many this year. I thought the film was great and that Hopkins was ideally cast, but many people commented that they thought he was miscast. What do you have to say about that?

/content/interviews/7/8.jpgNM: Well, it's interesting that the people who thought Hopkins were mis—was miscast couldn't talk about anything else to do with the movie. They could never deal with the movie because they couldn't get past it. What was interesting to me, as I contemplated it, and for those of your listeners who aren't familiar, the movie is about a black man, an Afro-American, who spends his life passing as white, and Anthony Hopkins played that man. And I came to the conclusion that the criticism of the critics, who were basic—who were white critics, really represented an unconscious or unwitting form of racism. Because what they were really saying was that they didn't believe there was any such thing as a black man who could pass for white that they couldn't somehow detect, that they were saying, "But he didn't, you know, look black, he didn't quote 'sound black,' he didn't quote 'act black.'" So whatever those things, you know, inside the quotes really mean—um, so they're like people who say, "Oh yes, I've never seen a toupee that I didn't recognize. I can always recognize a toupee." But what about the times, of course, that they fail to recognize the toupee and never even knew that they had failed to recognize it. The fact of the matter is that I find that most, in fact, all of the Afro-Americans that I've ever talked to, all the blacks I've ever talked to who've seen the movie don't have any trouble visualizing Anthony Hopkins in this role. And, in fact, there is another Afro-American, another black American in the movie who is completely white, looks completely white, has a role, and we just, you know, glossed right by him, but he happens to be a business associate of Tom Rosenberg, who runs Lakeshore, that made the movie. And they put him in, and he looks exactly like Anthony Hopkins, only wearing horn-rimmed glasses. And he's, incidentally, he never chose to pass, he's always identified himself as African-American. But the history, the unhappy history of race relations in this country, and it isn't even just race, there are gays who pass as straight, there are Jews who want to be wasps, and so forth. There's a whole book that just came out called Passing, the author who, I'm ashamed to say, I've forgotten her—it's a lady who wrote it, a woman. I don't remember the name of it. But it's just about this topic. [G: Meyer refers to Passing: When People Can't Be Who They Are by Brooke Kroeger.] And I think basically the movie was asking white audiences to try to get their heads around an idea that was, in a way, incomprehensible to them. I find—just to follow up with one example, A.O. Scott of The New York Times, who knocked the movie on this basis, went on and on about, you know, sort of the implausibility of the casting, but utterly fails to mention that for thirty years the lead book reviewer of The New York Times was a man named Anatole Broyard. He gave The Seven-Per-Cent Solution its first, you know, mainstream rave. And Anatol Broiard, who was blond and blue-eyed, was black. He was from New Orleans, he was black, and he spent his whole life passing. A wonderful article about him in The New Yorker about three, four years ago by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. So they had an example in their own newspaper that he must have known about that completely contradicted his point.

G: You were disappointed with the end result of Sommersby, on which you were the principal writer—

NM: I was really the writer. I was the writer.

G: Yeah. And where do you think the film went wrong?

NM: They—every time they strayed from what I wrote, they went wrong. (Laughs.) I wish the directors would say, "Listen, don't think, okay, don't think. You just get the shots." I'll think.

G: So, was Amiel rewriting your script on the set?

NM: I was not invited to be part of the process. What—my understanding, from somebody who was there—was that he came on board the film, the producers and the studio loved the script, they didn't want the script touched, and Amiel said, "No, we won't touch, I love it, I think this is great." And then the moment he arrived, you know, he proceeded to deconstruct it, and he hired a writer to make his changes, and then his changes were really terrible. And I had had a falling out with the producer, a very violent argument on the telephone, about when I found out that somebody else was working on it. And I—it wasn't that I didn't think that the director had the right to hire whomever he wished. But I was greatly troubled that no one had had the balls to call up and say, "Listen, Nick, you're not going to like this, but this crazy guy we hired insists, blah blah, blah blah blah blah. I was bitterly offended because I felt, oh, I thought, I was supposed to be friends with these people. And you learn that friendship is, it's not all that deep in the movie business when the movie is involved. Anyway, so then the script came into being a mess. And Richard Gere kept saying, "Why don't we go to Nick, why don't we go back to Nick?" And they lied to him: they said I wasn't available. Said I was not available. I found this all out later. So then they had to hire another writer, a third writer, to try to put it back the way it was. Of course it never occurs to Hollywood people to simply open the drawer and pull out the original, and go back to that, no no! We need another writer. And so it just got stupider and stupider, and at the end result: I watched the movie, I couldn't tell what had happened, or what I was supposed to be thinking or feeling, and suddenly the lady in the movie, while our hero has gone away, has taken up with a Bible-thumper fundamentalist—I'm thinking, that's her boyfriend? Where'd he c—? She's, she's, she likes him? It just didn't make any sense to me whatever.

G: It amazes me that—how many directors will treat writers like tissues.

NM: Oh, huh huh, it doesn't amaze me. It confounds me, but I can't honestly say it amazes me.

G: One of your greatest contributions to Fatal Attraction was the unfortunately rejected ending, which was the result of a test screening, right?

