Adam Mazer got his big break with his script for Breach, which he co-wrote with Bill Rotko (The Beast). Breach told of the nefarious doings of convicted spy Robert Hanssen and premiered in 2007. Mazer’s latest project is another biopic, the HBO telefilm, You Don’t Know Jack, which premiered on 4/24 and saw Al Pacino portraying the very controversial assisted suicide advocate, Dr. Jack Kevorkian. I recently had the chance to speak with Adam on Dr. Death, and a resurgent Pacino in the role.
To date you have two film credits, but they’re both pretty substantial. How’d you get your start?
Well I’ve been in LA about 20 years and I wrote some stuff on my own when I first got out here and then I partnered up with Bill Rotko for about ten years. For Breach, we got hooked up with Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe’s character) from the brother of a friend. O’Neill had left the FBI and was a lawyer in the Washington area. So we went there and spent a weekend with him…got him pretty drunk and basically got his rights. Then we pitched the Breach story around town. And we felt like we had the hero, the character that the audience could follow.
Ironically enough, though, after ten years together, and right before the movie was greenlit, Bill and I decided mutually that maybe it was time for us to pursue our other solo interests. Then the movie got made, it was a nice movie for Universal, it was well reviewed and well received and it helped us both get along with our own careers.
more research than a standard fiction script, how much interviewing and
research did you have to do for You Don’t Know Jack?
Yeah, a lot more than Breach really. Because with
Kevorkian…I mean with Hanssen, that was a big case, but he wasn’t
nearly as well-known as Jack Kevorkian. With Kevorkian…you just say
his name and you never have to explain whom you’re talking about; he’s
that well-known. There were court transcripts from the trials, and I
interviewed a lot of people associated with the case. I spent a lot of
time in Michigan interviewing Jack himself when he first got out of
prison. The first time I met him was about four days out of prison and
he was a little fragile then, a little shaken. But we spent a couple of
days and I just tried to gain his trust and be somebody he could talk
to, not that he’s a very talkative guy per se…
But over the course of the next couple of months, I went to Michigan two
or three times and spent time with him. And also Neal Nicol, John
Goodman’s character, and he and Jack had known each other for forty
years. He was a good resource as well because…he had worked with Jack
and been by his side for many of the suicides. And Geoffrey Fieger,
the flamboyant lawyer, I spent a lot of time with him and got his
perspective on this. And there were the family members of the patients
of Kevorkian. And then there were the people on the opposition and
getting their perspective.
Jack Kevorkian has seen the movie and if so, what were is thoughts on
Jack saw a rough cut of the movie about six weeks ago. You know, Jack’s a pretty simple
guy and not easily impressed by things. When this all happened, he
really didn’t care that people were making a movie about him, it didn’t
really sink in and he was unimpressed by it all. He saw the rough cut
and seemed to like it and there was some tweaking to be done. He saw it
at the premiere and you know, seeing it finished and up on the big
screen, he was very moved by it. He thought it was superb and it was a
wonderful experience because after the movie was over he came up to me
and said he cried a couple of times watching it. And there were certain
things that really affected him and that I really got it right and he
admitted to me that one of the reasons he wasn’t so excited [about the
movie] is because he thought there was no way that anybody could tell
his story in a two-hour movie in terms of the trials, the patients and
the scope of it all. He didn’t think anyone would get that right or be
accurate enough. And we was like “I can’t believe you guys did it.” So
that was amazing to hear.
Pacino absolutely disappears into this role. Did you avail yourself of the chance to watch him
do what I think was one of his best roles in a decade?
I agree with that and…I was there for most of the filming. And
watching Al, who is a terrific guy and actor, one of my favorites.
Watching him be Kevorkian was an incredible experience. Everyone will
see that and I think [the role] is one of his best.
I think if you tweaked a couple of
things…I’m surprised this
didn’t go theatrical. Because I think Pacino is going to be getting
raves for this portrayal.
Yeah, well the reviews…a lot
of them have come out already and they’ve been fantastic for the movie
and certainly for Al’s performance…. But it’s sort of hard to get
theatrical for a movie like this right now. But HBO, they’re up for the
challenge. And you think, it would have been nice to come out
theatrical, but I don’t think the movie would have come out as well as
it did had it not been for HBO.
projects do you have coming up?
I have a couple of things
that I’m working on right now. Both are true stories. One is a parental
abduction story. It’s about a father whose son is abducted by his
ex-wife and he goes on this harrowing journey to retrieve his son, who
was taken to South Africa. I’m also working on a project about Reuben
Sturman, who was a Jewish businessman from Cleveland in the 1950s who
started out with a little comic book and candy shop. He’s known and
considered the founder of the modern porn industry. It’s an incredible
story about how this guy…he preceded Larry Flynt and almost Hugh
Hefner to a certain extent. And he built this empire and the FBI once
valued his net worth at half a billion dollars. Over 20 years of trying
to catch the guy over tax evasion, which they finally did, he ended up
dying penniless in prison in the ’90s. He used aliases, disguises and
it’s a real fun story. It’s another character that I like, a complex
character…not the simple guy you’d think of doing that.
Do you think you’ve found your comfort zone
with nonfiction scripts?
I feel that I’ve kind of veered into this territory: true stories and
real people. And I love it…I think the challenge of getting to know
what happened in stories [like these], and doing the research. It’s
challenging but very fulfilling when you’ve dug in and you’re telling a
story that did really happen and you find the right tone and the right
way in. I feel that that’s becoming my niche and I’m excited by it.