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ROLLING IN THE ISLES

DIRECTOR STEPHEN FREARS

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”It was just a series of accidents,” claims Stephen Frears, 52, trying to explain how he turned from studying law at Cambridge to pursuing a career as a movie director. Although famous for quirky character comedies like My Beautiful Laundrette, which first won him international acclaim in 1985, and his newest film, The Snapper (see review), the British filmmaker presents himself as merely a hard worker who also happens to be a lucky man. Drawn to the theater while in college, then offered a job as an assistant director by Karel Reisz on the classic 1966 screen comedy, Morgan!, Frears says he ”eventually became a very well-trained person and therefore of value. But why people liked My Beautiful Laundrette, I have no idea.” His follow-up films -the icily elegant Dangerous Liaisons, featuring Michelle Pfeiffer, and the murderously wicked The Grifters, starring Anjelica Huston-made him a regular visitor to Hollywood. But Frears, a soft-spoken, rumpled-looking fellow who lives in London’s Notting Hill with painter Anne Rothenstein, says he’s never considered a permanent move to the States. ”No,” he insists, sounding slightly horrified at the thought. ”Not me. I live in England. It’s what I do.” Just as well. Frears’ one foray into big-budget Hollywood filmmaking, the $42 million Hero, a top-heavy fable starring Dustin Hoffman, Geena Davis, and Andy Garcia, was one of ’92’s notable fizzles, grossing just $18 million domestically. ”I was very, very disappointed,” he admits. ”You feel foolish and upset, but I don’t blame anyone else, and there’s no point feeling defeated by it.” Frears insists that he wasn’t retreating to safer ground with The Snapper, shot in Dublin in 30 days for less than $2 million. ”The script made me laugh,” he says. ”The world it described was so wonderful.” So far, the critics are responding just as favorably to the film, which seems likely to become another Frears success. Makes you wonder if the director’s return to the world of quirky little comedies was really nothing more than a happy accident.