January 13, 2018
by admin /

DEALING WITH THE DEVIL – by Degen Pener

Two Exacting Stars and a runaway budget made filming The Devil’s Own a helacious
headache.

LIKE BEELZEBUB himself, the movie The Devil’s Own has assumed many incarnations.
When Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford were announced as costars, it shone like a
Humvee-size star vehicle. Its next guise- proclaimed by the press, denied by
the principal- was that of a disaster in the making, a picture pocked by feverish
script doctoring, budget hemorrhages, and, most deliciously, rumors of enmity
between its two leading men. And when Pitt them announced last January that
he’d tried to abandon the project, it seemed a catastrophe confirmed.

Now that the film has opened, it’s hoping to transform itself yet again-
into a Hollywood fable of a film that narrowly cheated the evil. The Devil’s
Own earned respectful reviews, some of which praised it as the sort of complex,
character-driven drama studios should be making more often. And the film’s
$18 million first-week U.S. gross is promising. Yet the movie’s final
incarnation may be as a portent of the future of Hollywood- a world in which
the exigencies of superstar packaging can push budgets near the $100 million
mark and force filming to start before there’s a workable script anywhere
in sight.

THE BASIC PREMISE of The Devil’s Own sounds simple enough- Frankie McGuire,
a.k.a. Roy Devaney, an IRA fugitive (played by Pitt, 33), finds a home in New
York with Tom O’meara, an Irish-American cop (played by the 54-year-old
Ford) who doesn’t know it’s a terrorist he’s sheltering. Though
the two bond like father and son, their day-and-night ideals draw them into
conflict. “You have two decent men who are forced into this mortal combat,”
says director Alan Pakula, who sees his film as a modern-day Western.

So why is it that everyone still wants to know if the same type of duel happened
off screen, too? “A lot of this gossip is the fascination about two giant
stars of two different generations. What I’ve read has been like a male
version of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in the old fighting it out for close-ups,”
says Pakula. “If that’s what they felt about each other, I sure
didn’t know it.”

But The Devil’s Own was mired in conflict long before there were any
rumors of Blanche-and-Baby Jane-style jostling for screen time. And anyone who
read the original script would have seen it coming. When Pitt first read it
six years ago, the dark-as-midnight screenplay, by Kevin Jarre (Tombstone),
was practically a photo negative of the high-minded, high-noon story that ended
up on screen. In particular, Jarre’s Roy Devaney isn’t the terrorist
with a heard of gold he became. On the run from his past, he steals money from
a crack house, guns down its inhabitants, goes on a nightclub crawl, and snorts
coke. He was “this kind of existential anti-hero,” says Vincent
Patrick (The Pope of Greenwich Village), one of five writers involved in what
became an exhaustive overhaul.

Tom O’meara, the part destined for Ford, wasn’t even an anti-hero.
“He was this hair-bag cop. They call them hair bags because they’ve
been in their uniforms so long that their hair starts growing out of their shirt,”
says writer David Aaron Cohen (V.I. Warshawski), who eventually teamed with
Patrick on the script’s second rewrite. "There was a whole page [in
Jarre’s script] of him and his partner going ‘Fuck you.’ ‘No,
fuck you.’ ‘No, suck my dick.’”

“It was just bizarre,” adds Cohen. “This was the script that
Brad was in love with.”

Even with Pitt’s name attached, however, Jarre’s screenplay squatted
in development at Universal before the studio put it into turnaround. When Columbia
gave it a new home in early 1995, executives there began mulling names of costars.
Both Gene Hackman and Sean Connery were judged too old to play O’Meara.
Then Pitt suggested Ford.

“I wanted Harrison because, well, I’ve always loved Harrison,”
says Pitt. “You get this sense of integrity.” Columbia’s then
copresident Lisa Henson (now a producer at Sony) reportedly argued that adding
Ford to the cast would burst the picture’s budget, but studio chairman
Mark Canton, who would lose his job the next year, seemed overjoyed at the possibility
of such a casting coup. So with an offer of $20 million, the industry’s
top tag, Ford came on board. The two stars soon agreed upon Pakula (All the
President’s Men) as director.

It seemed like the ultimate package. The only problem was that “the minute
Harrison Ford expressed an interest, what became apparent was this character’s
got to change 180 degrees,” says Patrick, nothing that Ford hasn’t
built his blue-ship career playing hair bags. Adds Cohen, “Take it from
Columbia’s perspective- ‘Twenty million and you want Harrison to
be the supporting actor?’”

Sitting in his Manhattan office, Pakula colors at those interpretations. “That’s
simplistic,” he says. While he admits Ford’s part changed, Pakula
contends that the rewrite was one aspect of reconceiving the whole story. (Read
no further if you want to certain plot details to remain a surprise.) “I
wanted a mythic confrontation,” says the director. “To have a shoot-out
where the [Ford] character isn’t strong enough or worthy enough for the
Brad Pitt character would gave been lopsided.”

