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The Human Stain

Screenplay by Nicholas Meyer

Studio: Miramax (released Oct. 31)

Category: Adapted

Source material: “The Human Stain,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Philip Roth

Storyline: A New England college professor who has lived a lie all his life – and loses his job rather than reveal the truth — seeks a last chance at happiness with a woman half his age, who’s carrying her own grievous secret.

About the script: Meyer’s screenplay peels away the layers of deception surrounding the life of professor Coleman Silk until a core truth is revealed. Coleman is a light-skinned African-American who disowned his family and cut himself off from the past to pass as white. Meyer forces us to consider the identities we construct to conceal our true nature from others and ourselves. “The point is to invite participation, speculation and argument,” says Meyer.

Biggest challenge: “The book is a fireworks explosion of plot, narrative, theme, ideas,” says Meyer. “How was I going to distill that into something dramatic?

Breakthrough idea: “Three days before I was supposed to meet with the producers I didn’t have a clue how to adapt it,” says Meyer. “My wife said, ‘Just tell them the truth. Don’t bullshit them.’ That lightened my burden enormously. A day-and-a-half later I was sitting in the bathtub, when suddenly — boom, boom, boom — act one, act two, act three dropped into place.

“I decided on a ‘present, past, present’ structure, so you meet Coleman as a 70-year-old man. Matters reach a crisis, and you wonder about his actions and what’s motivating them. Act two proposes to answer those questions and tell you who this man is by going into his past. By the time you come back to the present in act three you are ready to watch Coleman enact his destiny.

Favorite Scene: “Coleman and his friend Zuckerman dancing together on the porch,” says Meyer. “It was in the book. I liked it and put it in the movie. It was kooky and strange and touching.”

Lines we love: “At the end of the first act when matters reach a crisis, Coleman says to his lawyer, ‘I never want to see your lily white face again,'” notes Meyer. “You think: what the hell kind of expression is ‘lily white face?’ Boom: you are propelled into Act two, which proposes to answer that question. It’s a buried hook.”

Writer’s Bio: Meyer was Oscar nominated for adapting his own novel, “The Seven Percent Solution” (1976). He also wrote the Emmy-nominated teleplay for “The Night That Panicked America,” among other projects.

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