The Hollywood Reporter
Big b.o. awards potential for Uni’s ‘K-PAX’
Sept. 11, 2001
By Martin A. Grove
Prot potential: After the summer’s popcorn movies, it’s refreshing to suddenly be seeing films that lend themselves to thoughtful discussion.
A case in point is Universal’s drama “K-PAX,” directed by Iain Softley (“Wings of the Dove”), opening Oct. 26 at about 2,000 theaters. Starring are Kevin Spacey as Prot, a mysterious stranger who says he’s from a distant planet and Jeff Bridges as a psychiatrist who, like the audience, isn’t sure whether to believe him or not. Its screenplay by Charles Leavitt is based on the novel by Gene Brewer. Produced by Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin and Robert F. Colesberry, “K-PAX” was executive produced by Susan G. Pollock.
After an early look at “K-PAX,” I’m anticipating that it will continue Universal’s winning streak at the box office — five of the studio’s last six releases have opened in first place — and have excellent potential for Golden Globes and Oscar consideration in some prime races.
Liking “K-PAX” as much as I did, I was particularly happy to have an opportunity to talk about the film with Gordon, whose long list of producing credits includes such hits as “48 HRS,” “Predator,” “Die Hard,” “Die Hard 2” and “Field of Dreams.” While serving as president and chief operating officer of 20th Century Fox in the mid-’80s, Gordon oversaw the production of such major box office successes as “Cocoon,” “The Jewel of the Nile,” “Aliens” and “Broadcast News.”
” ‘K-PAX’ was a novel that we found,” Gordon told me. “It was brought to us (in 1995) by Sue Pollock, the executive producer of the movie, who works out of New York. She brought us the book and we immediately all read it and loved it. When we read it we knew it was going to be a long journey (to the screen) because it’s not high concept. But we liked it very, very much and set about trying to get a screenplay. It became a labor of love and we wouldn’t let it go.”
Asked what initially attracted him to the material, Gordon explained, “I just felt it was a special story and very unique. It got to me. When I was reading the book it brought tears to my eyes. I couldn’t figure it out — is he or isn’t he (from another planet)? And will he or won’t he leave (to return home as he says he must)? It was just one of those things. If you’ve been doing this a long time, (there’s) certain material you read and you say, ‘I have to get this done.’ ”
When he read it, Gordon said, he didn’t have any immediate ideas about casting. “I always think in terms of getting a screenplay and then worrying about who’s going to do it,” he noted. “And that’s what we did. We kept working and working on the screenplay until we got a screenplay that we felt was good enough to go out to people. Then we started the arduous process of trying to get (the project) together. From the first time we got the material until we got our green light on the film was several years. We had more than one writer and finally Charles Leavitt came in and we just found out (late last week) that he’s going to get sole credit on the film, which is the way we had proposed the credit. He really turned it around. So we’re very happy about it. He wrote and rewrote and rewrote and he’s still rewriting as we go into our final mix. He’s still doing some lines for us for the mix.”
Although I was very impressed with “K-PAX,” Gordon pointed out, “The film you saw is not a finished film. We still have to go in and do our final mix on the film (which began on Monday of this week).” Gordon also commented that as much as I liked the movie that I saw, the final result that goes into theaters “will be 20% better.” Gordon’s been around the track long enough not to be doubted about this, but, frankly, the picture really was in very good shape in terms of content when I saw it. The improvements Gordon anticipates will be involve very specific things like color correction, music and sound effects.
He readily agreed with me that Spacey and Bridges are outstanding working together. “For me, I call it an acting event,” he said. “I think Kevin and Jeff together are just amazing. Separately, they’re fantastic actors and together they’re just pushing each other (to greater heights) and without trying they just became better and better and better. To make the film and to be on the set was a pleasure because you just got to see these marvelous talents. It was like watching a great play every day.”
Spacey came on board first. “Kevin had basically let us know that he would be interested in it,” Gordon recalled. “This was after the script had been around for a long, long time. It may have even gone to Kevin at one time. Kevin very much wanted to make the film. But that still wasn’t the end of getting the film made. We still had obstacles (to overcome). It’s always hard to get a film made.”
I reminded Gordon that he’d told me in an interview some years ago that it’s so hard to make any movie that he’s always surprised that any films ever get made. “I used to always say that if all the students studying in film classes knew how films are made, they wouldn’t have the nerve to stay in school. They’d do something else,” he replied. “It’s always a miracle when one gets made. And I’ve been on both sides of the desk, so I know what it’s like to green light them and I know what it’s like to try to get the green light. It’s scary. After 40 years I’m still surprised!”
Given Spacey’s busy schedule with other film commitments, timing the start of production was necessary in order to make his participation possible. “He had a particular time he wanted to do it and we were able to convince the studio to go at that time,” Gordon said. “Then Kevin and I sat down and talked about directors and we both very much wanted Iain Softley. That was a concentrated effort and Iain came in and we all wanted Jeff.”
Clearly, any actor cast as the psychiatrist examining Spacey’s character Prot would have to be able to hold his own opposite Spacey. “That’s the thing, otherwise it’d be like putting a weak heavy with Schwarzenegger,” Gordon said. “Kevin wanted an actor that he felt was his equal, if not better, and Jeff’s the man. You know, I sit down now and think about who would have done this and I just don’t know if we couldn’t get these two guys.”
Although the film is set in New York, only exteriors were shot there. “We shot some in New York and a lot of it here (in Los Angeles),” Gordon said. “Basically, it’s an L.A.-based shoot. It was the nicest film (during production). I think all of us had an absolutely great time. We had no problems. I hate to say this, but we really didn’t. We had a wonderful shoot. Everybody got along just unbelievably well. We started shooting on Nov. 13, 2000 and we finished on Mar. 3, 2001. I think we shot a total of about three weeks in New York.”
Asked about the biggest challenges during production, Gordon referred to the sequences when Spacey’s character, who may or may not be from the planet K-PAX, has been hypnotized by Bridges’ character, Dr. Mark Powell, in an effort to learn more about the mysterious Prot. “The hypnosis scenes were very difficult to make interesting and not bore an audience,” Gordon said. “There was a lot of emotion to be shown. I felt that a couple of those scenes — especially the scene where Kevin breaks down during hypnosis — that was just amazing watching that. The crew and everybody (on the set then) applauded. It was like watching an amazing play. It was very difficult for the actors. I’ve been involved in some very big action films and it wasn’t that kind of difficult (production challenge), but this was every bit as difficult because of the acting challenges.”
Gordon, of course, has produced more than a few action adventure blockbusters over the years, but with “K-PAX” he’s given us a film that certainly will give moviegoers something to talk about when they’re on their way home from theaters. “I don’t want to say too much about (thoughtful films versus popcorn movies) because everybody’s entitled to what they like, but I think this is a film that stays with you past the concession stand,” he observed. “And, by the way, it’s still with me and I’ve seen it 50 times. Every time I see it, I see something else and I feel something else. I just hope we have something that people are going to enjoy.”
Director Iain Softley’s first feature “Backbeat,” the 1992 film about the Beatles’ early days, attracted critical acclaim. He went on to direct “Hackers,” about the dangerous side of the computer world, and “The Wings of the Dove,” based on the Henry James story, both of which were well received. Calling him, “a wonderful director,” Gordon said, “I think he directed this with great sensitivity and talent. I’m very impressed with him and I only hope I get to work with him again. It was a challenge to get it made. It was worth it because I think it’s brought us as much pleasure as you can get in making a movie. He’s a very smart guy and a very nice man. That was the thing about this film — it ended up that everybody actually likes everybody else.”