/content/interviews/7/13.jpgNM: Well, that's the funny thing about—I mean, you can argue a lot about test screenings—I really hate them because I, I, in the final analysis I, I don't believe that art is a democracy. And if the audiences could make the movie, then let them make the movie, but if I'm making the movie, then my job is not to find out what the public wants and give it to them. My job is to make the public want what I want. That's not my line; I wish it were, it's a French director named Robert Bresson: "My job is not to find out what the public wants and give it to them, my job is to make the public want what I want." Now, it's all, if you write a play, you preview the play. If you write a movie, you can preview the movie, but you have to understand that you are going to take out of those previews what you deem useful to you, as the filmmaker. But that's not how tests, you know, what tests are like anymore. It's all about, sort of, cards and focus groups and "How would you like the movie to end?" and "What do you think should--?" and the end result is, movies that are, I think, are a lot less individualistic and memorable than they might otherwise be. All of which is not to say that my ending should have been used. The people who made Fatal Attraction preferred my ending and wanted it, and the studio said, if you keep it, we're not going to release the movie, and we need this ending which was, the sort of the Diabolique ending. The irony as far as I was concerned is that when I saw the movie, the only thing I really liked in the movie was their ending. Um, and I watched the rest of the movie, and I was not terribly involved. But I think I was too close to it to really get it.

G: Yeah, and in that original ending, it was the more of the Madame Butterfly ending, right?

NM: Yeah, um—it also paid off the tape-recording that we'd never heard the end of: Michael Douglas is sitting in his alcove in his house, and listening to her threatening tape, and because Anne Archer comes up behind him and scares him—which is a nice, sort of "boo" moment—we never actually get to hear what she's threatening to do. Um. . .

G: Which is to kill herself.

NM: Which is to kill herself.

G: Right.

NM: And to make the cops think that he did it, which is, you know, sort of basically what was supposed to happen. Um, it was elegant, um, and maybe it would have been good with the whole movie. I don't know if I ever saw it with the whole movie, or not. Um, but, the audience—I think, the other thing is if, a screenplay is, and I may be contradicting something I've said earlier. I may be like Walt Whitman. I may contain multitudes. But screenplays are blueprints for buildings. And when you put up the building you may have to adapt the screen—you know, you may find, oh, we need a door here, we didn't think of that, there was no door. Or there are not enough outlets in this room, whatever. You may have to make adjustments. And one of the things, I think it was impossible to predict when the screenplay was being written was how much the audience was going to hate Alex Forrest, which is the character played by Glenn Close. That they, that, what I really thought was that she was going to walk the tightrope like Hedda Gabler, between being sympathetic and being, being a monster. And in the end result, when you looked at the movie, she was not sympathetic at all, she simply was a monster, and you had to—she was rabid, she had to be put down. And the only person who could put her down, you know, was Anne Archer could blow her away. What's interesting about this ending which satisfies so many people is that they forget that she was pregnant, that she's carrying a child. Um, and was anybody troubled by the idea of shooting a pregnant lady in the gut. Um, some people say, well, she wasn't really pregnant, she just made that up; I guess we don't know, but the possibility rankles, maybe less so than if she had done it to herself: then she's just being true to form, she's being a crazy destructive person all along.

G: So, what projects do you have in the hopper that you, that you're confident that you can speak about that are on the way?

/content/interviews/7/3.jpgNM: Well you can't speak about them confidently until they're in the theater, and even then you may not feel so confident, but I did another Philip Roth adaptation, a novel, a novella that he published called The Dying Animal, which I call Elegy. 'Cause it's slightly easier to fit on a marquee—no, because it's, didn't sound like—it's a Saturday night and you're saying, "What do you want to see tonight? I'll see this Dying Animal thing." Um, so there's that, there's a Richard Russo novel that I adapted called Straight Man, I don't know what's gonna to happen to that either. And I'm currently working on a film for Laura Ziskin and Curtis Hanson. He did L.A. Confidential; she's done Spider-Man. This is a 900-page novel that was published about three years ago by a man named Michel Faber. Only, I haven't met him, so it's possible his name is Mi-chel Fab-er, 'cause it's M-I-C-H-E-L, so I'm not quite sure how he says his name. But anyway, it is a, it is a Dickensian novel, which is to say it's set in 1874, but it is like unexpurgated Dickens. It's Dickens if he could have just written about fallen women, you know, really candidly, as opposed to, sort of, glancingly. And it is the fortunes of a Victorian prostitute named Sugar, and what she accomplishes with her life. And it's, it's called The Crimson Petal and the White. The Crimson Petal and the White, by Michel Faber. Or Mi-chel Fab-er, I have no idea. But it's a wonderful book you can't put it down. At first you look at it, you say this, this, God, 900-pages, I don't know.

G: It is a tome.

NM: But you, you can't stop. Speaking of popcorn, you cannot stop.

G: Well, we'll be looking forward to that. We've been in conversation with Nicholas Meyer, director of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Mr. Meyer, thank you so much for spending this time with us.

NM: It was a pleasure.

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