Bruce Joel Rubin knows his way around a good love story. He won an Oscar in 1990 for Ghost, giving him both the needed experience with endless love and translucent husbands that he needed to write The Time Traveler's Wife, an adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger's novel about a man with a genetic disorder that makes him time travel unwillingly, and the woman who loves him anyway.
During the junket for The Time Traveler's Wife a few weeks ago, a group of us got a chance to ask Rubin not just about his new movie, but about his career in Hollywood as a whole. He was surprisingly candid, too, talking about the difficulty of being the screenwriter who doesn't visit the set, his "mediocre" directorial debut My Life, and the exact location of his Oscar. Most screenwriter interviews feel tangential to the film, but Rubin's candor makes this one worth reading. The Time Traveler's Wife opens nationwide tomorrow.
How did you figure out how much time travel to include in the story?
The script, if you will, was absolutely deliberate. Every so often something is deliberate. It's the most wonderful and extraordinary thing that happens in writing and it's not happened to me often. I just sat and knew scene to scene to scene what this movie should be. What I knew was that it was a love story and that it followed the dictates of a love story, that it has an arc. All love stories have a particular arc and even though this played in time it didn't matter where I went in time, as long as this love story was moving forward that's all that mattered. I don't take a lot of credit for it other than I was lucky that I could listen and have had years of training in terms of listening to stories and how they need to be told.
As a viewer I tried initially to keep up with where he was going in time. Then I just gave up and decided that there was more to it than just that. How valid of a response is that do you feel to this movie?
Very valid. We were very concerned about how we got out the rules of time travel, how we sort of layered them into the movie. It was very important that the movie not just be a movie that makes you cognitively involved and not emotionally involved. I think the moment you probably got sucked into the moment, and I think it was an important moment, is when he sees his mother on the subway. You suddenly go, 'Oh, my God. This is about something other than the manifestation of time travel. It's the emotional life of someone who can do that.'
How did you craft the story to keep the feeling the of the book knowing that you didn't have as much time to tell the story?
[When] you watch a movie you watch it from your gut, and from your heart. If it's a great movie then you can also kind of tap into your head as well and have it almost be a full bodied experience. But you don't want to watch it primarily from your head. [...] When I'm reading a script and I have to think about it or a movie, it takes me out of the movie for about twenty seconds or ten seconds. I didn't want that to happen. It's unavoidable on some level with this movie, the first twenty minutes or so and especially for men. This is not a man's movie particularly. This is a real two quadrant movie. It's really a female movie and I expect you guys are all going to beat us up in the press because unless there's an emotional life--most guys are not going to love this movie. My younger son watched it and he said, 'You've got two quadrants, dad. I'm not in it.' I understood that. I really understood it. It's a very emotionally driven film.
How much input did you have on the set?
The life of a writer in Hollywood. I won't go into the whole drama of that, but I was never on the set. I had the privilege of getting to adapt this movie, turning it into a script that I thought was worthy. It got made into a movie that I still think is worthy although it's different in some ways from the script. Movies are not the book. Movies are not even the screenplay. They are the movie. As a screenwriter I have to turn my work over to a director and let them build it in the same way that an author like Audrey [Niffenegger] has to risk everything to give this to a studio and say, 'Make the movie you want to make.' It's hard, hard.
Brad PItt and Jennifer Aniston were originally going to produce the film, and you've said you wrote it with them in mind. Why?
Because I saw them as Henry and Clare. I just did. They just seemed like a perfect version of Henry and Clare.
What about them made you see them as the characters?
I just found them equally attractive, equally compelling in terms of the Hollywood sort of arena at that moment in time. They were as good a couple as you could find and I thought that I would've loved to have seen them together in a movie.
Can you talk about the challenges you're facing in adapting 'Ghost' for the stage?
I don't want to talk too much about that, but it's completely thrilling to be working on a musical. That's all I can tell you. I love every moment of it. I love being a writer in a medium where they have to ask you, 'Can I change this line?'
Are you writing the lyrics or just the book?
I wrote twenty songs and about three remain at this point. Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard were doing the music and are doing a lot of the lyrics now.
You mentioned some of the frustrations being a Hollywood writer. Sometimes the script you write isn't the movie made. Have you thought about directing?
I have. I directed one film called My Life many years ago with Nicole Kidman and Michael Keaton. I found that I was able to destroy my work as well as anyone else. It turned out to be an okay movie but I realized I was a mediocre director. That was a big deal for me. You don't know until you do it. I think that if I had directed twenty movies I'd actually be a good director. But because I started all of this late I'm not going to get a chance to do forty movies, but the one thing that I'd been doing a lot of was writing. So I figured stick with what you know.
Where do you keep your Oscar?
Right next to my bed, actually. It's where I put it when I came home and it has never moved.