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On Video: Apted says directing Lopez started out rocky

Friday, October 11, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Director Michael Apted has a way with women.

He directed Sissy Spacek in "Coal Miner's Daughter," Sigourney Weaver in "Gorillas in the Mist," Jodie Foster in "Nell" and, most recently, Jennifer Lopez in "Enough." In the movie, now on videocassette and DVD, Lopez plays Slim, a waitress who meets Mr. Right -- a handsome, wealthy, seemingly chivalrous contractor named Mitch (Billy Campbell) -- marries in a fairytale wedding, moves into her dream home and gives birth to a daughter.

And then, Mitch's personality quirks, such as knocking on a stranger's door and insisting the man sell him his house, begin to seem less endearing and more creepy and alarming. The heavenly husband is really a cheating scoundrel who punches his wife, raising bruises on her flawless face.

When Apted joined the project, Sandra Bullock "was sort of slightly attached to it, but she moved on to something else, hopefully not because I came aboard," the British-born director jokes, by phone from Los Angeles. Then came word that Jennifer Lopez was interested. "That was all she wrote," for Apted, Lopez and the studio.

"I felt she was one of the few actresses who had a chance to not only pull it off, but also to get the picture made." She did both, although after a shaky beginning.

"It was a little hard for her at first. We had a kind of creaky beginning," because Lopez was so busy during pre-production that Apted could never get any time with her. "But once we started, once we got into rehearsal and then started shooting, she was -- I thought -- incredibly focused.

"And then you got some insight into how she does her life, that she really only focuses on what's in front of her, and if you happen to be in her peripheral vision, you know, tough luck, you don't get much attention." That was unnerving until her gaze turned toward "Enough."

Apted had known Lopez could handle the second half of the movie, where her character leaves Mitch, is on the run and finally decides to confront him using her newly acquired martial-arts skills. "I felt that's the part of the film I was sure Jennifer could deliver ... but it was more of a challenge whether she could deliver the vulnerable part, the part where someone kind of falls hopelessly in love and then becomes a sort of trophy wife and then a victim."

As for the man who acquires the trophy wife, Apted liked the fact that Campbell had played good-natured characters such as the divorced dad on "Once and Again."

"I thought he was perfect for it because the perception of him was that he was so sweet and gentle, and the same with Noah [Wyle from "ER," who has a supporting role].

"You should believe, as an audience, that Jennifer could fall in love with Billy and if, in the back of the audience's mind, the actor is bringing the package of violence or bad guys or action films, then I thought the audience would have their antennae up and really not buy into that relationship. So it was important to find an actor who didn't bring any such baggage, and both Noah and Billy didn't."

"Enough" uses title cards, with cryptic or cute phrases such as "how they met" and "conquering hero," to advance the story. They're jarring but apparently more so when they're missing.

"It was the lesser of two evils. It was in the script and I did it and I didn't like it, and then when I started showing the film, because it's such an odd narrative -- a speedy narrative but with very long scenes -- preview audiences couldn't follow it. So the title cards went back in, as a minimalist road map that moviegoers mainly need (and see) in the first 15 minutes of the film."

The 61-year-old Apted considers "Enough" a descendant of the movies of the '40s with strong female leads, and a continuation of the sorts of films he's been making for the past couple of decades.

"I've done a lot of films where women are being the center of the story, and I felt this was another part of the jigsaw about how women's roles in society have changed dramatically over the last 20, 30 years, and how women have assumed a much greater strength in society" as they deal with problems.

It's not a big leap to assume Apted came from a family with a strong matriarch, and he did. His mother was from a generation where it was inappropriate for women to work, and she spent much of her life caring for aging parents (she was the youngest of six) and raising three children.

"I think there was a lot of anger there in her. She was perfectly capable of having quite as good a career, if not a better career, than my father and many other men, but the option was never really available to her." She died a few years ago at 90, but she and Apted's father, who was in the insurance business, were able to witness their son's success in what they once thought not a proper job for their son.

"Enough" isn't the only new Apted movie on video store shelves. It joins "Enigma," a romantic thriller about code-breakers in World War II England that was released in late September. It stars Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet, Jeremy Northam and Saffron Burrows.

Although the movie performed well in England and certain European markets, "we had a lot of difficulty finding an American distributor. ... We did get one who did their best for us but they were a small distributor, and they were really not capable or interested in putting it out there. In a lot of markets, it barely scratched the surface, so hopefully the DVD might do a little bit better."

Asked why it was so tough to get a distributor or gain a wider release in America, the sometime documentarian turns puckish or (rightly) peevish.

"I think it was perceived as being too difficult, too intelligent, complex or befogging to the great American unwashed public. They should stick with their teenage comedies and then they'll be all right, thank you very much. There's something profoundly patronizing about the way Hollywood perceives audiences, I think, and something like this which was attempted to have some intelligence was deemed as too difficult to grasp."

Apted isn't always aiming for the high-brow, though. He directed the James Bond movie "The World Is Not Enough."

He also makes documentaries. For the past four decades, he has been filming a fascinating series about a group of men and women he first introduced to audiences as 7-year-olds.

Through a series of movies called "7 Up," "14 Up," "21 Up," "28 Up," "35 Up" and "42 Up," Apted examines his subjects' careers, marriages and dreams.

Asked if he knew what he wanted to do at age 7, he replies, "I did have a sense of it when I was 14 and my mother was interested in this whole business of entertainment, so I grew up on listening to the radio, going to the theaters with her. She actually loved all that." And soon he did, too.

Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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