‘Galaxy’ finally hitches ride with Disney

ROACH COACH HELPS “GALAXY” HITCH RIDE WITH DISNEY: Jay Roach has just made two major studio films happen, one because he’s not directing.

Roach has a 2004 production start for “Meet the Fockers,” the Universal/DreamWorks sequel to his hit “Meet the Parents.” His willingness to step aside after six years of struggling with “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” led Spyglass/Disney to agree to a spring start in London.

The development of the film he’s not directing is more gratifying. Along with Spyglass’ Roger Birnbaum, Gary Barber, Jonathan Glickman and Derek Evans, Roach labored six years, even after every studio in town refused to pick up “Hitchhiker’s Guide.” Mostly, he was trying to keep a promise to the book’s author Douglas Adams, who died two years ago after spending 18 years with his thumb in the air, waiting to catch a ride on a studio film.

Roach lives with a rock star and has become the director equivalent of one himself thanks to the Austin Powers trilogy and “Meet the Parents.” One might be skeptical of his loyalty to an author-philosopher quirky enough to have once hiked the Himalayas in a rhino suit to gain attention for a cause.

But Roach, who’s long married to Bangles lead singer Susanna Hoffs, is easily the most unassuming and amiable first-dollar gross director I’ve ever met. And I believe him.

“I never met a more inspirational person than Douglas,” Roach said. “He was 6’4″ and built like a tackle, with a booming laugh and great storytelling abilities, and the most refreshing take on life. He’d take me to these exotic restaurants, order everything on the menu and we’d spend hours talking. He was an authority on everything from technology to evolutionary theory, but his message was all about getting people to look outside themselves and not be so narcissistic. I wanted to spread that spirit with the film.”

WHEN ADAMS DIED, the project’s prognosis was bleak, with studios saying the script was “too British, too quirky, too expensive.” Roach and Spyglass turned the corner with a rewrite by “Chicken Run” scribe Karey Kirkpatrick that was less reverent of the book and more accessible. After six years, Roach finally had a strong script. Unfortunately, it arrived just after he’d told Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro he’d next direct “Fockers,” after both stars sparked to a script he wrote with Larry Stuckey.

“Suddenly, the money and script were finally there, and I could not be,” Roach said. “We were running up against that ‘expires before’ date that is always on a sequel. But I couldn’t quit ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’ and told Spyglass I’d help find a director.”

They tried Spike Jonze, who said no but endorsed directing-producing team Garth Jennings and Nick Goldsmith, who are movie neophytes but are a top British commercials team known as Hammer & Tongs. Roach and Spyglass execs were blown away by their take. So were Disney’s Nina Jacobson and Dick Cook, who ended a recent pitch meeting by giving Spyglass the distributor it needed.

“Garth and Nick designed a way to make a high production value film at a much lower cost, a trick I didn’t have in my bag.” Roach said. “When we got in the elevator after Nina and Dick said we could make the film, all of us hugged and actually danced in the grass outside the animation building. It was just the most wonderful feeling, in some way a more pure joy than if I was directing it.”

WHILE BOTH PICS PREP, Roach’s next assignment is to stay home with the kids while his wife tours for a new Bangles album. Roach is happy to return the spotlight to her. She has been his creative center, starting from when she lobbied Mike Myers to endorse Roach for a career-making first job on “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.” Roach’s attempts to seek approval from her psychoanalyst father informed the anxiety of “Meet the Parents.”

And not insignificantly, Hoffs forgave Roach and Myers after they mangled the gorgeous version of “What’s It All About Alfie” that she sang for “Goldmember.” Director and star got the inspiration to let each character sing along with Hoffs, and the song loses much of its charm when Myers’ Fat Bastard character grunts his lyrics during a particularly strenuous bowel movement. And then they cut the whole song out of the film.

“She is my good luck charm and a good sport,” Roach understated.

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