Screenwriting is the third career for Paul Webb, the 60-year-old British rookie whose scripts about Martin Luther King and the Russian oligarchs have got Hollywood buzzing.
He spent 10 years as a high school teacher in the drab commuter town of Reading, where he still lives, and then another 15 years as a communications consultant for the petro-chemical industry. But when he got bored with visiting construction sites in China, he quit to pursue his dream of becoming a writer.
The result was “Four Knights in Knaresborough,” a play about the assassination of Archbishop Thomas a Becket in 1170, which was staged in London in 1999. Harvey Weinstein picked up the film rights, hired Webb to write the adaptation and gave him a first-look deal.
“It all happened so quickly, I thought that’s the way it works,” laughs Webb, wryly acknowledging that he hasn’t managed to get anything produced since. Yet he’s become one of the U.K.’s hottest screenwriters, thanks to half a dozen scripts that have caught the attention of such talent as Steven Spielberg, Brad Pitt and Michael Mann.
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“Four Knights” led Spielberg to commission Webb to rewrite “Lincoln.” He adapted the novel “Spanish Assassins” for Brit outfit Company Pictures, and then wrote “Selma,” an original idea about Martin Luther King and Lyndon Johnson, for Celador Films.
On the strength of “Selma,” Mann asked Webb to work with him on an epic about the struggle for wealth and power in post-Communist Russia. Webb just delivered the first draft.
And Celador recently struck a co-production deal for “Selma” with Pitt’s Plan B, to shoot early next year.
Says Celador topper Christian Colson, “Paul has the ear of a playwright and the eye of a screenwriter. He writes nuanced, textured stuff on a really sweeping canvas.”
Influences: Melville, Dickens, Mailer. “Moby Dick” for “the daring, the audacity, the power, the poetry of the language,” Webb says.
Favorite unproduced script: “Spanish Assassins,” about two rival attempts to kill a leading Spanish Republican during the Spanish Civil War. “It’s just a really good yarn,” Webb says.
Up next: “Selma”
Reps: Agents: St. John Donald at United Agents in London and CAA in Los Angeles