If one could deem Frank Capra a genre, then you can say I always wanted to make a Capra film,” says Frank Darabont, who in fact has a photo of the director of ”It’s a Wonderful Life” hanging in his office. One day in the summer of ’96, Darabont found his Capra film literally lying on his doorstep — a script, left for him by high school pal Michael Sloane. He read ”The Majestic” that night (the title refers to an old movie palace), committed to direct it the next day, and immediately began searching for his Jimmy Stewart. ”In spite of all Jim Carrey’s wacky performances,” says Darabont, ”I’ve always gotten this young Jimmy Stewart vibe off the guy, so I pictured him doing this — presuming he could put the wacky aside. And he just embraced it in a way that was staggering.”
Laurie Holden, a familiar small-screen face (she was ”The X-Files”’ deep throat, Covarrubias), makes her big-screen debut as Carrey’s plucky girlfriend. ”They dressed me like a princess,” she says of a scene in which she dances with Carrey at a lighthouse. ”I asked someone, ‘Can you please take a picture of me right now, because this is the happiest moment of my life!”’ For Darabont — who insists he feels no pressure to follow up ”The Shawshank Redemption” and ”The Green Mile” with a third consecutive Best Picture Oscar nomination — his happiest moments were shooting ”The Majestic”’s movie within a movie, the grade-B swashbuckler written by Carrey’s character, called ”Sand Pirates of the Sahara.” ”I got to shoot it in black and white, the dolly bumped when it was moving, and the set looks a little cardboard,” says Darabont. ”It was perfect!” Wonder what Capra would have said about that.