Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Terrence McNally on Making a Play into Film

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Terrence McNally on Making a Play into Film

Article excerpt

'IT'S a film based on the play, not a film of the play."

With that caveat out of the way, Terrence McNally begins to relate how he transformed his highly-acclaimed off-Broadway hit "Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune," into a big-budget Paramount Pictures feature film "Frankie and Johnny."

Taking a writing break in his New York apartment, Mr. McNally explains that the story is about how "a lot of people are not living in relationships any more, and seem to be making a life for themselves on their own."

The play traces the rocky early stages of a romance between an ex-convict short-order cook and a disheartened, tough-acting waitress who work together in a Manhattan diner. The entire play occurs during one night in her cramped Hell's Kitchen tenement apartment.

"I wrote the play for Kathy," he notes, referring to Kathy Bates, who performed the role for nearly a year. Speculation was stirred by the casting of Michelle Pfeiffer in the lead. Critics said that the story's essence, built so heavily on the personality of a woman not considered attractive, would be compromised.

McNally responds, "I did the film script first, before anyone was cast." McNally says that Ms. Pfeiffer is "a real character actress, who's different in every role she takes. This is a very naked, brave performance," revealing vulnerabilities in the character and the actress. "There were no changes made," he says, once Pfeiffer was cast.

McNally says he decided that he was "not so much adapting the play as retelling it. I put the play in a bottom drawer, and locked it." To expand the story, he introduced the owner and co-workers at the diner, as well as Frankie's neighbors and family, but retained the basic two-character focus.

McNally admits he might have had some concern about taking this small tale and giving it the big-screen treatment, had he not seen an earlier film by director Garry Marshall, "The Flamingo Kid.It reminded me, in tone, of my play," he notes. "Some movies about blue-collar people romanticize their lives," but that film presented them honestly, a reflection, McNally says, of the fact that Mr. …

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