An Oscar-friendly cast, crew, and studio head north to adapt "The Shipping News"

Oop, me tosh est vet!”

Julianne Moore is sitting next to Kevin Spacey on a slick, wet picnic bench on top of a cliff in a remote part of Canada. It’s midnight, freezing, and wind is whipping up over the rock face, delivering a 50-mph misting as she tries to deliver her lines. Needless to say, things are not going particularly well, mainly because Moore demanded that director Lasse Hallström teach her how to say ”My ass is wet” in Swedish. Now she can’t stop saying it (incorrectly). Or laughing. And this scene, in which she feeds her costar some seal-flipper pie, is taking forever.

Finally, Hallström calls ”Cut,” pops out of the rainproof tent where he’s watching the action on monitors, and leans in to chat with Moore, who pulls her black quilted coat close. As the director begins to retreat, Spacey pipes up in his best Hallstromian burr. ”Ut! Lasse! Ut! What about me?”

”Ah, you’re fine,” replies the 55-year-old Swede, with a smile.

”Ooooh! Ooooh! I get it,” bays Moore in mock outrage. ”Just get nominated a couple of times and it’s ‘change this, do that.’ Win a f—ing Oscar and ‘you’re fine.”’

Spacey pauses a beat, purely for dramatic effect. ”Uh, two Oscars, Julie.”

The crew members howl with laughter.

You can forgive Moore for losing count. Tallying up the Academy kudos already attached to the makers of The Shipping News—the new Miramax drama based on Annie Proulx’s 1993 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel—is no simple task. (”Hell, I’ve got 45 nominations,” laughs producer Irwin Winkler.) But it certainly figured into the greenlight calculus for the studio, which budgeted $33 million—plus marketing and distribution costs—for its latest Oscar-baiting Lasse Hallström literary adaptation, a film that has been gestating as long as a Stanley Kubrick epic.

The challenge has always been Proulx’s novel—a deftly turned, decidedly uncinematic tale about Quoyle, an overweight schmo with a misshapen head and a philandering wife, who moves with his two daughters (the movie gives him only one) and elderly aunt to Newfoundland, their ancestral home. There he uncovers some particularly nasty family history, samples the exotic local grub (like seal-flipper pie), and falls in love with an emotionally damaged local woman named Wavey.

”It took forever to make,” says producer Linda Goldstein Knowlton, who optioned the book in 1993, before it was even published. ”And Lasse was always my choice to make it. Who else could handle this kind of delicate story?” Ironically enough, she had her man at the start, but lost him when he left to prep the family drama Sebastian’s Love with his wife, actress Lena Olin (the film was never made).

”I was taken by the novel,” remembers the soft-spoken director of the back-to-back Oscar-nominated dramas The Cider House Rules (two wins) and Chocolat (none). ”It mixed the dramatic, comedic, lyrical, mysterious, and trivial with this journalistic report on [Newfoundland] and this portrait of a man. But we couldn’t get the script right and I left.”

The Shipping News
  • Movie
  • 111 minutes