Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Writer-director Richard Shepard’s major screen debut, 1991’s “The Linguini Incident,” was, by his own admission, “a romantic comedy that was neither romantic or funny.”

So, at age 26, Mr. Shepard appeared to have had his shot at film glory — and blown it.

“Hollywood, by its very nature, will take a risk on an unknown, but if you’re given a chance and fail, they’re not gonna take a risk a second time,” Mr. Shepard says. “There are a hundred people behind you who may be brilliant, and you’ve proven you’re not.”

Mr. Shepard thought his creative life had ended. Then he started writing again — with scaled-down ambitions.

“When the phone’s not ringing, you suddenly have no choice. You either fail or figure out what’s been going wrong,” he says.

His journey back, fueled by profitable small films that shot straight to cable, gave him the impetus for “The Matador,” a quirky character piece.

“I wrote this expecting no one to do it and I’d make it guerrilla style, which I was happy to do,” he says.

Instead, Pierce Brosnan’s production company caught wind of the script, and Mr. Shepard’s comeback story found its own Hollywood ending.

“The Matador,” starring co-producer Mr. Brosnan as a neurotic hit man trying to retire in one piece, made a hearty splash at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. Now it’s set to open in the relatively soft January movie season, and Mr. Shepard’s phone is ringing once more.

“It’s one of those moments where your life changes, and you almost know it,” Mr. Shepard says of Mr. Brosnan’s involvement.

He says he wasn’t ready for fame the first time around.

The failure of “The Linguini Incident” forced him to examine why he listened to all the wrong people and left in too many flat scenes the first time around.

A renewed confidence dominates “The Matador,” a bold and bawdy treatise on the standard-issue thriller.

“I just wanted to tell a hit-man story in a different way,” Mr. Shepard says. Unlike the sort of killing machine a Steven Seagal might play, “My guy’s a mess. He’s pathetic,” he says.

The timing worked out nicely for Mr. Brosnan, too. When he agreed to star in the film, he didn’t know his James Bond days were over. The role lets the Irish actor charm and manipulate a naive businessman (Greg Kinnear) without ever donning a crisp black tuxedo.

Mr. Shepard’s next project, tentatively titled “Spring Break in Bosnia,” promises a seriocomic look at war criminals whom the world’s governments have little interest in catching.

“Any movie that gets made is a miracle, let alone one that’s a bit different,” he says, letting it be known there’s no guarantee “Spring Break” will be made.

Even if the deal collapses, Mr. Shepard can revel in the fact that he’s back in business.

“It’s like my first movie again,” he says. “I’ve had a second chance. I feel lucky.”

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