Spader is a lawyer yet again in 'Storyville,' a New Orleans mystery

April 12, 1991|By Lawrence Van Gelder | Lawrence Van Gelder,New York Times

"This would be a very opportune time for me to get jury duty, I think," James Spader said.

One way or another, Spader is headed back to the courtroom this month. And jury duty, he indicated, wouldn't be a bad way of steeping himself in the atmosphere appropriate to his next film. As he has twice before -- in "Wall Street" and in the current "True Colors" -- Spader is taking on the role of a lawyer.

This time, the vehicle is "Storyville," a mystery involving murder, politics and family ties to be directed in New Orleans by its writer, Mark Frost, who created "Twin Peaks" with David Lynch.

In the role of Cray Fowler, Spader said, "I play a young man whose father committed suicide several years ago, and his uncle has now married his mother. He has worked as a public defender, and his family has been involved in local politics for the last few generations, and he's pursuing a seat in Congress when he finds himself embroiled in a murder plot.

"In any case, the family is intertwined in all of this. That's the specter at the end he really has to face.

"My character has been out of the courtroom for several years and takes on the case for his own self-protection because he's sort of embroiled in this murder as well in a strange way. He first takes the case in hopes he can control what comes out and what doesn't in the course of the trial, and partway through it becomes more of a vindication."

Spader said he was looking forward to working with Jason Robards, cast as an uncle, the family patriarch, and to the twists and turns in the plots and subplots of the film, which is destined for distribution in the United States by 20th Century Fox.

*

"The book has been around so long that everybody thinks they've seen the picture," Budd Schulberg said of "What Makes Sammy Run?"

"But actually when it first appeared," he said, recalling his novel's chilly reception in Hollywood, "it was a no-no."

It has been 50 years since "What Makes Sammy Run?," Schulberg's classic about a Hollywood heel on the make, was published, and once again the property is stirring toward life on the screen.

"We did it on Broadway with Steve Lawrence," Schulberg noted, "and it ran for a couple of years. It was a musical version, and then in the last seven or eight years, there have been feelers about it."

Lately, Schulberg has been in discussions with Warner Brothers and Michael Caton-Jones, the director of "Scandal," "Memphis Belle" and the coming "Doc Hollywood."

And if all goes well, he said, "What Makes Sammy Run?" might actually turn into a movie before long.

Schulberg, who grew up in Hollywood (his father was the producer B.P. Schulberg), has also been updating another of his enduring properties, the screenplay for "A Face in the Crowd," the cautionary tale of a television star who develops delusions of political grandeur.

Schulberg, who said he had talked with Richard Gere about the role played in the 1957 Elia Kazan film by Andy Griffith, said of the story: "My feeling now is that we were a little ahead of the time. The power of television is now so great that our elections are basically TV shows, basically ratings contests between the networks, so that the power of the medium is greater than ever."

The story would be taken more seriously today, he said. "At that time, the feeling was that it was almost like a farce situation that really couldn't happen. Now we know, in the age of Reagan, that it can happen and it has happened."

In addition to "Sammy" and "A Face in the Crowd," Schulberg has been working on a story called "All My Boys," for development into a screenplay about a boxing manager.

He has also handed in the first two hours of script for "Moving Pictures." The six-hour mini-series based on his 1981 autobiography, "Memoirs of a Hollywood Prince," is a co-venture involving PBS, the "American Playhouse" series and Zenith, an English company owned in part by Paramount Pictures.

And, he said: "In what we laughingly call my spare time, I am working on a book. It would have a Hollywood background. It's hard for me to get away from that."

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