An Entertainer to the Core
I walked into the lobby of the Sheraton looking for a 61 year old man with the bounce and swagger of someone much younger. The change in temperature from the humidity of the streets to the crisp air conditioning of the hotel could not have been more pronounced and just for a second ones senses did not know how to react. It took me a few seconds to gather my thoughts as my body was still trying to cope with the change in temperature and just as I reached the house phones I caught a glimpse of the man I was here to meet. He was pacing about the lobby, in olive green shorts, a black t-shirt, and sneakers and could easily have passed for someone a few decades younger, only for a few lines on his face, which could only be put down to experience.
He seemed energetic as ever having just come out of the gym and took no notice of the arctic air conditioning as he sat down to breakfast and a chat. Nicholas Meyer is not a well-known name in the backwaters of Bangladesh, but across the pond in the land of the American dream he is more than just another New Yorker who left for the east coast. He is Nicholas Meyer, best selling novelist, acclaimed film director and Academy Award nominated screenwriter. He lives for the movies with a passion and verve that few could match and it all started quite early. I asked him how it all began and he sat back in his deep chair and said "for as long as I can remember I have been telling tales, making stories or as they tell you when you are young, lying. And my father was very helpful throughout the process, for as long as he could he wrote down all my stories." He went on to say "the first movie that really got me was Around the World in 80 Days, and after seeing that I realised all I ever wanted to do was to be in the movies." Having watched the movie at the age of 13 he then wasted no time in putting together his first movie which took five years to complete and was shot in 8mm. It is said that imitation is the finest from of flattery and Meyer took a page out of that book as by the age of 18 he completed his first film, which happened to be Around the World In 80 Days. He is still proud of his first production as he even says "I love it and still have a copy of it, and if I'm not wrong there should even be a copy in the library of congress."
Meyer next took up the challenge of university in Iowa and by the late sixties he got his entrance into the world of film albeit a small one. His first real success was with his best selling Sherlock Holmes pastiche The-Seven-Per-Cent-Solution wich was on the New York Times best sellers list for over 40 weeks. Of that he says "I actually wrote it during a writers strike, much like the one going on now and never really expected it to be the success that it turned out to be." But the novel was just the beginning, the plotline of Sherlock Holmes teaming up with Sigmund Freud seemed to be too good to pass on and soon he was asked if it could be made into a movie. He agreed but only if he could write the script he said with a smile, a move that would eventually pay great dividends. The movie was a success with Robert Duvall and the iconic Lawrence Olivier and even earned an Academy Award nomination for best-adapted screenplay. He did not win the award but now had new found fame in Hollywood, fame which translated into his next major work, his directorial debut with Time After Time.
He says "one of my university friends was impressed and inspired with my Sherlock Holmes pastiches so much so that he decided to write his own book with H.G Wells and Jack the Ripper. While he was writing the book the asked me to look it over and I thought it would make a great movie. I decided to option it and then went about writing and directing it." I asked him if his feature length directorial debut ever got him nervous and he replied by saying quite emphatically no. He had directed theatre before and while it was challenging he was never overwhelmed by it, he went about the project by taking on a well-established producer and cinematographer.
Next in line came the Star Trek movies, which earned him both critical and commercial success. He went on to script three Star Trek movies and directed two of them including the most legendary ones in the series part two and six. Often considered the most accessible Star Trek film, The Wrath of Khan proved to be a success in the eyes of both Trekie fans and for the layman but he attributes the success of the movie(s) down to the fact that he was heavily influenced by the Horatio Hornblower novels, and thus imprinted the nautical "atmosphere" of the Royal Navy into the film. It earned just over $14 million in its opening weekend and thus made it at that time the largest opening weekend gross in history. His following Star Trek movies also proved to be success and he directed the last one to include the old cast. Of working with William Shatner he says with a twinkle in his says "I had to tire him out to get the best out of him, only after a fair number of takes did he finally stick to the script and then he really performed".
The Star Trek movies could be called the highlight of his career but even that could be disputed. He directed the made for TV movie The Day After to critical success; and to date it is the highest rated TV movie ever made, a record one feels will last with a far greater number of channels now available to the common viewer, he muses. The movie was a run away success and he only got offered it after a few others did not take the project on due to its controversial content. The story is of the lives of a few survivors just after the Soviets and the Americans nuked each other into submission. It's gripping story and realistic effects made fantastic prime time material, that too at the height of the cold war. He says "it was a risky project to take on, but I never shied away from it. I felt it was a reality that the public should have been aware of and my ambition was to show it as realistically as possible. The strongest aspect of the movie was the story, and I wanted that to stand out more than the individual actors." He did not expect the reaction that he received and was thoroughly pleased when the most important person in America was touched by it. "Ronald Regan even said the movie changed his stance and opinion on the concept of mutually accepted destruction, and as you might imagine being the director it was a great feeling to get a response like that."
He went back to writing even acting as the script doctor for the hugely successful Fatal Attraction. He also went on to direct Tom Hanks and Pierce Brosen in Volunteers and The Deceivers. In 2003 he wrote the screenplay for yet another critically acclaimed movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman. He adapted Philip Roth's award winning novel The Human Stain for the silver screen with great success although he seems slightly critical of it. "My original screenplay was far better than the one what was eventually produced, I kept it as close to the original storyline as possible but in the end the studio changed it." I told him that I thought the movie was fantastic, to which he replied "Its ok, it could have been better". He is currently working on the screenplay for a movie named The Politician's Wife and has even finished the script for the what should be the next Martian Scorsese film, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. But as he adds "working with Mardy is a challenge and you never know if the script you write will be the next Srocsese film or the one after that", chuckling to himself.
We finish breakfast and walk back to the lobby, taking a seat in the plush leather sofa. He never stops talking and one can tell he was a born storyteller. The jokes and puns come thick and fast coupled with his ebullient personality, he is a charmer though and through. He is known in Hollywood and that is no small order, yet his ego and personality speaks nothing of his fame. The interview has come to an end and as we part, for the first time I really pay attention to his T-Shirt, it says "Freedom to Write" and shows a powerful hand holding a pen. Then it hit me, I think that's all he really wants in life, freedom to write. I step out back on to the humid street, slowly starting to thaw out from the cold and realise that he is an entertainer to the core, I never once felt the cold while talking to him. Interesting…
(R) thedailystar.net 2007