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Neil LaBute: A Man Possessed

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After the sweetness and light of Nurse Betty, which opens in the UK next Friday, it looks like director Neil LaBute is returning to more familiar territory. The man behind such caustic films as In The Company Of Men and Your Friends and Neighbours is about to start filming A.S.Byatt's novel Possession in England this autumn.

"It will be a surprise for some, others will say it's a natural progression," says LaBute of his choice to shoot the novel. "There are two really fucked-up couples, and who better to deal with them [than me]?". The story of two contemporary academics (to be played by Gwyneth Paltrow and LaBute regular Aaron Eckhart), the film follows their growing love for each other as they uncover a hitherto unknown affair between two Victorian poets.

Unlike the casting of LaBute's Nurse Betty star Renée Zellweger in the forthcoming (and very English) Bridget Jones' Diary, the choice of Paltrow, who honed her British accent on Shakespeare In Love and Sliding Doors, shouldn't raise any eyebrows. "She's frankly good," says LaBute. "She's adept at it. I knew she wouldn't have to go through the kind of thing I was watching Renée go through playing Bridget Jones. We couldn't even have a press conference about Nurse Betty without people saying 'Could you do the dialect for us?' I knew it was past that."

LaBute is currently living in London during pre-production, having scouted locations including Whitby and Lincoln, along with casting a nearly-all British support cast. Backing Paltrow and Eckhart will be Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle as the Victorian poets, with roles also for Trevor Eve, Toby Stephens and Anna Massey.

LaBute, who adapted the novel with screenwriter Laura Jones, came to the book originally as a reader. "I read it a few years ago, and loved it," he says. But - with two previous directors already having tried and failed to adapt it - LaBute's efforts to film it mark the tenth year that the novel has been in the hands of Hollywood. "I was looking at the book from a nationalistic perspective," he says. "My experience of going to the Royal Court, of being the big, loud American, with everybody looking at you. I saw a lot of that in the book."

 

From Empire Online 25/08/2000

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