It was studio editorial interference, and not budget matters, that kept Ron Howard from making his Alamo movie.
The Academy Award- winning director of A Beautiful Mind told me last night that the real reason his $100 million epic starring Russell Crowe, Ethan Hawke and Billy Bob Thornton never got off the ground was because Disney would not let him make the movie he wanted to make.
Previous reports put the blame on a burgeoning budget. But you know, if you thought about it, when did that ever stop a motion picture from being green lit?
Howard, who came into New York from his suburban idyll to show off the IMAX version of his 1995 classic Apollo 13, talked to me at the new stylish Compass restaurant on a wide range of subjects. But The Alamo was first and foremost on our list.
“I wanted to do a gritty, no holds-barred film about the wild gang at the Alamo. It would not have been the Cocoon version. It was going to be very graphic — and Disney said no. They wanted a PG movie. They didn’t want an R movie with controversy, so it became this battle that was brewing. Did I want to take this huge project knowing what I was up against? Because what they were going to do was say, ‘Okay, go ahead, get going,’ and then somewhere down the line think they were going to soften me into cutting the film into what they wanted. And even I have final cut on my films, it didn’t seem worth it, to know that fight was going to be constant. With a movie like that, everyone has to be working together with the same goals — and there are other directors who I’m sure started out wanting to make one kind of film and wound up making another.”
The Alamo instead will be produced by Howard and Brian Grazer, with John Lee Hancock of The Rookie directing the PG version. Howard says the script is very similar, but changed to fit the Disney ideal. And that’s fine with him, it’s just not the movie he wanted to make. So forget every other story you’ve heard on this subject.
I have to tell you that Howard is one of the few people who give me reassurance about the future of the movie business. He came to the Apollo 13 IMAX relaunch with astronaut Jim Lovell, and they pitched in to help this seven-year-old movie find a new life. Howard sat and talked to a series of newspaper reporters, and took pictures with everyone, and signed every autograph in the place. He is either a mensch or a glutton for punishment, I offered.
“I was very excited when I saw what IMAX had done to Apollo 13,” he said. “It cost about $2 million and it looks beautiful. If it plays in the IMAX cycle it could have a ten year life. So I promised to help them promote the film, and here I am.”
Howard and I also had a long talk about A Beautiful Mind and the various controversies that surrounded it last spring. I asked him if in retrospect he might have included some of the deleted information about John Forbes Nash: his rumored homosexuality, his illegitimate son, etc.
He shook his head. “No. Nothing. We tried to get all those things in. They didn’t fit. We said from the beginning this wasn’t the whole story. If you want the whole story, then read Sylvia Nasar’s book. But we had to look at it making a basic arc for the story and then telling what it was like to be schizophrenic. And that took up more than half the movie. We couldn’t use everything.”
Without The Alamo to direct, Howard is now without a project. “And I’m ready to go back to work. I’ve had a nice break, but I like to work.” He’s interested in a script about Cortez conquering Mexico, but it’s not ready. And while he looks, he can fret over his 20-year-old daughter Bryce. She’s just taken a break from New York University so she can make her Broadway debut this December in the Roundabout Theatre’s production of Tartuffe. It’s a lead role, and I’ll tell you now: this girl is the next Gwyneth. It’s written all over her.