Monday, June 27, 2011

Best of Black Sheep: Black Sheep interviews Richard Lewis

Richard's Version
An interview with Richard Lewis,
director of BARNEY'S VERSION

Toronto born filmmaker, Richard Lewis’s written version of BARNEY’S VERSION, based on the 1997 Mordechai Richler novel of the same name, is not the version that made it on to the screen. Lewis doesn’t care though. He’s just happy it finally made it there.

The idea of turning Richler’s character piece about a man named Barney Panofsky, who can almost only see things his way, has been in existence since the book came out in 1997. Famed Hollywood producer, Robert Lantos, had bought the film rights but wanted nothing to do with Lewis, an unproven talent at the time. Whenever Lewis would approach Lantos about the film, Lantos would, “scoff at me and say something like, ‘Peter Weir is going to direct it,’” Lewis tells me over the phone from his home in Los Angeles.

Lewis’s plan worked; Lantos bought the script and hired Lewis to come on as director as well.That’s where things got messy. Another writer, by the name of Michael Konyves, came along with another version of BARNEY’S VERSION, which Lantos loved. Suddenly, Lewis’s script was out and Konyve’s was in. “At first, I was really shocked and pissed,” Lewis confides. “As soon as I read it though, I was elated because Michael’s draft was better.”

It wasn’t until 2006 that Lantos would finally start to take Lewis seriously. Lewis was involved heavily with a little TV show you might know called, “C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigation” at the time, directing a little here, producing a little there. In his off hours, of which there were surely few, Lewis decided to write his own script for BARNEY’S VERSION and just make Lantos believe in his connection to the material.

Konyve’s draft focused on Barney, his great love and the smaller experiments with love that led to the great one. The novel’s murder mystery plot is downgraded to subplot in the film, which allows the message of love to flourish. “It was important for us to distill the book down to its essence and that lies really with the love story between Barney and Miriam.”

Barney and Miriam are played by Paul Giamatti and Rosamund Pike. The two meet at Barney’s wedding reception to his second wife (Minnie Driver) and he knows, without any question, that she should be the mother of his child. Meeting her a few hours earlier seems like it would have been much more practical but how often does life afford anyone that kind of convenience?

It isn’t easy to love a man who makes a play for one woman less than an hour after marrying another. Yet somehow, by the time BARNEY’S VERSION comes to a close, there is a great deal of understanding and compassion for the character that was not there before, that seemingly has very little to do with the circumstances Barney finds himself in. “Paul gave me a lot to work with,” Lewis states about his Golden Globe nominated lead actor. “One of the reasons we cast him is because he has a certain likability, even in his curmudgeon-ness, even in his disdain for the world, his variable lack of ease, he is still able to bring real genuineness.That authenticity is something we’re attracted to whether the character is ‘likable’ or not.”Lewis is certain to specify that he used air quotes on the word likable so I suppose the jury is ultimately still out on Barney Panofsky.

And while support for Panofsky himself may be slim, there is no shortage for the man playing him. In fact, Lewis attributes assembling his fantastic cast – from Dustin Hoffman and Rosamund Pike to Minnie Driver and Scott Speedman – simply to Giamatti’s presence, at least in part. “The script pulls the cast. You have a good script and you have one of the finest actors of our time attached to the project and actors seem to come from all directions to play with him."

An impressive cast, romantic locations (Montreal, New York, Rome) and cherished source material make BARNEY’S VERSION a delightful and surprising experience. They also make BARNEY’S VERSION an awards contender. Lewis is new to the game but he isn’t nervous. “If it doesn’t win any Oscars – and I think Paul is quite deserving – I still think it will be regarded as a good film. I’m happy with that.”

And after people see the film, I’m sure they will be happy too.

2 comments:

Gummy-Worms said...

Very appealing, will be watching!!
Even those screen-shots you posted look full of character =]

Black Sheep said...

The film has a lot of charm. I've heard it doesn't capture the novel all that well but I haven't read it so it didn't matter to me. There are some holes here and there but the charm wins out.