Will ‘Angels,’ ‘Alienist’ Ever Fly?


Caleb Carr’s “The Alienist” is at the top of the paperback bestseller list, and Tony Kushner’s epic drama “Angels in America” is successfully touring the country after its Broadway run, which saw the two-part play win back-to-back Tonys. Film rights to both projects were scooped up early on. So where are the movies?

Producer Scott Rudin (“The Firm”) bought the rights to “The Alienist” in mid-1993. The well-received detective story, about a serial killer who terrorizes turn-of-the-century New York, was initially on the boards for a tentative 1996 release through Paramount Pictures.

But the first draft of the script by David Henry Hwang (“M. Butterfly”) diverged too radically from the novel, focusing on a minor female character, according to a source close to the producer. (Rudin did not return phone calls, and no one at Paramount would comment.)


The second draft, by Steven Katz, who was uncredited for his work on “Interview With the Vampire,” among others, was considered too slavish to the original source material.

During the summer, Rudin hired veteran director Philip Kaufman (“The Right Stuff,” “Rising Sun”), who has been doing extensive period research before embarking on yet another version of the script. Through a Paramount spokesman, Kaufman said he had not finished his research, so it was premature to discuss how he would approach the story. There is no projected start date on “The Alienist.”

“Angels” was optioned by Avenue Entertainment in 1992 during the pre-Broadway Los Angeles run of the two-part, 7 1/2-hour epic. Avenue Chairman Carey Brokaw commissioned playwright Kushner to write the screenplay, with Robert Altman set to direct.

The original plan was to film “Millennium Approaches” and “Perestroika” simultaneously with the same cast and release them as two motion pictures. A deal was struck with Fine Line Pictures to distribute “Angels,” but the company recently put the project in turnaround.

“They had reservations about making two movies,” Brokaw says.

Kushner’s two scripts weigh in at a bulky 160 pages and 130 pages, respectively. The ambitious $30-million project is now under consideration by several other independent companies, and Brokaw expects to make an announcement shortly. There’s a chance that Fine Line will produce “Millennium” alone, though Brokaw says he’s still holding out for a financier who will back both productions.

Regardless, Al Pacino is attached to play Roy Cohn, and major names such as Jodie Foster and Robert Downey Jr. have been mentioned for other key roles. Brokaw confirmed that “the names everyone’s heard are seriously interested.”

And all of them will work on a “modest favored-nations basis” he adds, meaning they’d appear for less than their usual salaries in return for back-end participation. Brokaw still envisions a March or April start date.