EXCLUSIVE: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous unfinished novel, “The Last Tycoon,” may be coming to television soon. So says Billy Ray, the now hot as a pistol in demand screenwriter of “Captain Phillips.” Ray told our PAULA SCHWARTZ on Friday night that he’s working on adapting the novel for long form– either a mini series or more. Ray didn’t say who this would be for, but if the saga of Hollywood’s early big studio days doesn’t sound like an HBO project, I don’t know what does. Ray has an incredible list of would be projects thanks to his writing “The Hunger Games” first installment. Prior to that, his credits were scarce. He did write the much admired “Shattered Glass,” but not much else. Now among his coming projects is the Scorsese Sinatra movie, and about a half dozen high profile deals. Not bad.
Here is Paula’s report:
On the red carpet before the 6 p.m. New York Film Festival world premiere of “Captain Phillips,” Tom Hanks, who rushed to get into Alice Tully Hall on time, stopped in his tracks to chat with veteran New York Post celebrity reporter Cindy Adam. He told her a story – in which every journalist with a tape recorder and camera moved in to eavesdrop – about a phone conversation he had with President Obama, for whom he had narrated an election film.
“Check this out,” Hanks told Cindy Adams – who will kill me for repeating this story – he told Adams he spoke to the President, who asked him what he was up to. “And I said, Well Boss.” Here Hanks paused and turned to Cindy, “Not bad, uh?” he joked. “I’m doing a thing that you figured into,” and then went on to tell the President about the film and the real-life story about the kidnapping by Somali pirates. The punch line involved the President complaining to Hanks, “Let me get this straight? Pirates? With everything else that’s going on, the economy, war, I got to deal with pirates now?”
On the red carpet I got a chance to chat with screenwriter Billy Ray, who was with his daughter Mia. “I didn’t have to invent anything,” he said in discussing one of the big draws in doing the film. He also had access to Captain Phillips whenever he needed him, either by e-mail or phone.
I mentioned to Ray that I was surprised how moved I was by the film because it had a political dimension I didn’t expect. He portrays the Somali pirates as desperate men with few options: vicious warlords demand they kidnap ships for ransom, and they can no longer fish since international conglomerates have stripped their oceans bare of fish.
“From the beginning we were very determined that we didn’t want cardboard bad guys,” Ray told me. He said he and director Paula Greengrass wanted fully dimensional characters. “Not so much that audiences can sympathize but so that audiences can understand and maybe recognize a piece of human behavior in those characters and that was very important to me and very important to Paul.”
Another thing screenwriter and director agreed on was their star. “From the time I started writing he was the only actor I had in my head. He was the only guy I could imagine playing the part. He was the dream actor for the part. And then we got him!”
As for what’s next, Ray, who is sure to be nominated for a best screenplay Oscar, told me “he’s jumping into television. I’m going to be adapting the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, ‘The Last Tycoon’ as a series.” The 1970’s movie that starred Robert De Niro was miscast and dry. How will he breath life into it I asked?
“But this will be television,” he told me. “The book is spectacular and we’re going to have years to tell the story. We’re going to be able to tell it like it’s a novel and we get to write that novel. You know Fitzgerald died when he was writing it. We get to finish it for him. It’s a great opportunity.”
No star or actors are attached to the project yet he told me.
As for “Captain Phillips,” Ray told me the biggest challenge in bringing it to the screen was doing “honor to the behavior to these men, these merchant mariners who had survived this thing that I think would have killed me. I wanted to make sure that we shone a light on them that was appropriate in terms of the dignity in which they carried themselves and I’m confident that I did.”