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Bond 23 scribe John Logan 'deeply embedded' in the world of 007

31-Mar-2011 • Skyfall

From 007 to painting the town RED - one of Hollywood's most in-demand writers hasn't forgotten his early days in Adelaide, reports Adelaide Now.

Why does a celebrated American playwright, who's currently writing the new James Bond movie, give the rights to one of his most successful plays to a little known Adelaide theatre group for its Australian premiere? The answer lies in writer John Logan's long and loyal association with Adelaide's Independent Theatre, an amateur company run since 1983 by Adelaide lawyer Rob Croser.

When we speak by phone, Logan is holed up in his Soho loft in New York, writing the first draft of what will be the 23rd Bond film. "I'm deeply, deeply embedded in the world of 007," he says. "It's a little intimidating because when this movie comes out it will be the 50th anniversary of Dr No, so it's a long and respected franchise."

Logan is no stranger to the pressures of writing Hollywood blockbusters. He's also penned the screenplays for Gladiator and The Aviator, and worked with directors such as Oliver Stone and Sam Mendes in his 20-year career as a writer. But it is his hugely successful play RED, about abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko, that Adelaideans will soon have the chance to see.

Despite intense interest from other states and larger theatre companies to win the right to the Australian premiere of the play, Adelaide's Independent Theatre will be the first to perform it on these shores. It's a massive a coup. The Broadway production of RED, starring Alfred Molina, last year won six Tony awards, including the award for Best Play, and prior to that enjoyed a sell-out season at the acclaimed Donmar Warehouse in London.

"It's an amazing privilege for a small company like ours in a small city to be able to put on something that has received the wealth of recognition the play received in London and in New York," says Croser. "But what it is for me personally is the continuation of one of the most rewarding theatrical relationships - friendships - of my career."

There was a time when John Logan was a struggling writer in Chicago, working in a library by day and penning plays at night. It was during this period that he first came into contact with Croser and Independent Theatre, which produced several of his plays through the 1990s.

Croser had already staged Logan's play Never The Sinner and when he discovered they had a mutual friend, he expressed an interest in meeting the playwright. Croser remembers the meeting in Logan's home town of Chicago in 1993.

"He was in his 20s then and he was just this dynamo of enthusiasm and energy, and we just hit

it off straight away," Croser says. The meeting led to Logan's first visit to Adelaide to see Independent Theatre's production of his play Hauptmann, and then a second trip to rework Never the Sinner.

"Rob was willing to let me go into the guts of Never the Sinner and rewrite huge sections of it for his production ... This was invaluable because you simply can't do that without actors and a director. You can only spend so long staring at the typewriter, and sooner or later you need actors to say the words," Logan says.

He returned to Adelaide in 1996 to work with Croser on the production of another of his plays - The View from Golgotha - and it was during this visit that his career took a completely different turn.

Croser remembers: "One Saturday morning while he was staying with us, the phone rang in the kitchen and it was [director] Oliver Stone from Hollywood saying, 'I want to make Any Given Sunday into a film.' And John's life changed in that instant really." Any Given Sunday was a screenplay Logan had written about a fictional American football team. Stone went on to direct the film, which starred Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz and Charlton Heston. Logan's Hollywood career had begun.

Logan, however, has never abandoned the theatre and when he encountered abstract expressionist Mark Rothko's massive red Seagram Murals at London's Tate Modern, the idea for a play came to him.

"I would go into that room where those paintings were and I just found it an overpowering sensation" Logan says.

"I didn't know much about Rothko or abstract expressionism or even art per se, but there was something about that room ... those paintings, that was very powerful for me."

After reading the plaque in the gallery, Logan learned that in 1958 Rothko had been paid a huge commission to paint the works (a record at the time for an artist), which were intended to hang in the Four Seasons restaurant in New York's fashionable new Seagram Building. But, after painting them, Rothko returned the money and kept the paintings.

"If you're in the vicinity of the paintings, you realise the man spent two years painting these things and the entire time he was torn between the pull of commerce and the pull of fame; and the pull of artistry and the pull of religion. It was just tearing him to pieces. Finally, the only way he could find any peace, it seems to me, was just to give the money back and say, 'No, you have to let these be what they are, which is pure works of art, uncluttered by commerce,' " Logan says.

Logan knew immediately this was the making of a great play. RED portrays the two years Rothko spent in his studio working on the murals with his assistant Ken, who serves as the foil for all of Rothko's inner struggles. It sets the scene for 90 minutes of intense, emotionally-charged dialogue between master and assistant, a titanic struggle that has kept audiences enthralled.

RED has provided the perfect platform for Logan to finally repay Croser for the faith he showed in him in the early days. "When I had the success with RED in London and then on Broadway, there was never a doubt in my mind that if Rob wanted it, then he would have the Australian premiere," Logan says.

"He's been a good friend to me in my work for many years; it's the least I could do to give him a chance to work on the play. Plus, I'm really intrigued to see what he will do with it."

Logan has also supported Independent Theatre financially over the years, a commitment he sees as an investment in the future of theatre. "My altruistic motive is because there's a young playwright in Adelaide who's going to be me; there's a young playwright in Brisbane; there's a playwright outside Sydney ... who's 21 and needs to see their play staged. And it was little theatres, like Independent Theatre, where I got my start," he says.

Logan is hoping to be here for the premiere of RED in April. "Adelaide is a town where 'real people' live and work. I have always enjoyed my time there and the landscape around Adelaide is spectacular."

So, John Logan remembers Adelaide and from now on Adelaide will remember John Logan - as the man who painted the town RED.

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