Rebecca Ascher-Walsh
November 19, 1999 AT 05:00 AM EST

As far as blind dates go, it’s not the most obvious setup: one Irish screenwriter-director, best known for thrillers about sexy vampires and transvestites; a dashing British actor who came to fame portraying a Nazi; a red-haired American with a knack for playing porn stars; and a most Catholic, quite dead author.

And yet this is the cast of characters director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Interview With the Vampire) and Sony Pictures are gambling on in the adaptation of Graham Greene’s 1951 ode to tormented love, The End of the Affair, starring Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List, The English Patient), Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights), and Stephen Rea (The Crying Game). The story, which centers on a writer (Fiennes) obsessed with his married lover (Moore), is an examination of marriage, adultery, and theology. Set against the backdrop of London during World War II, the quiet, character-driven film is something of a surprise coming from Sony, which lately has been rolling out more than its share of teen-oriented flicks, reaping the rewards of Adam Sandler’s Big Daddy and Martin Lawrence’s Blue Streak (and failing with more mature fare like Random Hearts and Jakob the Liar).

”It’s a period piece, and it’s tremendously adult in its concerns,” says Jordan of his movie. ”You never know whether anyone out there will say, ‘Yes, I get it.’ So the question, really, is who’s going to see it?”

Box office gold may be a question mark, but with an Oscar-rich pedigree (Fiennes, Moore, and Rea are former nominees; Jordan won for his Crying Game screenplay), the Academy will certainly consider this Affair, which is an improvement on the sentimental 1954 adaptation with Deborah Kerr.

Five years ago, Jordan was unaware of that version when he discovered that Sony owned the rights to Greene’s novel, and approached the studio about adapting it. Three projects stood in his way (Michael Collins, The Butcher Boy, and the dismally reviewed In Dreams), but ”when I finished the In Dreams thing and it didn’t go that well, I threw myself into this,” says Jordan, 49. Within two months, he’d written the screenplay. ”It was a lovely time. The material was great, and Greene is dead, so he wasn’t around to punish me.” Jordan adhered closely to the book’s plot, although he toned down some of the religious pondering — ”tough for a modern audience,” he says — and played a bit with the fate of Moore’s character.

With a polished draft in hand, Jordan took Fiennes out to dinner to discuss the part of Maurice Bendrix, the stricken writer who narrates the first half of the story. ”I couldn’t think of a better Graham Greene protagonist,” the director says of Fiennes, 36. ”He embodies that disenchanted character.” Fiennes, on the other hand, wasn’t immediately sold. ”I suppose he was worried about the fact that [after] English Patient, it would feel like a repetition, and I was worried about that too,” says Jordan. But Fiennes took a shine to the director. ”Neither of us is always socially at ease,” says the star, who adds that Bendrix is ”a tortured character, and I love that.”

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