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Last Updated:  Friday, 31 January, 2003, 08:46 GMT
The story behind Adaptation
By Peter Bowes
In Hollywood

A scene from Adaptation
Charlie Kaufman created a fictional twin as brother and co-writer
Peter Bowes talks to screenwriter for Adaptation, Charlie Kaufman, who also wrote the surreal movie Being John Malkovich.

"I was scared but it opened up my brain a little bit," says Charlie Kaufman, as he recalls the moment he decided to put himself into his screenplay adaptation of a book about orchids.

Adaptation, starring Nicolas Cage, has been hailed as one of the most inventive and outrageous films of the past year.

The semi-autobiographical story, directed by Spike Jonze, is about Kaufman's attempt to adapt The Orchid Thief, by New Yorker writer Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep).

Kaufman, who acknowledges suffering from recurring bouts of insecurity, received an Oscar nomination for Being John Malkovich and has another for Adaptation.

In Adaptation, he portrays himself as a neurotic writer searching for inspiration while attempting to re-work the best-seller for the big screen.

Put simply, his problem was that the book lacked the drama and action needed to transform it into a convincing movie.

Meryl Streep
Meryl Streep has received accolades for her role
"I struggled trying to do a very traditional adaptation of the book and I got depressed and I couldn't figure out how to do it in a way that made me happy," explains Kaufman.

"I was blocked and I came up with this idea because it seemed like that's what I was thinking about every day - the fact that I couldn't write it and I like to write about what ever it is that I'm thinking about."

Without discussing his plans with the writer, Kaufman made the radical decision to place himself in the story.

"This was months and months into the project," he says.

"I was convinced I was taking a risk - I liked the idea and didn't have any other ideas so I thought I'd better do this rather than ask them if I could do it."

"It allowed me to move as opposed to spinning my wheels," he says.

The end result is a movie that intriguingly merges the insecure world of Hollywood screenwriters with the equally mysterious lives of orchid fanciers.


The Orchid Thief is about John Laroche (Chris Cooper), an obsessive collector who will stop at nothing to poach rare species from the protected Florida Everglades.

The film introduces us to Charlie's imaginary twin brother, Donald, who is also an ambitious screenwriter. Cage plays both roles.

Kaufman is quick to acknowledge that not everything in the movie is true.

Chris Cooper
Chris Cooper plays an orchid hunter
The former TV sit-com writer is coy about aspects of his private life portrayed in the film and declines to set the record straight about his fantasy life.

Cult memoirs

"I'd really rather not," he explains. "There's truth and fiction in this movie and I don't want to spoil it for people by saying this is true and this is not true. Let people think what they want."

Kaufman's latest movie is George Clooney's Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.

The story is an adaptation of the cult memoirs of US game show producer Chuck Barris, who claimed to lead a double life as a CIA hit man.

Kaufman says Adaptation, which started as "a book of essays about orchids with a little bit of a story" was the harder screenplay to write.


Kaufman's gamble on throwing himself into the project is paying off with a slew of award nominations.

Adaptation also took one Bafta, for best adapted screenplay - which went to Charlie and his alter ego, Donald, who is credited as a co-writer.

Kaufman is not the kind of character to let the plaudits go to his head.

"You are who you are - the insecurities don't disappear with success," he says.



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