Writer Michael Cunningham knows from brilliant, troubled women. In The Hours, he fleshed out the knotty interior region of two of the greats, one fictional (Mrs. Dalloway) and one real (Mrs. Dalloway's creator, bipolar writer Virginia Woolf). No wonder we were delighted when he told us last night, at the 2008 PEN gala at the Museum of Natural History, that he's writing the screenplay for a Fox 2000 biopic of brilliant, troubled sixties chanteuse Dusty Springfield, to be played by Nicole Kidman (who, natch, played his Virginia Woolf!). So what was the essence of Dusty he was trying to get across? "She was a great artist who no one knew what to do with," he said. "She was coming into her full powers at the same time the Beatles were," he said, adding that she suddenly found herself the purveyor of a dying torchy genre. "But she is clearly going into history with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones."
So would the biopic include the lonely years in exile from the U.K. in Hollywood, the drinking and the drugging, and the tortured bisexual/lesbian feelings that wove through her checkered career, which ended when she died of cancer in 1999? "Yeah," he promised. "It's the real Dusty." Plus, he told us, he was working on a new novel, but he'd divulge nothing save that he was 74 pages in. —Tim Murphy