He'll always have Paris

Interview with Jonathan Demme, director

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The question that director Jonathan Demme keeps getting asked is: "Why?"

Why did he choose to remake the stylish 1963 romantic thriller "Charade," starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn? For one thing, he feels that time is on his side. After all, almost 40 years have passed since the original came out. "I think it has passed the statute of limitations on remakes," says Mr. Demme. "I think we have a new picture."

In the new version, Regina (Thandie Newton in Hepburn's role) discovers that her husband has been murdered and everything they owned has been sold.

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No one knows what has happened to the money, but a variety of characters have a deadly interest in finding out, including a helpful man who turns out to have several identities (Mark Wahlberg).

Instead of simply doing a straight remake, Demme says he offers a "brand new interpretation" of the material. For the leads, he picked Mr. Wahlberg and Ms. Newton ("Mission: Impossible 2"), so younger audiences could relate to them.

Wahlberg is much closer in age to Newton than Grant was to Hepburn, and that changed the romantic dynamic. Demme recalled a scene where Wahlberg was playing a bit too much to his character's dark side.

The director told him to be nicer. "And he would say, 'I don't think I can be. I'm lying to her.' And I said, 'Exactly. Overcompensate. Be too sweet.'"

The lack of iconic star power and the similarity in age makes for a more conventional "young couple on the run" plot. It's basically the same story line – even down to a few key twists. The differences are in the details – the parts played by James Coburn and Ned Glass are now a black woman and an Asian man.

For savvier film viewers, living up to the original may be impossible. But Demme said the original's director, Stanley Donen, gave the project his blessing, and "Charade" writer Peter Stone contributed to the new script under the name Peter Joshua (one of the names Grant's character adopts in the original.)

Demme realized the impossibility of re-creating the Grant/Hepburn chemistry, so he didn't even try to duplicate it.

"Audrey Hepburn is someone I always loved in movies so much," he says. "Thandie has that, too. She's got that big heart and sense of decency. That's why I wanted her."

Newton herself says that in order to feel free to work they basically "had to ignore 'Charade.' "

The one actor who seems to be inspired by the original is Tim Robbins, cast as the embassy official played by Walter Matthau. However, Demme puts a fresh spin on his character, including a different twist at the end.

As the father of teenagers, Demme says it's not easy finding appropriate entertainment. That's where "The Truth About Charlie" comes in. It also doesn't have a lot of explosions, bathroom humor, or sex scenes. "This movie is a testament to the teens of America that they can have a blast without all that other stuff."

He thinks that his film, rated PG-13, will find a younger audience not familiar with the earlier film. "They never even heard of Cary Grant," he says.

Despite such comments, Demme – whose credits include "Philadelphia," and "Silence of the Lambs" – is no Philistine. Indeed, the 50-something director has peppered the Paris-set film with references to the French New Wave of the 1950s and '60s.

There's a clip of François Truffaut's "Shoot the Piano Player," and an appearance by Charles Aznavour, who starred in it, as well as Jean-Luc Godard's frequent leading lady, Anna Karina. "I couldn't resist the impulse to acknowledge how much French film meant to me," he says.

The film carries additional meaning and satisfaction for him because several projects before this never took off. It's his first film since 1998's "Beloved," which also starred Newton.

Ironically, another current remake has links to Demme, although he had nothing to do with it. "Red Dragon" is a remake of the 1986 film "Manhunter," the first of the stories about murderer Hannibal Lecter who was immortalized in Demme's "Silence of the Lambs" (1991). 'Red Dragon" allows actor Anthony Hopkins to play the part of Lecter for the third time after having won an Oscar for his performance under Demme's direction.

"I have kind of a paternal glow," says Demme of the latest film. "I wish I had a piece of it."

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