When the script for Phone Booth was sold to Fox 2000 in November of 1998, it gave Cohen the type of attention from mainstream Hollywood that he’d never received before, and for a man who’s been making films for over thirty years, mostly in the horror and exploitation genre, the attention has been a dream come true. “It’s been sensational,” beams Cohen. “All of a sudden I’m getting a million dollars for a script. It’s unbelievable. The last studio film I wrote was “Guilty as Sin” and that was nothing like ‘Cellular’ or Phone Booth. In fact, no one was interested in “Guilty as Sin” until Sidney Lumet said he wanted to do the film and it was green-lit.”
In December of 1999, Cohen then sold “Cellular” to Dean Devlin’s company, Centropolis Entertainment. This was just a couple of months after Cohen had sold the script for “Cast of Characters,” a Victorian thriller script, to the same company. In September of 2002, Cohen sold “Man Alive,” a psychological thriller script, to Morgan Creek. “‘Man Alive’ is a thriller with a very strong female lead,” says Cohen. “It’s about this wanted fugitive, who tries to save the life of her alleged murder victim because it’s the only way to prove her innocence. Just like with ‘Cellular’ and Phone Booth, the whole story takes place over just a few hours.”
When word of Phone Booth spread over Hollywood, it attracted the attention of some of the biggest names in Hollywood, and sent Cohen and his producers, including Gil Netter and David Zucker of “Naked Gun” fame, on a hellish journey of their own, not unlike the trials of Stuart Shepard. “Well, it’s been a long road to getting the film done. A long road,” Cohen laughs. “Nicolas Cage was, of course, attached to the project, but then the studio said, ‘Well, we can get a bigger box office name.’ Bigger than Nicolas Cage? I was okay with that because you know, Nic Cage has been seen a whole lot over the past five years. Of course, I’m just the lowly writer and I really didn’t have a say in the matter.”
From then, Mel Gibson entered the Phone Booth sweepstakes. “I had meetings with Mel at Warner Bros.,” Cohen recalls. “Mel seemed really enthusiastic. He hired communications experts to study the phone aspects and he even had maps made of the area. But then things changed. All of a sudden, Mel said he wanted to do it on the back-lot at Warner Bros. where he’d shot a lot of Payback. I didn’t like that at all. I was also nervous about the horror stories that Payback writer-director Brian Helgeland told about how Mel took over that film from him. Mel told me that Brian should’ve been grateful for what he did with Payback, but I don’t agree. I mean, he killed off the main villain in that movie and then at the end he didn’t have enough material to finish the film, so he had to create all of these secondary villains to kill off. I loved what he did with Braveheart, but I didn’t think he was going to be right for Phone Booth.”
It didn’t matter. Phone Booth was such an unusual project that, when the project was finally given the go ahead, along with the modest $10 Million budget, it was with the strict condition that all talent take profits on the backend. For superstar Gibson, a member of the $20 Million club, such a deal just wasn’t going to be possible. “With his deal it just wasn’t going to work anyway,” says Cohen. “I’m glad that none of those big stars made the movie because, with their salaries, I wouldn’t have seen any profits.”
From there, Cohen and his producers had a strange meeting with Armageddon director Michael Bay. “Yeah, we drove up to meet Bay,” Cohen says with a chuckle. “He showed up late and he wasn’t in the best mood because his car had just been ransacked. So he sits down and guess what the first words were out of his mouth? ‘How the hell do we get this thing out of the phone booth?’ I was shocked. I nearly fell over.” But that wasn’t his biggest surprise. “He wanted to bring in Brian Helgeland of all people,” Cohen recalls. “They came up with this ridiculous story about some IRS agent who’s being hunted down by a guy, who’s gone crazy over his taxes. Thank God the studio didn’t go for any of this and they kept me on the film.”
From there, Cohen had his first contact with Joel Schumacher, the man who would inevitably be hired to direct Phone Booth. This piqued the interest of Jim Carrey, who had worked with Schumacher on “Batman Forever” and who was very enthused about playing the Stuart Shepard character. “Carrey actually went on TV and said he was doing the movie,” says Cohen. “But then he got cold feet. It was a dark movie; a dramatic role and I guess it scared him off. Also, his last couple of films have been box office disappointments, so he just kind of disappeared. It’s too bad because he would’ve been great in the role. I think he’s going to want to play roles in the future exactly like this, after his physical comedy days are over.”
Get the rest of the interview in part four of LARRY COHEN: MAN IN A PHONE BOOTH>>>

Posted on April 4, 2003 in Interviews by

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