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October 31, 2003 - Image 73

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Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-10-31

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to her as a "shiksa." "But I am half my
mother," he said, "and I never felt the
same about my grandmother again."
As an attorney in the Ozarks in the
1970s, "people used to come see me
just to see a Jewish person," he said.
He figured he'd be run out of town
when he wrote a rebuttal to an anti-
Semitic letter to the editor; instead, he
became a local hero.
Rosenberg was equally resolute
about adapting Stain, although "every-
one thought I was crazy," he said.
The last time a Roth novel made it
to the screen was 1972's Portnoy's
Complaint. The more complex Stain
jumps around in time, interweaves
plots and subplots and conveys action
through interior monologues.
Then there was the matter of con-
vincing the notoriously prickly Roth,
whom Rosenberg met at a cafe near
the author's Litchfield, Conn., home.
The writer "is a person who, before
you open your mouth, you'd better
know what you're talking about; oth-
erwise just be quiet," Rosenberg said.
It helped that the producer had read
almost all of Roth's books, and prom-
ised to respect The Human Stain." In
the end, the blunt author was surpris-
ingly amenable: "You'll have only one
problem with me," he said. "If the
check doesn't clear."
Once the check did clear, Rosenberg
and his Lakeshore Entertainment part-
ner, Gary Lucchesi, tackled another hur-
dle: Hiring a screenwriter to adapt the
book. They decided on Nicholas Meyer,
57, a cerebral writer-director who had

turned one of his own
novels, The Seven-Percent
Solution, into an Oscar
nominated film.
A bonus was that
Meyer, like Rosenberg,
had been a Roth fan
since reading 1969's
Portnoys Complaint. "At
the time I was fascinat-
ed and titillated and
probably missed the
point," the screenwriter
said of the controversial,
sexually frank book.
Meyer, the son of a
psychoanalyst and a
concert pianist, said he
came to appreciate
Roth for his "three-D
snapshots of this coun-
try at different periods
in history."
Goodbye, Columbus,
for one, captured the
"nouveau-riche vulgari-
ans" he met at his New
York private school and
Gary Sinise plays Philip Roth alter ego Nathan
the "staggering displays
Zuckerman.
of ostentation" he saw at
b'nai mitzvah.
antagonists; there has to be develop-
Meyer was drawn to Stain for its
ment,
exposition, resolution. And I'm
equally biting exposé of PC politics,
thinking,
'How do I reorganize this
but he hadn't a clue about how to
material
so
that it has dramatic direc-
adapt it. The sprawling story over-
tion
and
meaning?'
The problem pre-
whelmed him, as did the idea of
occupied me for six weeks."
rewriting the literary giant Roth.
Two days before he was scheduled to
"In a novel you can do whatever you
meet
with the producers, he said, "I
want," he said. "But a drama has to be
was
bitching
and moaning and my
a drama, with actors, protagonists,
wife said, 'Why don't you just tell
them you couldn't figure it out?' So I
The problem is
just gave up.
that Zuckerman
Not long thereafter, Meyer had an •
relates the: story
unexpected brainstorm while sitting in
without a whiff of
the bath. He realized that Act I should
self-awareness that
describe the professor's fall, concluding
Silk's active deci-
when a character asks why Silk made
sion to bury his
the politically incorrect racist remark.
black identity is
"The whole second act becomes an
not far removed
answer to that question by showing
from his own pas-
Coleman's African-American roots,"
sive choice to glide
Meyer said.
away from his
"The third act is, OK, now that you
Jewish identity.
know who Silk really is, you're going
Ultimately, the
to watch his destiny played out,
film's title can be
freighted with that knowledge. Once
read as an updating
you know his `backstory,' as we say in
Director Robert Benton on the set with Nicole Kickan
of Shakespeare's
Hollywood, he is like an entirely dif-
line, "The fault,
ferent character."
dear Brutus, is not
Anthony Hopkins was so impressed
these two men have no connection to in our stars but in ourselves.
by
Meyer's script that he signed on to
Judaism. Nary a word or knickknack
Julius Caesar is a great tragedy, Well
play Silk the day after he read it.
points to Zuckerman's Jewishness,
acted and impeccably staged as it is,
Coincidentally, he had been reading
but his name labels him, and so we
The Human Stahl is simply a
the novel, his third Roth book in as
define him by what's absent rather
restrained, engaging thriller. E
many months, when his agent phoned
than by what's present.
with the offer. Hopkins is perhaps

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