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“He Stood on a Firm Piece of Earth”: John Patrick Shanley on Moonstruck director Norman Jewison | Tributes


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Jewison’s masterpiece, probably, is “Moonstruck,” written by John Patrick Shanley. Shanley, now 73, is Bronx-born Vietnam veteran who got a degree in Educational Theater from New York University after the war. He ended up writing 23 plays, including Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, Italian American Reconciliation, Doubt: A Parable, and Brooklyn Laundry, which opens Feb. 6 at Manhattan Theatre Club. Shanley became a known quantity as a screenwriter in 1987 with the release of two films. One was the ensemble drama Queens Logic, directed by Tony Bill. The other was “Moonstruck,” which belongs on a short list of ‘80s films that need no introduction. Its release instantly made movie stars of its lead couple, Cher and Nicolas Cage, and the film went on to become one of the top-grossing releases of its year, garnering six Academy Award nominations and winning for Best Actress (Cher), Best Supporting Actress (Olympia Dukakis) and Best Original Screenplay (for Shanley).  

When news of Jewison’s death broke, I called Shanley to offer condolences and ask if he wanted to talk about his collaboration with the great director. A transcript of our conversation follows.

Was it daunting having your script directed by somebody who’d worked on so many classic films?

You would think! But no—Norman was such a fun guy. He was just fun! The first thing we did to prepare to shoot the movie was, Norman and I got together and he told me we were gonna do a reading, the two of us, and divide up the parts. I’d read half of them and he’d read half of them. We both threw ourselves into it, and in the big scene where Ronny tells her, “Now I want you to go upstairs with me and get into my bed!” I was Ronny and he was Loretta. And we played it, man, like our lives depended on it! And he agreed to go upstairs with me! [Laughs

Were you familiar with his work prior to him directing your script?

Oh, yeah, yeah. I had seen “In the Heat of the Night” when I was a teenager and loved it. He made “The Cincinnati Kid.” He made the one about the rich guy who was a thief for the fun of it, “The Thomas Crown Affair.” A terrific filmmaker, and he’d already made a hell of a lot of films.

What were your favorites?

“In the Heat of the Night” was certainly up there, for Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier’s performances, and for just really good storytelling. It’s a character piece, and it’s of its time, but I think it holds up. He was always experimenting. Even as late as when he was doing “The Hurricane,” with Denzel Washington, there’s a scene with Rubin Carter in prison where Norman kind of splits Denzel up into four different personas and has them agonize and argue in a cell. Sensational filmmaking, with a lot of confidence behind it.

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