“It was never a question of the quality of the parts or of the amount
of time on screen,” Ford says. “What was a factor was how the character
was described and how he behaved.” But even those script changes were
significant. In November 1995, two months before shooting was set to commence,
Pakula brought in Patrick and Cohen for rewriters. While Pitt was finishing
Sleeper, Ford conferred with the new writers almost daily over the course of
a month. “We would meet for a couple of hours. We hung out with the cops.
It was very intensive,” says Cohen.

For starters, the slovenly O’Meara was cleaned up and given a younger
family. A scene where Ford’s character fumbles his gun was dropped. “Harrison
certainly had no intention of fumbling a gun,” says Patrick. Most important,
a plot point was added in which Ford’s partner Diaz, played by Ruben Blades,
shoots an unarmed suspect from behind. O’Meara must decide whether to
report his buddy or cover up for him. “It was important to me that there
was some moral compromise of my character so that we didn’t have one character
with a black hat and one character with a white hat,” says Ford. Whether
intentionally or not, these changes did have the effect of beefing up Ford’s
part.

At the same time, Pitt’s character was undergoing a makeover too. Goodbye,
drug abuse. Hello, love interest (although the love scene between Pitt and costar
Natascha McElhone didn’t make the final cut). Pakula softened the film’s
prologue, which had Devaney in Ireland, peppering British soldiers with machine-gun
fire; the new version, which Pitt says he prefers, would show his character
as a boy witnessing his own father’s murder.

And perhaps the most nerve-jangling scene in The Devil’s Own- the one
in which thugs invade O’Meara’s home- was drastically altered. In
the original script, according to Patrick, “the O’Meara shlub is
cowering. He does nothing. Suddenly out of nowhere come a sledgehammer and the
hook up and it’s Rory. He demolishes them. He’s the great hero.”
In the film, “what you have is a fight in which these two guys together
do the fighting,” says Patrick. “And one puts his arm around the
other guy’s shoulders, and, you know, quote, ‘male bonding’
is occurring here.”

But with both stars and the director all having script approval, male bonding
was not what occurred when Pitt saw the new version. In fact, the changes sent
him reeling. “He came in and panicked and said, this is not the film I
wanted to make,” says Pakula.

Suddenly, Pitt must have felt like the odd man out. “This was his baby
for five years,” says Patrick. “He walks into this situation in
which we’ve been meeting with Harrison for weeks.” Adds Pakula:
“After all, Harrison and I had done a film [1990’s Presumed Innocent]
together. There [were] all sorts of reasons to think, ‘Wait a minute.
This is becoming something else in somebody else’s hands.”

But Pitt says his concerns weren’t over the sociodynamics of preproduction.
The actor, according to Pakula, felt that his role was becoming a stereotypical
bad guy. “He got anxious that what we wanted TO DO WAS Patriot Games II,”
says Pakula. And Pitt thought the rewrite trivialized the situation in Northern
Ireland. “The first draft we had was full of leprechaun jokes and green
beer. I had this responsibility to represent somewhat these people whose lives
have been shuttered,” says Pitt. “It would have been an injustice
to Hollywoodize it. It was coming very close to shooting time. It made me very
uneasy.

“I know how it gets on a set,” he continues. “It costs $150,000
a day to shoot and we have to shoot something the next day and if we don’t
have it written down things get sloppy.” To avoid that, producers brought
in yet another writer, Terry George (In the Name of the Father), to help allay
Pitt’s concerns about authenticity.

Script meetings went back and forth for a few weeks until, a week before filming,
an angry and frustrated Pitt threatened to walk. “We had no script. Well,
we had a great script but it got tossed… To have to make something up
as you go along- Jesus, what pressure! It was ridiculous,” Pitt later
told Newsweek. He directed most of his ire at Sony, blaming Canton for trying
to hold the picture together at all costs.

“I felt much the same way at that juncture,” says Ford, regarding
the script problems. Nonetheless, he notes, “I’ve been through that
sort of thing before, on The Fugitive, on Clear and Present Danger. I wasn’t
too terribly upset.” And, he adds, “I didn’t for a minute
think that anybody was going to let us walk away.”

Pakula pleaded with Pitt. “I said, ‘You know, Brad, Jane Fonda
tried to get out of Klute on the Friday before we started shooting,” says
Pakula. When Pitt still wanted out, Pakula began formulating Plan B. “My
feeling was,” he says, “then let’s see if we can find some
gifted young Irish actor, get Harrison to stay, and go ahead with the film.”

According to Pitt, Columbia then threatened to sue him, to the tune of $63
million, if he left. In up-front costs alone- including Ford’s salary.
Pitt’s $9 million (plus a seven-figure increase his agents negotiated
after the success of Seven), and Pakula’s $5 million- the studio had more
than $40 million invested in the film. Canton “had two enormous stars
committed to it,” says Columbia president of production Barry Josephson.
“Most people would have tried to hold the movie together.” (Canton
declined to comment.)

Despite the lawsuit threat, Pitt says the enthusiasm of Pakula and Ford ultimately
kept him in the picture. “I think more, being the veterans that they are,
[with] their experience, they said, ‘No, we can do this.’”

