Hollywood studio bosses, director James L. Brooks says, have a knack for making you feel like they’re keeping you on a long leash. “But the truth is, of course, the leash is a noose around your neck.”
That is why you have to think carefully every time whether a project is really worth the stress … Brooks has only directed six films in his almost sixty-year career in show business, compared with this speed even the always weighing Stanley Kubrick looks like a nimble weasel . On the other hand, like no other, he defined what the term tragicomedy should be understood in his directorial debut “Zeit der Zärtlichkeit”, 1983. Brooks, born in 1940, came from television, was a wage clerk and had his own comedy series developed like the “Mary Tyler Moore Show”. Larry Mcmurtry’s novel “Terms of Endearment”, as “Zeit der Tärtlichkeit” is called a little less soft-porn in the original, was originally only supposed to be adapted as a script. But Brooks had the feeling that he knew exactly how to tackle this melodrama between comedy and drama, the story of a mother and her daughter. And when he was entrusted with directing, he found an ensemble that seldom harmonized more perfectly in film history. Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger, Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, the film was perfectly written and cast right down to the smallest supporting role. Brooks won three Academy Awards for the best film, best director, and best screenplay. A Hollywood triple with only one work has only been achieved by a handful of filmmakers in the history of the Oscars. Brooks, however, remained the friendly man in the background. Compared to the glamor-addicted directors of his generation – Coppola, Scorsese, Spielberg – who were magically attracted by the flashing lights and red carpets, he was almost pathologically inconspicuous.
But he knew how to use his new star power anyway, for example he pushed through “The Simpsons” together with Matt Groening on Fox. Back then a risky bet, now one of the most successful series of all time.
He’s been her producer for over 30 seasons so far. In this role he also discovered other filmmakers. Wes Anderson, for example, whose first feature film “Bottle Rocket” he produced, or Cameron Crowe, whose breakthrough was with “Jerry Maguire”.
“It couldn’t be better” was the last major New York comedy before 9/11
Brooks took long walks through Hollywood, where Adam Sandler wondered why he always looked at him strangely across the street. It was a casting at a distance, years later he cast it in “Spanglish” in 2004.
Brooks preferred to be loyal to Jack Nicholson, whom he helped to win two Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor in “Time of Tenderness” and Best Actor in “It Couldn’t Be Better”, 1998. That was the last great New York comedy before the great crash of 9/11, when, despite all the severity of the neuroses, there was still a cheeky lightness over the city.
Brooks Nicholson’s last appearance so far, which is also his last film to date, also directed the affectionate love comedy “How Do You Know”, 2010.
In the middle of the storm, says Brooks, who turns 80 on Saturday, you have to keep the role of the observer if you want to make good films. “Of course there are hundreds of people on the set, but at the core of my life I find filmmaking a lonely affair.”