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''The Object of My Affection'' finally arrives

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”Love,” a Hollywood unknown named Ovid once wrote, ”is a kind of warfare,” but romance ain’t nothing compared with the tension-fraught negotiations of moviemaking. Especially in the case of The Object of My Affection, in which Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd are Nina and George, a star-crossed couple who unfortunately want the same thing in bed: a sexy, funny man.

The 10-year journey of Object, based on Stephen McCauley’s 1987 novel about the romantic but nonsexual friendship between a gay man and a straight woman, has involved one straight female screenwriter, two gay male directors, two studios that hot-potatoed the film five times, and the almost participation of Debra Winger, Winona Ryder, Uma Thurman, Kyra Sedgwick, Matthew Modine, and Keanu Reeves.

”I’ve been asked, ‘Did you write this because of [the popularity of] Rupert Everett’s character in My Best Friend’s Wedding?”’ says Object screenwriter Wendy Wasserstein, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning 1989 play The Heidi Chronicles focused on the same type of friendship. ”And I’m like, ‘Honey, I started writing this when Rupert Everett was 10.”’

In 1987, six years before an audience accepted Tom Hanks as a gay man in Philadelphia, producer Laurence Mark (Jerry Maguire) optioned McCauley’s novel for Twentieth Century Fox, with Wasserstein attached to write the script. ”I guess I assumed, given the subject matter, that it would never happen,” admits McCauley. But Mark thought Wasserstein might be the antidote to such box office poison: ”We weren’t interested in making this movie specifically for gay audiences,” he says. ”You’d like this movie to have a broader appeal, and a way of doing that is to represent it from a straight woman’s point of view. Otherwise, you’re traveling down a narrow corridor.”

Wasserstein changed the story’s perspective from George’s to Nina’s and added a stepsister and brother-in-law (Allison Janney and Alan Alda) for Nina and a somewhat pathetic theater critic (Nigel Hawthorne). But when she handed in her draft — the first of more than a dozen — a nervous Fox passed.

In 1989 Paramount stepped in, pairing Wasserstein and Urban Cowboy director James Bridges (who died in 1993) with plans to develop the project for Winger and Modine. After two years, the studio still wouldn’t greenlight it; Object bounced back to Fox in 1991, and then to Paramount again. This time, though, Wasserstein says that Paramount suggested a quick fix: Have George overcome his proclivity for men and bed Nina so the pair could live happily ever after. ”That seemed really wrong,” Wasserstein says charitably.

The ping-pong game came to a temporary halt in 1992. After a reading in New York with Matthew Broderick as a still-gay George and Sarah Jessica Parker as Nina, Wasserstein decided the script was worth even more of her time — but that she’d prefer to work without a studio pressuring her. With Mark’s permission, she took Object off the market. ”Barry Diller once told me, ‘Someday they’ll make this movie, and then you’ll have nothing else to do with your life,”’ she says with a laugh.

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