On Feb. 5, 1996, when Pakula finally shot his first foot of film, Pitt was
still edgy. “He did very well the first day,” says Pakula. “Afterwards
I heard he still was frightened about the script, and the studio said, ‘You
can’t get out.’” Pakula- who was initially unsure Pitt could
handle the role of someone “coming for a background that was so different
than his” – grew more doubtful: “When Brad would feel threatened
– and he says he’s not like this anymore- he would withdraw. Harrison,
when he got mad, would say, ‘What can we do about this?’

I have to say, once Brad was committed to this film he worked his tail off,”
says the director. “He pulled it off.” Also, the actor soon got
a grip on his Belfast brogue, his first foreign accent. “The first thing
he said to me was ‘You know, I want to do this accent, but I’m not
Meryl Streep,’” says Pakula.

As the shoot proceeded, so did the debates. According to Patrick, Pitt pushed
for more realism. “The higher content of social commentary,” recalls
the writer, “The happier Brad would’ve been.” Putt adamantly
denies that. “We didn’t want to get caught up in preaching politics,”
he says. “That would be a disaster.” And while Pitt argued for swifter
exposition, Pakula insisted on slowly developing the friendship between Devaney
and O’Meara.

A month and a half into shooting, Robert Mark Kamen (A Walk in the Clouds)
replaced Cohen and Patrick. “I was handed a document called the compilation
script,” says Kamen. “These scenes were half baked.” Patrick,
however, contends Kamen was merely fixing fine points. “Kamen added two
scenes that I can think of. What he did is essentially what people call a polish.”
Pitt disagrees: “Kamen came in and with all of us basically wrote it.”

The difference was that the arguments had finally become productive. “We
had disagreements on scenes all the way through,” adds pakula. “Harrison
was obsessed with his character. Brad was obsessed with his. That’s how
I want actors to be.” As tempers cooled, however, two other problems loomed
large. The budget, originally around $60 million, soared with every delay. Last
year’s brutal New York winter didn’t help, but it was the rewriting
that really slowed things down. “I would write a dialogue in the trailer
and an hour later hear the actors saying the lines,” says Kamen, who earned
a reported $1 million for 16 weeks’ work. And while studios execs deny
there were days when no film was shot, an on-set source recalls the crew playing
basketball one afternoon for lack of anything better to do.

Meanwhile, bad word of mouth was spreading like a virus. Rumors of trouble
on the set went into overdrive. Even Pitt getting a cold sore became gossip-column
fodder. “My grandmother called and said, ‘So, honey, I hear you
have a cold sore,’” says Pitt. “That’s how pathetic
it got.” A byzantine theory emerged that Melissa Mathison – Ford’s
wife and the writer of Disney’s Dalai Lama drama Kundun – was scheming
with her husband to slow the film so that Pitt’s rival movie, Seven Years
in Tibet, wouldn’t start on time. “It was just plain bulls—,”
says Ford. “I was very insulted.”

True or not, the negative press had the studios spooked. “It’s
a scary thing that happens,” says Bob Levin, Columbia’s president
of worldwide marketing, “and it may have nothing to do with what the public
will ultimately see in their multiplexes.”

When the movie was finally finished shooting in Ireland last July – the
Belfast prologue was filmed last – The Devil’s Own was 30 days past
schedule. Its costs was reported to be approaching $100 million. (Studio insiders
contend it actually ended up between $75 million and $85 million.) And the drama
was still not over. Throughout the last quarter of 1996, the writers were still
busy – fighting it out for credit. After a Writers Guild arbitration,
Patrick and Cohen were given top billion. Jarre (who did not respond to interview
requests) was pushed to third. “I felt Kevin deserved first credit,”
says Kamen, who is not credited. “I don’t think [Cohen and Patrick]
ever completed a script. These are two lucky guys.” Reports Patrick: “What
do you mean there was no script? It’s absurd. From November to March,
we produced script after script after script.”
The New Year brought Pitt’s tirade in Newsweek, necessitating serious
damage control. “I think Brad forgot for a minute that he was talking
to someone who is paid to write this s— down,” says Ford. Pitt immediately
released a statement saying his negative remarks referred only to his feelings
during the early, unhappiest days before filming. “He was going uh-oh
as we were going uh-oh,” says Levin.

Then in February, the ending was reshot, fueling more speculation that the
movie was a failure. “There wasn’t a big change,” says Ford.
“We had one element added. It preserved the surprise a little longer.”
Joked Ford two weeks ago, after a wearying junket, “The movie only got
finished last night.”

So, now that the film is in theaters, how much does all this Sturm and Drang
matter? Considering that The Devil’s Own has earned decent money so far
(including the $16 million overseas), those involved may be forgiven for taking
a what-the-hell attitude. Even so, the story of its making drives home a couple
of points. Certainly, the costs of trying to shoe-horn two major stars into
an unaccommodating script are not to be underestimated. Also, Brad Pitt’s
bankability now seems unquestionable – he disse his own film and still
didn’t kill its opening.

Pakula draws a different moral from the experience. “I was up at Sundance
two years ago,” he says, “and I said to Redford that one of the
things I notice is that young directors are so worried about conflict. I said,
‘Remember all the fights we had on All the President’s Men?’
and he goes, ‘We had good fights.’ It’s not an ‘I love
you, I love you’ process.

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