A Conversation with Richard LaGravenese at the Austin Film Festival

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by Matt Pacult LaGravenese-AFF-Main Photo by Arnold Wells

Alvaro Rodriguez’s interview with HUMANITAS Trustee Richard LaGravenese proved to be one of the highlights of the Austin Film Festival’s opening day. The conversation touched on a number of subjects. For those who could not attend, below is the Cliff Notes version.

LaGravenese received an Academy Award® nomination for Best Original Screenplay for The Fisher King. Of the process, LaGravenese said, “It was an amazing experience because I feel like I knew more when I knew nothing than I know now.”

Any mention of The Fisher King would not be complete without remembering Robin Williams. As with anyone who worked with the actor, LaGravenese shared a story, “I remember one time we were doing a scene in a Chinese restaurant…everyone was tired...and at 4 in the morning, all of the sudden, he does 20 minutes. Robin just gets possessed and would do a million different bits. I don’t remember all of them, but he did Jack Nicholson hosting a children’s show…the dolly grip guy turned away and I saw tears rolling down his eyes, he was laughing so hard…Terry (Gilliam) stood beside me and said, ‘thank God for him.’” LaGravenese continued, “I owe him so much…he gave me my career in a lot of ways.” The HUMANITAS Trustee empathized, “Those of us who battle depression, we know what those demons are like. And when one of our tribe goes, it’s kinda sad. It brings it closer to home.”

LaGravenese is at the Austin Film Festival to introduce his newest film, The Last 5 Years. Of the process he said, “It was just one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had…and I don’t want to go back the other way.” The film is based off the Jason Robert Brown musical of the same title; of the musical, LaGravenese declared, “I never have been as confident about my own scripts as I was with this material.”

When asked to reflect on his career, LaGravenese became pensive. He claimed to have lost his voice in the late 90s and early 00s. When asked how, he replied, “Success.” He continued, “I never meant to be the Bridges of Madison County guy,” The difference between then and now is confidence. Starting out, it felt like everyone knew more than him. Now, he says, “I am finally realizing that I do know something.”

When asked about his influences, LaGravenese pointed to black and white films “They’re like old friends.” Even today, as an insomniac, he listens to the dialogue and soundtrack to fall asleep.

The Austin Film Festival is known as “The Writer’s Festival,” so naturally, the crowd was interested in LaGravenese’s process. “When I start a project the first few days are like getting into a pool of cold water.” He spoke enthusiastically about losing track of time while writing, comparing it to the more excruciating experience of treating writing like homework. “Think of yourself as a parent trying to teach your kid to draw. You don’t yell DRAW.” In those instances, he advised, it’s best to take time away from it. “Even when you’re not writing, you’re writing.” LaGravenese also admitted that whenever there is a job or contract, it’s easier to create a structure.

Visit Austin Film Festival’s show On Story in the coming months for a more in depth look at the conversation.

Follow HUMANITAS on twitter (@HumanitasPrize) and Facebook, and keep checking HUMANITAS “In The News” page for more stories of our board members at The Austin Film Festival.

UncategorizedJosh Neimark