Condon on Kinsey and the Dreamgirls movie

1.24.2005

By Brendan Lemon

Bill Condon, the openly gay director of Gods and Monsters, talked to Out.com about his recent, acclaimed biopic Kinsey, and about his next movie, a screen adaptation of the landmark 1981 musical Dreamgirls, a story of the 1960s rise of a girl group similar to the Supremes.

It seemed as if there might be a real controversy at first about the Kinsey movie, which, of course, is about the mid-century sex researcher Alfred Kinsey. There was the whiff of controversy from Puritan types because Kinsey himself was such a truth-teller himself about sex, and because he wasn't afraid to explore sex himself, including homosexuality. But the controversy never really took off. Why not?

A lot of this stuff gets blown out of proportion. Even while we were in production, there would be talk of a big protest, and then only six people would show up. I think in terms of controversy the Internet is sometimes a big hall of mirrors.

What was the most gratifying response you got to Kinsey?

Probably the screening we did at IU [Indiana University], home of the Kinsey Institute, where the story happened. Twelve hundred people showed up at the screening, including one of Kinsey's daughters, and a few of his granddaughters. That was a very exciting evening.

Kinsey took several years to get made, and now you're taking on a project that has been talked about for a movie for an even longer period: the Broadway musical Dreamgirls. How did your involvement in the project come about?

I went after it. About two years ago I told the producer Larry Marks that I thought Dreamgirls was the greatest unmade musical, in terms of a movie. Writing the screenplay for Chicago had whetted my appetite to direct a musical, so I thought I'd want to do that. Larry set up a meeting for me with David Geffen, who was behind the original. I told him my vision of it, and he picked up the phone and set about making it happen.

How have your ideas about a movie version changed since two years ago?

Once you get involved in something, you inevitably start to see things in a different way. But the core of the story is of course still there.

A lot of musicals don't translate to the movies. By the time they're up there on the screen they seem preserved in amber. Why will Dreamgirls work?

For one thing, it's a backstage musical, and generally speaking backstage musicals translate best to the screen. There are over 20 production numbers in it.

All of which you're planning to do?

Mostly, yes. There are also spots for three new songs, which will come from the show's composer, Henry Krieger, who's involved. As I'm sure you know, other creators from the show'the director Michael Bennett, and the book writer and lyricist, Tom Eyen'are no longer with us.

Did you see the original Broadway production?

C: Yes. I was there opening night. Three friends and I were in the last row of the balcony. It was historic. Thrilling.

How do you live up to the show's legacy'its theatricality'onscreen?

You have to acknowledge right up front that there are two things you're not going to have from Broadway: Michael Bennett's staging and Jennifer Holiday's performance as Effie.

Holliday, of course, is still very much around, but she's too old for the part now. Whom are you planning to cast as Effie, or as the more glamorous Deena?

Can't say yet.

Well, it would seem to be an opportunity to mix big stars'Beyonce, or whomever'with American Idol-like unknowns.

Absolutely. I agree. That would be ideal. And don't forget that the role of Curtis is also a great part.

When are you planning to shoot the movie?

We're hoping to start in late summer.

Are you going to shoot the numbers as straight performance numbers, or as book numbers?

Well, with some of the big songs, such as 'And I Am Telling You,' we'll have to get full performance value, even though that number is a book number in my script.

Anything else you want to add about the project?

It's not only about great music and performance, but it's also about a crucial period in American pop culture. I hope we can capture some of that onscreen.

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