Straughan’s reputation as a screenwriter has run far ahead of the evidence actually up on the screen.
“Sixty Six,” his debut pic, co-written with partner Bridget O’Connor but also with the hidden hand of Richard Curtis, got a lukewarm reception by critics and at the box office. His soph effort, “Mrs. Ratcliffe’s Revolution,” also co-written by O’Connor, looks set for a similarly mild response.
And yet Straughan is just about the most in-demand Brit scribe out there, largely on the strength of his as-yet unproduced screenplay “Men Who Stare at Goats,” adapted from Jon Ronson’s nonfiction book about the bizarre experiments in psychological warfare practiced by the U.S. army.
Since producer Paul Lister and BBC Films started circulating that script in Hollywood, the offers have come flooding in for Straughan. Jay Roach is in talks to direct “Goats.” George Clooney and Warners signed Straughan for “Our Brand Is Crisis,” an adaptation of a docu about U.S. campaigning tactics applied to a Bolivian election. And David Fincher has tapped him to adapt Tim Guest’s novel “Second Lives.”
Meanwhile, his adaptation of Toby Young’s memoir “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People” has started production in New York. He and O’Connor are working together again on a version of “A Christmas Carol” for Working Title, which produced “Sixty Six.” And one of his early stage plays, “Noir,” also is heading for the bigscreen, courtesy of producer David Parfitt and director Mark Mylod.
“Peter is incredibly versatile,” says Ollie Madden, Warners’ London-based VP of production, who’s working with Straughan on “Crisis.” “His writing is very bold and inventive, and he manages to do satire in a way that’s not didactic, but wholly entertaining. And he’s just as comfortable writing ‘American’ as he is writing ‘British.’ ”
Straughan says the common thread through his work is black comedy, dealing with characters who are “marginalized or odd or left out.” The scripts he does with O’Connor sit at the lighter end of that spectrum, and the ones he does on his own at the darker.
He started out in student theater at Newcastle U. “But the minute I started doing film, I felt so much more comfortable. I liked writing plays, but I wasn’t a theatergoer,” he recalls. “I enjoy the collaborative side of film, and so far, I haven’t had any really unpleasant experiences with directors wanting to take scripts in a direction I don’t agree with. Of course, it would be lovely for screenwriters to be treated with the same kind of respect they get in theater, but there’s something more workaday about film, which I like. Theater can be too reverential at times.”
Provenance: Gateshead, England
Inspired by: “The Coen brothers were a first love for me; Hal Ashby; and Mamet when I started off in theater was a big inspiration.”
Reps: Agents: CAA in the U.S. and Jodi Shields at Casarotto Ramsay in the U.K.