NAME: Christopher Hampton
DESCRIPTION: Filmdom’s ubiquitous Englishman, and double Tony-winner to boot.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING: How does he find the time?
About the only time Christopher Hampton seems to pause for breath these days is to pick up awards, if the 49-year-old Englishman’s current state of activity is any gauge.
While the rest of the year is shaping up to be an impromptu Hampton festival – with three films he wrote (“Total Eclipse,” “Carrington,” which he also directed, and “Mary Reilly”) due to open in the fall, and numerous others in varying states of readiness – the prizes are rolling in. With an Oscar behind him for “Dangerous Liaisons,” earlier this month he won two Tony Awards, albeit uncontested, for his collaboration with Don Black on the book and lyrics for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Boulevard.” His feature film directing debut, “Carrington,” won two prizes at Cannes in May – best actor for Jonathan Pryce’s Lytton Strachey and a special jury prize for Hampton himself.
Throw in Hampton’s newly inked first-look deal with 20th Century Fox worth nearly $2 million, and he begins to look like a one-man industry.
“Everything seems to have culminated at once, which is very bewildering, really,” Hampton said one recent afternoon in west London as he readies his second writing-directing effort, a $7 million adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Agent,” with Bob Hoskins, for a July 3 start; Fox Searchlight Pictures and Capitol Films of London are co-financing.
“There was kind of a moment last year when I was working on six scripts, all of which needed degrees of attention, and I did think it would be very nice to do one project at a time in the future,” he continues. “But with movies, you can’t legislate these things; scripts sit around, and then they’re activated.”
So it has proven with his lineup of films for the fall. “Carrington,” already opened in France and headed for the U.K. in September and U.S. in November, was scripted in 1977. Originally with Mike Newell attached, the film fell to Hampton to direct.
“Total Eclipse” on screen dates back to 1970 and Hampton’s first-ever trip to Hollywood. Ray Stark had expressed interest in a film of Hampton’s play about French poets Rimbaud and Verlaine, written in 1968 when the playwright was just 22. That never got off the ground, but a subsequent screenplay for Volker Schlondorff did two decades later, only to fall apart when intended star, River Phoenix, died. The new version for New Line, a possible entry for the Venice film fest, pairs Leonardo DiCaprio and David Thewlis under director Agnieszka Holland (“Europa, Europa”).
The Fox deal followed about a year of discussions, Hampton says, in which “we were just trying to find a formula that works,” enabling Hampton to continue his freelance life. That includes two screenplay adaptations for Warner Bros. – Neil Sheehan’s “A Bright Shining Lie” for Oliver Stone and Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History” for Alan J. Pakula – that have gone through several drafts each but remain some way from production. Specific Fox ventures won’t be decided until the seven-week shoot on “Secret Agent” finishes in August.
Far from forsaking the theater, Hampton has plays lined up on both sides of the Atlantic. His translation of French writer Yasmina Reza’s play “Art” is on tap for the West End, and New York’s Lincoln Center Theater is expected to stage his 1994 Royal National Theater play “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground” late next year, written with its director, Martha Clarke.
Hampton’s career reverses the common assumption that film exists to subsidize writing for the stage: “The theater has been the commercial basis of my life. With Les Liaisons Dangereuses’ and before that ‘The Philanthropist'” – Tony nominees for best play in 1987 and 1971, respectively – “I’ve always lived on my royalties. Movies like ‘The Good Father’ tended to be the small-budget adventures, where people said, ‘Here’s $5,000 and we’ll give you some more when the movie comes out.'”