Paltrow, Madden tried `Proof' film on stage



In the theater, an out-of-town tryout allows collaborators to work out the kinks before going into New York, or London. John Madden and Gwyneth Paltrow had a different experience with Proof. Their tryout wasn't out-of-town; it was out-of-medium.

In 2002, director Madden approached Paltrow about "having a go" at David Auburn's popular play about a Chicago mathematician's daughter and her secrets, in a stage production in London. Madden and Paltrow already had a fine rapport: Paltrow won an Academy Award for her performance in Shakespeare in Love, the multiple Oscar winner directed by Madden.

The project went well, especially for Paltrow, although the English response to the play tended toward the dismissive. Their tryout completed, Madden and Paltrow made the film version. Shot in 2003 - three weeks in Chicago; five weeks in London - Proof opened nationally Friday.

On stage, Proof takes place entirely on the back porch of an old house near the University of Chicago campus. On film, a lot of it still takes place on that porch, but it also goes inside the house. Nonetheless, Madden strove neither for slavish fidelity to the original, nor pointless "opening-up," a time-dishonored strategy designed to make adaptations of stage properties seem less stagy.

"I thought if I can't find the right way of doing this, I don't want to do it," said Madden, 56. "I didn't want to do a sort of recording of the play. That's not a movie. That's just storing the thing in another medium." The challenge, he said, became one of heightening the leading character's subjective realm," so that the audience experienced certain events and nagging doubts through her troubled psyche.

Madden and Paltrow introduced Proof at a recent screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. "He's the most intelligent director I've ever worked with, just in terms of his intelligence about everything in the world, Paltrow said before the screening. "John's just so articulate and inquiring - very intellectual and very emotionally intelligent at the same time. A rare combination." Madden's biggest splash to date came with the seven-time Oscar winner Shakespeare in Love (1998). His follow-up three years later, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, fared less well commercially. For various frustrating reasons, he hasn't made as many films as he'd like to in the post-Shakespeare years.

Michael Phillips writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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