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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 February 2007, 08:22 GMT
Making a film out of a Scandal
By Victoria Lindrea
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Patrick Marber
Marber based his first play on his early penchant for gambling
Acclaimed stage and screen writer Patrick Marber has had an impressive start to the year.

Hot on the heels of his new play Don Juan in Soho, at London's Donmar Warehouse, he has picked up his first Oscar nomination for his screen adaptation of Zoe Heller's novel Notes on a Scandal.

No stranger to Hollywood, following his 2004 film adaptation of his hit play Closer, he welcomes the annual spate of industry back-slapping.

"I love a bit of hoopla," Marber tells the BBC News website.

"But then I come from a very tawdry end of the business, having been a comedian.

"I think of myself as being in showbusiness, whereas my playwright friends think of themselves as being in the literary world."

Marber flirted with a career as a stand-up comedian before joining forces with Steve Coogan and Armando Iannucci for radio and TV shows including The Day Today, on which comic creation Alan Partridge was born.

Film poster for Closer (2004)
Natalie Portman and Clive Owen won Golden Globes for Closer
But it was the West End transfer of his 1995 play Dealer's Choice and subsequent hits Closer (1997) and Howard Katz (2001) that have determined the course of his career.

Now the film studios have Marber in their sights.

"They've suddenly realised that these films, arthouse films, make money for them and they take them very seriously," he says.

"Every studio has its own independent division, so people like me who would have once been abused as artsy-fartsy idiots are quite respected.

"They recognise that good scripts attract the talent. And there's a whole generation of stars who genuinely want to be in good projects.

"The bankable stars now want to be in low-budget films. Take Julia Roberts in Closer. She was fantastic for the film, and she was very good in it."

Cate Blanchett and Dame Judi Dench in Notes on a Scandal
It can't be as good as the novel - the novel is always going to be richer, deeper, more profound
Patrick Marber

Based on Heller's best-selling novel, Notes on a Scandal follows an embittered spinster who uses a colleague's affair with a pupil to her own advantage.

"In a way, it's easier to be ruthless with your own work because you don't have to explain yourself to the source," explains Marber.

"The book had to be completely rethought. At least three-quarters of the scenes in the film aren't in the book.

"But once you've accepted that the film is going to dishonour the novel, betray it - it's fine."

Nonetheless Marber has forged a strong friendship with Heller, prompting enthusiastic disagreements about his adaptation.

Sacrificing subtlety

"She thinks I've made Barbara [played by Dame Judi Dench] some kind of psycho.

"I say: 'Believe me, love, you started it, she's a nutcase - that's what you wrote!'"

But he admits "subtlety is the first thing that goes out of the window".

"As an adapter you know that - it can't be as good as the novel," he says. "The novel is always going to be richer, deeper, more profound."

Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge
Marber and Steve Coogan co-created comedy icon Alan Partridge
On set in north London, Marber rubbed shoulders with A-list stars Dame Judi and Cate Blanchett, who have both earned Oscar nominations for their roles.

"As soon as you start working with them, they are actors not stars," explains Marber.

"I'm trying to think of a star I would be chuffed to meet - De Niro, I suppose. But everyone says he's quite a quiet chap."

Sadly, Bob is unlikely to want the lead in Alan Partridge: The Movie, which is among Marber's future projects.

"I don't know if it will happen. Steven [Coogan] has had a brilliantly funny idea for a movie. It could be hilarious."

Perhaps his forthcoming adaptation of Ian McEwan's Saturday could prove more of a draw for the major stars.

"It's a wonderful book - and in three years time when the movie comes out, I look forward to people telling me how much I cocked it up!"

Notes on a Scandal opens in the UK on Friday.


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