Today, playwright-screenwriter John Logan will receive the Oscar Wilde Award — which recognizes the achievements of Irish-Americans in Hollywood — at a ceremony in Santa Monica hosted by the U.S.-Ireland Alliance.
Logan has had a good run in the past year or so: Recent credits include “Hugo,” for which he is Oscar-nommed; “Rango,” which is nommed in the Oscars’ toonpic category; and the film adaptation of “Coriolanus,” which Ralph Fiennes helmed.
The Wilde Award recognizes a body of work that includes “Gladiator,” for which Logan was Oscar-nommed alongside David Franzoni and William Nicholson; “The Last Samurai,” “The Aviator”; which earned Logan another Oscar nom, and Tim Burton’s “Sweeney Todd.”
And then there’s his stage work, including his 2010 Tony Award-winning play about Mark Rothko, “Red.”
The pace has shown no sign of slacking. He co-wrote James Bond pic “Skyfall,” which Sam Mendes is lensing now, he is adapting tuner “Jersey Boys” for the bigscreen, and is collaborating with Patti Smith on a film adaptation of her memoir, “Just Kids.”
Logan cherishes his Irish heritage — his parents were both emigrants from Ulster, and he has many relatives there — but he sees it as a little ironic that he will be a recipient of an award bearing Wilde’s name. Although Logan loves many Irish writers, he is not that fond of Wilde, as a playwright at least.
“He is a playwright I never warmed to,” Logan says. “In those sort of bi-polar decisions you make as you go through life, where you have to decide ‘Am I drawn to Ibsen or Strindberg?’ you get to the point where you say, ‘Am I drawn to Wilde or Shaw?’ I’m drawn to Shaw.”
In an onstage interview at BAFTA last fall, Logan spoke of his “Irish attraction for the melancholy.” He concedes that he is drawn to the darker side of life.
“Well, whether it has something to do with my Irishness or something else, who knows?, but Ireland is a land of bleak moors and crags and tors and cold Irish sea, and — despite the fact that this year I happen to have ‘Rango’ and ‘Hugo’ come out — I’m drawn toward darker material, and I always have been. You come to that point as a playwright where you think, Am I a tragedian or a comedian?, and I have always been a tragedian, in terms of things I’m interested in. So the stories I choose to write about, whether it is Mark Rothko in my play ‘Red,’ or anything from ‘Gladiator’ to ‘Coriolanus’ to ‘The Aviator’ to ‘Sweeney Todd,’ have very murky and morally complex and dark protagonists, and even something like ‘Hugo’ I always looked at as a very serious story.”
Logan advises budding screenwriters to study the works of the great playwrights, from the ancient Greeks to the present day, taking in all of Shakespeare’s plays, and the works of Ibsen, Chekhov and Strindberg.
“The key to what we do as screenwriters and playwrights is we are dramatists. We are not novelists, we are not poets, and that means we do a very specific thing: we write lines for actors, and we write scenes for directors and producers and lighting designers, and it is about the engagement with other artists. And I believe that part of the way you learn that — maybe the only way to learn that — is to look at the continuum of the art form, see what you can learn and be inspired by those who have come before you. I think that is equally true for screenwriting: if you look at great screenplays from the past it’ll help you, but it’s much more important to go back thousands of years and look at Aristotle, in terms of the bedrock of dramatic literature, as opposed to prose, as opposed to poetry.
“And the next thing I will always say,” he concludes, “is after you have versed yourself in the classics of drama start reading poetry because poetry will teach you about language, and part of the job of the playwright and the screenwriter is to create arresting language.”
Receiving Oscar Wilde Awards alongside John Logan will be thesps Melissa McCarthy and Michelle Williams.
Both actresses have been nommed for Academy Awards this season: McCarthy for her supporting role in “Bridesmaids,” and Williams for the leading role in “My Week With Marilyn,” for which she won a Golden Globe.
McCarthy, who won an Emmy last year for CBS comedy series “Mike & Molly,” has recently completed writing feature pic “Tammy.”
Williams, whose agent is U.S.-Ireland Alliance advisory board member Hylda Queally, will next be seen in Sam Raimi’s “Oz, the Great and Powerful.”