Saturday, December 18, 2010
From the Vault: Callie Khouri
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AUG. 4, 1995
Not all Hollywood stories are hard luck ones. Take Callie Khouri's, for instance. Though she struggled for years to become a writer-director, she hit a home run with her first screenplay when director Ridley Scott was interested in making it. The movie was Thelma & Louise and it won Khouri the Oscar for 1991's best original screenplay. Not bad for an idea that Khouri originally planned to direct herself for less than $5 million.
"It was my first script so I was very, very lucky. I had struggled doing other things for a very long time and wanted to direct it myself and was fortunate to get it into the hands of someone who wanted to make it. Had the movie not done what it did, I would be leading a very different kind of life right now."
Now with Something to Talk About, Khouri finds herself blessed again — with a producing team and director who welcomed her input and patiently waited the five years it took her to complete the script. Something to Talk About tells the story of Grace King Bichon (Julia Roberts). The daughter of a wealthy Southern horse-breeding family, she married her college sweetheart Eddie (Dennis Quaid) and has a young equestrian daughter (Haley Aull).
For some reason, all is not right in Grace's life. She has a tendency to drive off without her daughter and feels detached from her husband, something she finds an explanation for when she spots him passionately kissing another woman. Originally, Something to Talk About was going to be titled Grace Under Pressure, but legal complications arose because of another film registered with the same name and ABC's television series Grace Under Fire. While Khouri can live with Something to Talk About, which is taken from the hit Bonnie Raitt song, she would have preferred the original title or Saving Grace.
"The thing about it that's hard for me as the writer — and I have a problem with it that nobody else does — is that I would never presume to call a film of mine Something to Talk About because I want the audience to make that call. To say to the audience that this film is Something to Talk About feels pretentious."
The movie has been percolating for quite some time. Producers Paula Weinstein and Althea Sylbert originated the general theme of the movie about 12 years ago, and Khouri began working on it prior to the beginning of production on Thelma & Louise. When Thelma & Louise hit and the Oscar followed, it slowed down Khouri, who was already busy with a new husband and a new house.
"Things were just kind of rowdy for a couple of years. It took a while until things got quiet enough that I could hear these characters talking. I just decided that I would really take my time. I was very self-conscious writing this. I just decided I'd wait it out until I was happy with it."
Later, when director Lasse Hallstrom (Once Around, My Life as a Dog) came aboard, Khouri's luck continued and she found herself in a very unusual situation for a Hollywood screenwriter — active participation in the actual direction and course of the film. Khouri feels fortunate.
"A lot of times people say, 'We've got a really great script here. Who can we get to rewrite it?' (It's) a psychology that will always elude me."
People who go see Something to Talk About expecting to find a tone or theme similar to Thelma & Louise are going to be confused by its ambiguous ending and the way the character of the cheating husband develops. It's a situation that Khouri would have faced no matter what her follow-up film would have been.
"I'm in a no-win situation. People's expectations of what I should say or how I should say it — I'm never going to be able to overcome that. If people think that there's no such thing as forgiveness, I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who could tell them otherwise. For people who expect me to write a doctrine instead of a movie, they're always going to be disappointed. I'm interested in writing movies and the characters dictate the story; it's not arbitrary ... Somebody's always going to be let down no matter what, so they're just going to have to deal with it."
The complexity of the characters in Something to Talk About is something Khouri sought from the beginning.
"At the beginning of this movie, I wanted to start everybody out as a stereotype — have Eddie the cheating husband, Grace the charity league wife, Wyly the overbearing father, Georgia the submissive mother — and have you understand who everybody was by the end of the movie and see the human beings in every one of those stereotypes."
While there are certainly serious elements to the story, Khouri's main goal with her second script was to entertain.
"If I would have called it something, I would have called it Something to Laugh About because I really hope people do have a good time."
By the way, where has Khouri placed the Oscar she won? It's in her office, though you might not recognize it at first.
When the Academy sent it back after engraving, it was shipped in "those blue bags, like a Crown Royal bottle. So I put the thing on the shelf and looked at it for a while and then I put the blue bag over it. My husband came in and took one look at it and said, 'Ahh! Safe success.'"