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Friday, December 05, 2003


Clooney, Zeta-Jones try screwball comedy

By Iain Blair

MAYBE it was inevitable that the Coen Brothers, the guys behind such stylish and inspired black comedies as The Hud­suc­ker Proxy, Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski, O Bro­ther, Where Art Thou?’’ and the Oscar-winning Fargo, would eventually turn their attention to a more conventional Holly­wood genre—the modern romantic comedy. But as might be expected, the Coen’s new film, Intole­rable Cruelty  (opening October 10), which reu­nites the filmmakers with O Brother’s George Cloo­ney, also pays homage to the past and the era of great screwball comedies.

Fabulously successful divorce attorney 
Miles Massey (George Clooney) and 
much-divorced Marilyn Rexroth 
(Catherine Zeta-Jones) face off in 
a true battle of the sexes in 
Intolerable Cruelty (Universal)

Intolerable Cruelty stars Clooney as Miles Massey, a successful and fast-talking Los Angeles divorce lawyer who meets his match when he takes on a case involving the much-divorced Marylin Rexrouth (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a beautiful but equally conniving force of nature who views marriage as the ideal way to gain financial independence.

When the two square off in court, sparks fly and the mother of all battles of the sexes is soon in full swing.

For both stars, the appeal of the project began with the film’s writing and witty banter.

“For me, first I look at the script, but also at all of the other elements that come into play,” says Zeta-Jones. “You take in the material and Joel and Ethan in the equation, and then George, and all of that. It’s just that whole equation to me. So, there are many things that make me chose what to do. I think that it’s primarily what’s on the page.’’

Adds Clooney, “As we all know, there are so many things that can go wrong in a film, and so it always has to start with the screenplay and then the director. Those are the two things that you can’t really do without, as you can make a really bad film out of a good script, but you’re not likely to make a good film out of a bad script.

“And then, it’s the directors, since it’s their voice, their idea,” he continues. “So, those are the first two elements, and then you hope to get to work with really good actors, and then you hope that all of these elements kind of come together as you go. But mostly you can’t start without having a script that you think is fun or interesting, which is harder than you think to find.”

Ask Zeta-Jones and Clooney what were the best and worst things about working together and they immediately start trading jokes, just like their characters.

“Ha! Can we start with the worst?” asks Clooney.

“He’s great to work with, I’d do it all again,” adds Zeta-Jones.

“The worst thing is that we had to stop,” notes Clooney. “You know, there wasn’t anything bad about it. We had such a fun time doing this. Catherine, she’ll show up and we’ll have a blast. It was a group of people. It’s not just Joel and Ethan; it’s a family. It’s all of these same guys, the cinematographer and all of the same crew and the first time that I was on the set, I was there with John Goodman in a scene in `O Brother’ and you walk in, and it’s a little intimidating because it’s like the rest of the gang who you don’t know—and it takes about four seconds to feel comfortable there. And Catherine immediately walked in and was like, `OK, lets go. I’ve got it. I understand,’ and from the minute we started, we had fun.”

How closely did the stars relate to their characters?

“I think that the fun part about these characters is that they both don’t really realize the trouble that they’re in sort of emotionally until they run into each other,” notes Clooney. “They’re both sort of romantics in this horrible, horrible, screwed up life that they live and that’s sort of the fun of it. That’s sort of the idea behind a good screwball romantic comedy. We all know what the ending of a romantic comedy is.

“That’s the toughest thing to do and that’s why the truth is that actors don’t really do them that often anymore because it’s very hard to do a romantic comedy and go, `Hey, surprise, they’re going to get together.’ There’s a shock. So, these elements and the ones in this film seem more fun because we know what’s going to happen, but it seemed like the journey was more interesting and a little darker.”

Unlike his character’s ultra-bright teeth, which become a running gag in the film. According to Clooney, the Coens “kept looking” for some visual trait. “They were like, ‘We’ve got to do something with your hair like the last one,’ and they sort of obsessed with it on this one.” Ultimately, the directors and actor settled on Clooney’s teeth, which also serve to introduce his character at the start of the film.

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