PARIS — Seventy-one-year-old French scripter Jean-Claude Carriere hears his baby cry, shakes his head and smiles: “She was born in February just about the same time ‘Birth’ began shooting. Not only that, but Jonathan Glazer (pic’s helmer) has also just had a baby. If you put something like that in a film, nobody would believe it.”
In a curious twist, co-writers Carriere and Glazer both became fathers only days before “Birth,” starring Nicole Kidman, Danny Huston and Lauren Bacall, started shooting in New York last month. The $23 million pic is being produced by Fine Line Features and distributed in the U.S. by New Line Cinema.
The only foreign-language writer ever to be awarded the Writers Guild of America, West’s Screen Laurel Award (in 2000), Carriere’s scripting is more in demand than ever:
He co-wrote “Birth” with Milo Addica and Glazer, from the British helmer’s original idea about a 10-year-old boy who pretends to be the dead husband of a woman in her 30s.
He also recently finished co-writing a second draft of Milos Forman’s next projected pic — an adaptation of Hungarian author Sandor Marai’s novel “Embers.” (According to Carriere, Sean Connery has agreed in principle to play a lead role in the film.)
And he is awaiting the call to start work on Israeli helmer Amos Gitai’s next film.
Carriere and Forman have been friends for 40 years, and earlier co-wrote two pics: 1971’s “Taking Off” and 1989’s “Valmont.”
The writing partnership between helmer and scripter is just one of several that Carriere has successfully nurtured over a movie career spanning more than four decades and more than 100 writing credits.
“The paradox of the screenwriter is that he must give everything he has — time, talent, work, ideas — to the work of somebody else, namely the director,” Carriere says.
Carriere’s 19-year on-off working relationship with Luis Bunuel spawned six classics, among them “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” (1972), which received the Academy Award for best foreign-language film, and “That Obscure Object of Desire” (1977), nominated for a best screenplay Oscar.
And, since 1973, the scripter has sustained a parallel career writing for the stage in partnership with British playwright-director Peter Brook. The two men spent 11 years researching and writing a stage version, then TV version, of “The Mahabharata.”
“Once you go to work for someone like Bunuel or Peter Brook, it’s like going to the finals of the Olympic Games,” Carriere says. “You must be in perfect shape, totally devoted to what you do and as acute as possible. If not, the other will notice immediately that you are not up to it and you will be eliminated.”
Carriere also has penned several novels and nonfiction books including a definitive collection of interviews with the Dalai Lama called “Compassion: Dialogues on Life Today.”
Born in the heart of France’s southern Languedoc region, Carriere grew up with dirt under his fingernails helping his father cultivate the family vineyard. At 20, he entered the prestigious L’Ecole Normale Superieur in Paris, where he studied literature and history. He credits his success to the fact that he was pushed so hard by his teachers.
“I was taught how to be productive in my work — it’s difficult to explain: What is it to work? To concentrate, not to lose time, to go directly to the main point, to know how to use a library and especially how to work with other people.”
After a two-year stint in the French air force fighting in France’s war against Algeria, Carriere received his first break in 1967 when he won a competition to write a novelized version of Jacques Tati’s “Mr. Houlot’s Holiday.”
At the same time he also struck up his first screenwriting alliance with Tati’s assistant, Pierre Etaix. Carriere and Etaix had instant success with their first short film, 1962’s “Happy Birthday,” (Heureux anniversaire) which they co-wrote and co-directed — and for which they won a best short-subject Oscar.
So it’s not the first time, by a long shot, that he has nurtured a small thing and seen big results — be it a baby, a short or the twinkling of a script idea.