lonely kushner

Writer Outnumbered by Directors at Writer’s Roundtable

Photo: The Hollywood Reporter

Awards-season roundtables are one of the country’s few institutions worth preserving. Where else can we get screenshots of Glenn Close looking like she’s about to kill Lady Gaga? Or clips of Kathryn Hahn being desperately in love with Rachel Weisz? What about Christopher Plummer absolutely tearing Terrence Malick to shreds because the director “needs a writer”? Actually, Plummer brings up an interesting point: Many films require writing; all, even. To honor this fact, The Hollywood Reporter put together a writers roundtable but somehow managed to come up with almost solely writer-directors, which is (I’m so sorry) a different thing. Of the participants, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery’s Rian Johnson, Nope’s Jordan Peele, Till’s Chinonye Chukwu, Everything Everywhere All at Once’s Daniel Kwan, and The Banshees of Inisherin’s Martin McDonagh all wrote and directed their films. That left poor little Tony Kushner out on his own, having only written Steven Spielberg’s The Fablemans (loser!).

Of course, writer-directors are writers, but when you bring together a group of writers, sometimes you want them to have bitchy writer opinions. Kushner, being the non-director at the table, is the only one who obliges. “I have issues about improvising because I think it’s a really, really hard thing to do,” he says. “And I think most people can’t do it.” (Not pictured: everyone who has ever attended a college improv show nodding in agreement.) “I feel like, very often, I can tell in a film I know nothing about the making of when they are,” Kushner continues. He and Spielberg “had a lot of fights during West Side Story. We had a lot of young actors, not the most experienced group, and a lot of young actors think their job is to come in and rewrite the script.” Someone check on Rachel Zegler. A great bitchy writer opinion from the writer of Angels in America! Perfect!

But the other writers, as writer-directors, don’t really agree. “I feel like out of all the skill sets I have, writing is my weakest one,” Kwan says. “Almost every setup, we give the actors one or two Do whatever you wants. Surprise me! Give me something that, as a director, I wouldn’t think of, and we’ll see.” Before long, Peele and Chukwu are agreeing, saying they don’t want to keep their actors too close to the page when directing.

We’re not here to say who’s right, but we are here to offer up Dana Stevens, who wrote The Woman King, as a solid pick to have been at the table. Or Samuel D. Hunter, who adapted his own play into The Whale. Even one of the three non–Baz Luhrmann writers of Elvis could have shared why there were four Elvis screenwriters. Something! Anything! Kushner needs a friend to bitch about actors with, and we all deserve to see it.

Writer Outnumbered by Directors at Writer’s Roundtable