In the beginning, there were the words. And the words were good.
That’s no doubt why, at the “Brokeback Mountain” premiere after-party, E. Annie Proulx, author of the original short story, and screenwriters-producers Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, were the hottest stars at the Tuesday night fundraiser for the Screen Actors Guild Foundation.
But it turns out that McMurtry only read Proulx’s concise masterpiece after Ossana forced him.
“I read it one night in 1997 and was floored by it,” Ossana recalls. “It was one of the most powerful stories I’d ever read in my life. I was awake with insomnia and read it in the middle of the night. The next morning I reread it and was even more affected. I was staying at Larry’s house in Texas and I handed it to him to read. He said, “I don’t read short fiction” and I said, “Humor me.” He read it and said it was the finest story he’d ever read in The New Yorker. I said, “So what do you think about doing the screenplay?” And he said, “Sure.” It was the first time I haven’t had to argue with him. We called Annie and optioned it with our own money and here we are, eight years later.”
McMurtry, whose books made into TV and feature films include “Lonesome Dove,” “Hud,” “The Last Picture Show” and “Terms of Endearment,” recalls his first thoughts when he read Proulx’s heartbreaking story of two closeted gay cowboys set in the ’60s: “I’ve written 41 books, many set in the West and when I read this story, I couldn’t imagine why I hadn’t written it. I knew it was out there. It had always been there. But I didn’t write it and Annie did.”
Photo: E. Annie Proulx, Ang Lee and producer Michael Costigan at the Los Angeles Premiere of “Brokeback Mountain.”
(Eric Charbonneau / WireImage)
]]>Making a movie from Proulx’s words was a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” for McMurtry. And Proulx sounded equally blissed out with the hard work by McMurtry, Ossana, and director Ang Lee. (Producer James Schamus joked at the premiere that when he thinks of hot man-on-man sex, he thinks of two words: Ang Lee.)
“When Larry first talked about making my story into a film, I was dismayed, horrified and I was sure that it was impossible,” Proulx admitted. “But I was wrong. When I first saw the film in September, I was shocked, blown away, totally flabbergasted. I’d had nothing to do with the film and the last thing I’d heard about it was that it would be shot in Alberta, Canada, instead of Wyoming and I thought, ‘Well, there goes the landscape.’ Clearly I was wrong about that too.”
“The characters that I had worked on all those years ago, I thought they had been finally exorcised but they came right back to life in my head when I watched the film. I was filled with these men whom I had tried so hard to get rid of. They break your heart, they just break your heart.”
Does this make Proulx want to submit to more adaptations of her work? “No,” she said, shaking her head, and perhaps recalling the not-quite-as-successful film adaptation of her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Shipping News." “This was a bit of magic. Everything came together but that doesn’t mean that it can ever happen again. Lightning never strikes twice in the same place. But I guarantee that after seeing this film, many writers in America will be saying, ‘Why didn’t this happen to me and my book!'”