John Logan’s road to becoming one of the most versatile and in-demand screenwriters began when he was a youngster. He suffered from severe asthma that prevented him from playing outside, so he found solace watching old movies on the family’s small black-and-white TV set.
“I fell in love with Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone and Hitchcock and Orson Welles and John Huston,” said Logan, 50, who still talks with child-like enthusiasm about those movies.
His love of writing and movies was particularly in evidence in 2011. He penned the screenplay for the animated comedy hit, “Rango"; and for Martin Scorsese’s valentine to cinema, “Hugo,” that was based on the book “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick, for which Logan is nominated for a Writers Guild Award; and he wrote the film adaptation of one of his favorite Shakespeare plays “Coriolanus,” which reopens Friday after a one-week Oscar-qualifying run in December.
Logan remembers when his father asked him to watch a movie on TV with him. “I said, ‘What is it?’ He said, ‘Don’t ask. It has got ghosts and a sword fight.”’
The movie was Laurence Olivier’s 1948 Oscar-winning version of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”
“That was the day my life changed,” said Logan over lunch at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. “My father saw how excited I was and, god love him, he started reading the plays with me. I watched Olivier’s ‘Henry V’ and ‘Richard III’ — it was that tryptic of plays that made me a writer because I fell in love Shakespeare, which made me fall in love with theater.”
Logan’s writing for screen and theater has won him accolades and kept him very busy. He co-wrote best picture winner “Gladiator” (2000), wrote “The Aviator” (2004) — both of which earned him Oscar nominations — and “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (2007). Two years ago, he earned a Tony Award for best play for “Red,” about artist Mark Rothko. The play opens at the Mark Taper Forum in August.
Logan hasn’t been resting on his laurels. He recently completed the screenplay for the new James Bond film, “Skyfall,” and last week it was announced he was going to adapt the Tony Award-winning musical “Jersey Boys” about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
Ralph Fiennes, who stars and made his directorial debut in the modern-day adaptation of “Coriolanus,” described Logan as a “very enthusiastic” collaborator. “He was the first writer that [my agency] thought I should meet. I pitched him the idea of a modern day adaptation and he very quickly got what I was trying to do.”
The project is an emotional one for Logan, who lost his father last March to cancer. “He never got to see ‘Coriolanus,’ but he was so proud I am doing it,” he said wistfully. “He was so excited about that. I always think about that movie as sort of the touch of my heart to my dad.”
“Hugo” marked the second time Logan has collaborated with Scorsese. “We call him ‘the Maestro,’” said Logan about the Oscar-winning filmmaker. “No one can touch him for inspiring other artists. It’s thrilling to be in a room with him.”
And the feeling is mutual for the Oscar-winning director.
In a statement, Scorsese said, “What I value most of all is his extraordinary knowledge of everything under the sun — film, theater, painting, literature, world history, you name it. I can tell you he’s absolutely unique is that sense and it gives him a real advantage as a writer.”
Gore Verbinski, who directed “Rango,” concurs. “At his core, he has such a command of dramatic literature. He is incredibly well-read and astute and he brings so much intellect to the process.”
Logan said it is “absolutely necessary” for him to test himself as a writer, in the same way that his idol Shakespeare did some 400 years ago.
“From 1599 to 1600, he was doing ‘Henry V,’ ‘Julius Caesar’ and ‘Hamlet,’ ” said Logan. “The same vision was also about to create the magic of ‘The Winter’s Tale,’ the brutal harrowing truth of ‘King Lear’ and the comedy of ‘As You Like it.’ That to me is thrilling — a writer testing himself in different directions.”