Director Nicholas Hytner admits his nerves in working with screenwriter Arthur Miller
A first meeting between a director and a screenwriter can be unnerving — but when the director has only one film under his belt and the screenwriter is Arthur Miller, it’s downright terrifying. ”It was like going to Shakespeare and asking for amendments to King Lear,” recalls Nicholas Hytner (The Madness of King George) of the initial powwow over the screen adaptation of Miller’s classic 1953 play The Crucible, featuring Winona Ryder as accused witch Abigail Williams and Daniel Day-Lewis as John Proctor, the married farmer with whom she trysts.
Despite his trepidation, Hytner, 40, constructed a comfortable working relationship with the 80-year-old playwright while the crew constructed a 12-building village on the wildlife refuge of Hog Island, Mass., just miles from the site of the 17th-century Salem witch-hunts. The isolated location helped the cast remain almost too true to their film personae. ”When they were on the island, they stayed very much within character,” says Miller’s wife, Inge Morath, who took these photos for EW. ”It was almost like they were living in Salem.”
Hytner is quick to separate his film (due in late 1996) from stuffy period pieces: ”It’s not one of those films where the way the costumes are stitched is more important than what people are saying.” But don’t expect a Scarlet Letter-like violation of Miller’s text. ”There’s no compromise as far as character, language, substance, or plot is concerned,” says Hytner. ”What would be the point?”