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He attributes that to the year he spent forming Ford’s intricate novels into a screenplay, often crafting original scenes, and the several more years he spent helping bring the series to fruition with the producers and White (“Generation Kill”).
“It’s the closest thing to writing a play which isn’t a play that I have ever been involved with,” he said.
The stage has been the Czech-born Stoppard’s chief occupation since leaving journalism in his 20s. But he’s made a number of detours into film, either as a screenwriter or a behind-the-scenes script doctor. His latest big-screen project is the adaptation of “Anna Karenina” with Keira Knightley.
Stoppard’s insistence that he isn’t an outstanding scriptwriter stems, in part, from his reticence. Then there’s what he calls the differing “schools of eloquence” represented by film and plays.
“I envy and admire movies which are eloquent without recourse to long speeches,” he said, citing several lines to illustrate his point. One comes from “The Fugitive” (“I don’t care,” Tommy Lee Jones says after Harrison Ford insists he didn’t kill his wife), another from “Ghostbusters.”
Bill Murray is confronted by “this kind of Amazonian ghost goddess, spooky thing, and he goes, `This chick is toast,’” Stoppard said, with a delighted smile.
“It’s the sense that precisely the right words have been uttered,” he explained.
That’s how fellow scribes feel about him. One L.A. film and TV writer said she regularly rereads the famed cricket-bat speech from “The Real Thing,” about the challenge of writing, for joy and inspiration: “If you get it right,” the character Henry says, “the cricket ball will travel two hundred yards in four seconds, and all you’ve done is give it a knock like knocking the top off a bottle of stout, and it makes a noise like a trout taking a fly. What we’re trying to do is to write cricket bats, so that when we throw up an idea and give it a little knock, it might travel.”
For now, the right words for Stoppard would be those of a new play, the first since “Rock `n’ Roll” from seven years ago. He has no regrets about immersing himself in “Parade’s End,” but is ready for the solitude needed to find the right story for the stage.
He used to steal away to a house in France until the air travel became too much. Now he makes do with a “small, shabby cottage an hour-and-a-half from London, which in theory is supposed to be my French house. But it’s not far enough away” to evade commitments, social and otherwise. (“I’m Mr. Available,” he laments.)
It’s welcome assurance to hear the guild lifetime award he received Feb. 17 doesn’t signal a halt for Stoppard. It did pull him up short, at least briefly.
“I was quite surprised. Though I am 75, so I shouldn’t be surprised. But I haven’t thought of stopping yet.”
By Brahma Chellaney
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