Professor Firstdraft’s GOODTIME SCRIPTORIUM

Dispatches from the far reaches of the WGF.

Line Readings: Richard Attenborough

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The partnership between writer and actor is like no other relationship in the arts. Writers craft words on the page, and actors bring those words forth into the real world, embedding them in our memory. Writers give actors the raw material for performance, and actors bring their interpretations and experience to those words in ways their writers may never have expected. From time to time on this blog, we’ll honor those actors, our partners in artistic endeavor, with collections of the words and pages that they helped make famous. In this case, we honor Richard Attenborough, who was a director as well.

Something it’s easy to think: “Wow, it’s a shame so many people didn’t really learn about RIchard Attenborough until he appeared in JURASSIC PARK.”

A better way to put it: “How lucky that JURASSIC PARK introduced Richard Attenborough to an entire new generation of moviegoers.”

Yeah, it’s true. Lots of kids who grew up in the 80s and 90s didn’t learn about Attenborough in his earlier roles, like Steve McQueen’s pal Frenchy in THE SAND PEBBLES or the hanging judge in the 1974 Agatha Christie adaptation AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. Or from his directorial work – movies like SHADOWLAND and CHAPLIN and A CHORUS LINE. And while there’s real value and satisfaction that comes from following an actor throughout his or her entire career, there’s a really unique feeling you get from watching something you haven’t seen before, and feeling that light go off in your head when you realize: Hey! It’s the “we spared no expense” guy! I love him!

He won two Academy Awards for GANDHI – one as director and one as producer. Together with Ben Kingsley, he brought accessibility and humanity to one of the 20th Century’s most inspirational leaders. But both men were almost certainly aided by the novel-like readability of the script written by John Briley, as you’ll find in an intimate – and truly powerful – scene in this undated draft.

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And, oh man, Big X. If you’ve ever seen THE GREAT ESCAPE, you might have wondered why the Nazis ever kept this guy in general population – a guy who beamed leadership across the camp like photons. There’s real power on these early pages in our 1962 draft of the script – screenplay by James Clavell and W.R. Burnett, based on the novel by Paul Brickhill. Here Attenborough’s Bartlet (nicknamed Big X) announces the plans to escape a Nazi POW camp, and wastes no time as he passes out assignments to his fellow officers.

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Finally, don’t worry – we wouldn’t leave you without pages from 1993’s JURASSIC PARK (screenplay by Michael Crichton and David Koepp, based on the novel by Michael Crichton). If you’ve read the book, you know Attenborough’s character, John Hammond, was initially conceived as a pretty evil, money-grubbing guy – kind of a one-note villain. But Crichton and Koepp’s script imbues him with real dimension, and Attenborough’s warm, avuncular performance makes it easy to see why he was cast as Santa Claus (OK, fine, Kris Kringle) in the following year’s MIRACLE ON 34th STREET. Which is a great choice, because really, the guy made dinosaurs. How bad can he be?

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