Scott's World -- UPI Arts & Entertainment

By VERNON SCOTT, United Press International  |  June 19, 2002 at 5:43 PM
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HOLLYWOOD, June 19 (UPI) -- Eric Schaeffer is a young producer making the most of an old system with a middle-aged cast and a lot of improvisation.

Schaeffer might be compared to Woody Allen; he writes, directs and sometimes acts in low-budget movies and, like Woody, makes his pictures in New York City.

Like Allen, he navigates through Manhattan's red-tape officialdom and outrageous street traffic shooting film as he goes.

His new movie is "Never Again," a drama/comedy about a couple of 53-year-olds who fall in love and brave the attendant social, economic and emotional complications with a talented and veteran cast, all of whom are older than Schaeffer.

Starring as the less-than-youthful couple are a pair of proven performers who have been called stars, but in reality are not top-drawer box-office attractions.

Jeffrey Tambor plays a balding, middle class Lothario, and Jill Clayburgh is seen as his over-the-hill inamorata.

It is near-perfect casting in this fast-paced story of amour between a pair of jaded lovebirds, long overlooked by Hollywood in its preoccupation with the glories of teenage hots and young adult romance.

The story line suggests "Never Again" will become a favorite with mature people, many of whom have experienced the joys of romantic love long after the bloom of youth has faded.

Released by USA Films, the title is taken from the oft-spoken vow of disenchanted divorced men and women determined not to be drawn into the perils of matrimony a second or third time.

With American divorces soaring as never before, virtually millions of middle-aged and older people are finding romantic love as they rebuild their lives -- with varying degrees of success.

"Never Again" is Schaeffer's fifth directorial venture. Previously he directed "Wirey Spindell" (1999), "Fall" (1997), "If Lucy Fell" (1996) and "My Life's In Turnaround" (1993).

He acted with both Clayburgh and Tambor in the ill-fated NBC sitcom "Everything's Relative" in 1999 and suggested that he write a movie for them.

Both performers agreed, doubting anything would come of Schaeffer's idea.

But Schaeffer began writing a screenplay based on a pair of unlikely lovers and regularly telephoned his progress to Tambor and Clayburgh.

Says Schaeffer of his project, "It is something that we haven't seen that much, certainly in American cinema: a story about people in their 50s who are not caricatures."

When conferring with his actors by phone, Schaeffer would ask for their input, allowing them to contribute bits and pieces of dialogue and expressing their thoughts about mature love.

Clayburgh says, "We talked a lot. He really listened hard when I told him stories. I could just say one thing, and there would be a scene."

According to Tambor, "Eric would run ideas by me, and ask if the experience seemed true to me."

Six months after Schaeffer announced he had started the script, he met with his actors and handed them the screenplay.

Tambor and Clayburgh were delighted with the results and agreed to head the cast, which includes Sandy Duncan and Caroline Aaron as Clayburgh's pals, and

Bill Duke.

Tambor and Clayburgh are seasoned campaigners who found working for a younger, enthusiastic director on a low budget as exciting as anything they have done for famous directors with huge budgets.

In 1978 Clayburgh starred for director Paul Mazursky in "An Unmarried Woman," with Alan Bates, for which she won an Oscar nomination, and in 1979 for Alan Pakula in "Starting Over," with Burt Reynolds.

In all, she has appeared in more than 40 movies since her debut in "The Wedding Party" in 1969.

Tambor has done about 50 feature films and more TV movies and series than he can count, in addition to a distinguished career on stage.

Asked why he consulted with Tambor and Clayburgh so often, Schaeffer said, "I wanted to make sure I was authentic in terms of how two people in their 50s would sound, especially Jill's character.

"They would red-flag certain moments that seemed inauthentic or felt a little younger than how they would say something."

It was important to both performers, and to Schaeffer, that the sexual issue would be fully explored with characters verging on senior citizen status.

Said Schaeffer, "Sexuality is a very significant part of our life and our world. It seems to be something that keeps appearing in my films.

"I definitely didn't want to leave the subject out of this story just because the characters are in their 50s.

"Jeffrey and Jill were also adamant about that. With the very frank sexual talk, I'd say to Jill, 'Listen would you talk like this? Did you talk like this with your friends?'

"And she said, 'Yeah, absolutely, that's no problem.'"

Audience response suggests that folks in their 50s have no problems with anything in this compelling film.

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