A pair of Oscar-winners took center stage at the Variety Screening Series presentation of “American Gangster.” Producer Brian Grazer and scribe Steve Zaillian were on hand to discuss the ‘70s-set crime film, which features another Oscar-winning duo, Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, on opposite sides of the law.
“I think what often happens with parallel stories is you can’t wait to get back to the other one. Everybody seems to have a favorite but I really didn’t. I was fascinated by both of them,” said Zaillian.
Though the scribe later made the point that the film is named “American Gangster” and not “American Cop,” Grazer was quick to give equal credit to Washington and Crowe.
“They don’t need a lot of coaching. They’re not competitive with each other. They bring each other’s game up.”
No stranger to fictionalizing history for the bigscreen having written “Searching for Bobby Fischer,” “Schindler’s List” and “A Civil Action,” Zaillian wrote the first draft of the script in 2001.
“Most of the scripts that I do are based on real people and real events, so I have my own personal threshold for what’s acceptable and what isn’t and I err on the side of playing it truthfully, but obviously you need to do certain things like compress time and characters,” said the writer.
And in order to fully understand those characters and what made them tick, the writer flew to New York to interview Lucas and Roberts.
“When Frank and Ritchie talked to me, they had so many stories that the challenge was not making stuff up, the challenge was what am I going to leave out,” said Zaillian.