An Interview With Writer Paul Rudnick (The Stepford Wives)


The man behind the robots: The Stepford Wives screenwriter Paul Rudnick talks with the Seattle Gay News about the new movie, Gay Hollywood, and working with Nicole Kidman and Bette Midler

Photo of: Nathan Lane, Paul Rudnick, and Bette Midler

By Albert Rodriguez
Seattle Gay News A&E Writer

While movie stars get top billing for newly released films, they’d be silent storytellers if it wasn’t for a script that spelled it all out for them. This week, Nicole Kidman, Bette Midler, Glenn Close, Christopher Walken, and Matthew Broderick are mouthing the words to Paul Rudnick’s screenplay for The Stepford Wives, a wise and comical reinvention of the 1975 original. Via telephone from his New York residence, Rudnick, who also penned Jeffrey and In & Out, talked to the Seattle Gay News about the excitement going into this weekend’s release of the blockbuster film, and about working with Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman and Gay icon Bette Midler. See the SGN ‘s “Movie Times” for venues and schedules for The Stepford Wives. Here’s what Paul Rudnick had to say.

Albert Rodriguez: How do feel right now going into the release of The Stepford Wives? Are you nervous or excited, or both?

Paul Rudnick: I’d say both. As with any project, I hope people will enjoy it. I think it turned out well. But it’s a little nerve-racking right now.

Rodriguez: Set up The Stepford Wives for us, assuming we’ve seen the original. Tell us about your version that we’ll be seeing soon.

Rudnick: Well, it’s set in modern day. That was the challenge, to take material that was thirty years-old and see what relevance in might have to people today. In the first film, and in the Ira Levin novel that it’s based on, the most threatening thing that any of the women did was the heroine, played by Katherine Ross, took photography as a hobby. That was considered such a wild and reckless thing to do for a woman at that time that her husband had to immediately turn her into a robot. But nowadays women have certainly moved forward, and we’re dealing with the rational male fear of very powerful women, the fear of women who’ve become CEO’s, women who are judges, women who are senators, and women who have an efficient and genuine power. Men can be very fearful of that and feel the need to take extreme measures.

Rodriguez: Because “a man’s world” is slowly dissolving.

Rudnick: Right. The new movie also has Gay couples living in Stepford because I think the modern suburbs are far more inclusive than Southern Connecticut was in many years past. The urge to turn your spouse into a robot is pretty universal and I think there are plenty of Gay people that could glance over at their partner and say, “I wonder if by remote he’d work, or what if this mute button really did the trick?”

Rodriguez: How did you deal with the whole tech issue, because when The Stepford Wives first came out robots were something people would say, “yeah right”? Now we’re in the age of technology being very high driven.

Rudnick: That was another aspect that lent itself heavily to the current moment because we’re living in an age of the web and computer animation. We took full advantage of all the technological developments. People are far more willing to accept technology in every area of their lives now, both in a threatening way and in a very seductive way. There are people out there who can’t wait to buy the newest, tiniest cell phone or the latest video game, or any other hot consumer item. The Stepford Wives is a very natural display of expected Geeksville.

Rodriguez: Did you have any say in the cast selection?

Rudnick: No, not at all. As a screen writer, you have relatively no power in just about anything in a film. But I was very lucky that I had worked with the film’s producer Scott Rudin many times before and with the film’s director Frank Oz on \i In & Out, so I was treated with great respect by the movie making team. And the people they cast were so extraordinary. I can’t complain. When you have Nicole Kidman, Glenn Close, Bette Midler, Matthew Broderick, and Christopher Walken, you’re just so lucky.

Rodriguez: What did it feel like to be on a movie set and have Nicole Kidman read your script?

Rudnick: Oh, it was wonderful. Nicole is someone that is not only so wonderfully prepared, disciplined, and generous with her time and talent, but you have to get over the staggering about her movie star glamour. Nicole is one of those stars that actually looks like that. Often you’re disappointed when you meet certain celebrities because they’re shorter, or older, or botoxed. But with Nicole, she’s that beautiful, she’s that tall, she’s that delightful.

Rodriguez: Would you say Nicole Kidman is “what you see is what you get”?

Rudnick: Very much so. But when someone is that big of a star, they could certainly misbehave if they so desired to. But she doesn’t. That’s why it’s gratifying that she’s so professional and knows every word and is so open to everyone’s debt to the process.

Rodriguez: Aside from the fact that she’s stunning and talented, it’s great to see her in these terrific, diverse roles.

Rudnick: She’s very adventurous. And I think she’s said in many instances that she really wants to try everything. She’s a natural.

Rodriguez: Describe working with the all-too-delicious Bette Midler.

Rudnick: I’ve worked with Bette on other projects, like the big re-write for The First Wives Club. And I’d written Sister Act originally for Bette, although that didn’t end up working out. Bette is invaluable because she has such infallible sense of timing. It’s funny in early screenings of The Stepford Wives, the audience immediately goes to Bette Midler. They think of her as a friend and as someone they can count on for a common point of view, as well as someone who’s going to always be funny and warm.

Rodriguez: Bette Midler, like Cher and Madonna, is herself and makes no apologies or regrets about it. That’s why Gay people love her. She’s genuine.

Rudnick: Absolutely. Bette is someone who was very much discovered by a Gay audience and now when you go to her concerts, which are magnificently prepared, the crowd ranges from little kids to grandparents. She appeals to everyone. She combines the emotion and the irony into a performance, which is hard to pull off.

Rodriguez: The Stepford Wives features a strong ensemble of actors, each great individually. It’ll be interesting to see how they work collectively.

Rudnick: That was one of the pleasures of making this film, the idea that you’ve got this town built by this particular group of actors. I just love the sheer diversity of having Glenn Close married to Christopher Walken, and having them be the pillars of the Stepford community. Bette Midler is married to Jon Lovitz, and Nicole Kidman is in bed with Matthew Broderick. It’s wonderful to create these movie couples.

Rodriguez: You mentioned a Gay couple in The Stepford Wives. Did you include stereotypes when you wrote them into the script?

Rudnick: They’re played wonderfully by David Marshall Grant and Roger Bart. I played with the idea of them being flamboyant, because in this couple there’s one guy who’s a bit out there and the other one is quite conservative, like a Gay Republican. I’ve always loved flamboyant Gay characters, not as stereotypes, but as great Gay strengths. I’ve never seen them as anything negative. That kind of wit, that kind of openness, and that kind of player in society is something to be cherished.

Rodriguez: Being a filmmaker, do you believe film studios realize that Gay moviegoers are an important consumer?

Rudnick: I think they have, to an extent. I think the only thing Hollywood respects is commercial success. Hollywood will never do anything simply because it’s morally correct or as a gesture of goodwill. Hollywood will only increase their Gay product because movies like Philadelphia, The Birdcage, and In & Out, and TV programs like Will & Grace, Queer As Folk and HBO’s production of Angels in America were all wonderfully successful. That makes Hollywood pay attention.

Rodriguez: We’re excited to see The Stepford Wives, we’ve been waiting for it. It has great potential to be a big, enjoyable film that Gay audiences will love. Thank you for talking with the Seattle Gay News. Best wishes.

Rudnick: Thank you. I hope everyone enjoys the film.

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