Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Spielberg Took Me on Ride of My Life; Hollywood's Great Director Taught Me His Secrets, Says Richard Curtis

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Spielberg Took Me on Ride of My Life; Hollywood's Great Director Taught Me His Secrets, Says Richard Curtis

Article excerpt

Byline: Richard Curtis

IALWAYS assumed Steven Spielberg hated me. In Paris in 1994, Four Weddings and a Funeral, which I had written, was up against Schindler's List for best foreign film in the French Cesars. It was so clear which was the better film that the presenter who came on stage looked directly at Steven and said that if his film didn't win the prize, it would be a disgrace to the honour of France. Unfortunately, he then opened the envelope and it turned out Four Weddings had won, a freak result because it was a public vote and Four Weddings had lots of stupid jokes in it.

After the announcement there was total silence. Total disgrace for France. My poor girlfriend tried to start the applause. No one joined in. I wanted to put a bag over my head and assumed that Steven wanted to put a noose around my neck...

So imagine my surprise when, 15 years later, Steven sat opposite me, no noose in hand, and asked if I'd like to think about working on the movie of War Horse. Of course I said: "Yes." And then: "Sorry."

But before starting, I had to do my homework, and work out if I could do the job at all. The homework was wonderful. First I read Lee Hall's script, which seemed to me to have actually broken the back of the job. Then I saw the play, which is mighty, and hugely emotional. Finally, I read the book -- out loud as it happened, to my daughter. This was the key experience -- because seeing the intensity of my daughter's reaction to the end of the book gave me the courage to trust Michael Morpurgo's original structure, following the war horse right through the story.

I got back to Steven with a few thoughts and we decided I should have a go at the script. I needed to work fast and it was a joy to do it. I hope I did some good work -- what I know is that working with Steven was wonderfully not disappointing. The phone would go, it was Steven Spielberg on the line -- that was fun enough. But then the conversations were really extraordinary: he has an ability to imagine whole chunks of cinema in a way that I've never come across at all, with anyone. I would have written a scene -- then, on the spot, off the top of his head, Steven would suggest another, whole different one -- completely imagined, in every detail. If I wasn't crazy about it, I'd say so -- and Steven would immediately imagine a completely different scenario. If I liked that one he'd just throw in a third, completely new, set of events, just in case number two didn't work in the end.

It's a curious thing, that often you have to take the longest journey to get home again. I hope that after all the complex work it takes to get a film made we have returned to where it started, with Michael's beautiful book, expressing the courage of a horse at war. The play, with its amazing puppets, is so potent that more than once, when I've said I'm working on the film, people say: "But how are you going to do the horses? …

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