She says her costar Rupert Everett deserves credit, but the Writers Guild and the screenwriter disagree

Credit: Dah Len
  • Movie

In the latest case of a Hollywood star battling for script control, Rupert Everett claims he and writing partner Mel Bordeaux redid key elements of ”The Next Best Thing” but were refused a writing credit. ”It went to arbitration and the original writer won, so I can’t really talk about it,” says Everett about the Writers Guild decision that awarded Thomas Ropelewski sole ‘Written By’ credit. ”But I did personalize this script for [costar] Madonna and myself.” Not surprisingly, Madonna agrees with her friend. ”Rupert had lots to do with writing this story,” she says, ”and we all know it.”

Ropelewski, for his part, counters that the WGA’s three-member panel made the right decision, since Everett’s script changes were minor. ”He did a polish, but he didn’t change anything structural,” the screenwriter tells EW Online. ”The WGA knows that Everett and Bordeaux didn’t contribute enough to deserve credit.”

Ropelewski says the pair made only one remotely significant script revision — in the conception sequence between Madonna’s character, Abbie, and her gay best friend, Robert (Everett). The original version had Abbie asking Robert to donate sperm for artificial insemination, but the film shows the duo drinking too many Martinis one Fourth of July and accidentally sleeping together. (Talk about fireworks!) ”Our relationship seemed so mercenary in the first script. It was this test-tube situation,” Madonna says of the switch. ”We wanted it to be more about us really caring about each other.”

Ropelewski’s response? He says the fix is fine by him, but goes on to explain that it’s an example of how ”the things they rewrote were easy to change” and weren’t important plot elements that altered the climax or third act of the film. ”Any real writer would know these changes didn’t affect the arc of the story,” Ropelewski insists.

Another decision Everett made was to nix the vague locale, and set the story in his and Madonna’s home town, Los Angeles. He also switched Madonna’s on-screen occupation. ”I just couldn’t stand the idea of being in a chlorinated pool for eight hours a day,” says the singer about her swimming instructor job in Ropelewski’s version. ”So I begged Rupert to give me another teaching job.” Voila. Madonna ditched the swimsuits and donned a leotard to play — very appropriately — a yoga instructor.

And using ”American Pie” throughout the story was also Everett’s idea. In fact, Madonna says she wouldn’t have covered the classic Don McLean song without his pleading. ”At first I thought he was crazy, but the more I thought about it and listened to the song, the more the apocalyptic verses sounded applicable to today,” she says.

Ropelewski, who is currently busy writing and producing the UPN show ”Seven Days,” says he likes the ”American Pie” motif in the film. But there’s one thing he still doesn’t understand about Everett’s ”obsession” with getting WGA credit: ”It seems ironic to me that an actor who makes $3 million a picture yearns to be a modestly paid and ill-respected screenwriter.”

The Next Best Thing

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 107 minutes
  • John Schlesinger