Offender David Henry Hwang’s acclaimed multiple Tony Award-winning play M. BUTTERFLY is back–the Broadway revival opened last night in a new production directed by THE LION KING’s Julie Taymor and starring Clive Owen.
But when the play first premiered in 1988 and became a smash hit, talks of a film adaptation began and led to a lunch with director Neil Jordan (THE CRYING GAME) about helming the movie. For this #FlashbackFriday, we revisit DHH’s 2010 blog where he explains why the Jordan-directed M. BUTTERFLY never happened:
David Geffen then wanted to produce the film version of M. BUTTERFLY. Given our history, I was dead set against the idea. Geffen, however, had built a “last right of refusal” clause into the original Broadway contract: if anyone else tried to buy the movie rights, he had only to match their offer to acquire them for himself. Sure enough, when another offer came along, Geffen exercised his rights and became the producer of the M. BUTTERFLY film. Though pretty steamed, I had little choice but to try and make the best of the situation. Which led to my lunch.
Neil Jordan was a dream choice of mine to direct the movie. Sets and costumes for the Broadway production had been designed by Eiko Ishioka, a genius whose extensive resume now includes everything from graphic design for Issey Miyake to an Oscar for DRACULA to costumes for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Eiko knew Jordan and arranged a London lunch, which I enjoyed immensely: smart and charming, he had great insights and ideas about how to adapt my play. Our conversation also drifted to our other projects. I told him I was writing an original screenplay set in the 1950’s about an FBI agent who hounds a suspected Communist Chinese man to death, then falls in love with his daughter. Interestingly, Jordan was working on an original script with a similar dynamic: an IRA terrorist involved in the abduction and death of a British soldier falls in love with the dead man’s girlfriend. I felt I had found the perfect director for M. BUTTERFLY.
Except Geffen wouldn’t approve him. I’m not quite sure why; Jordan’s biggest hit at that point had been MONA LISA, four years earlier, and perhaps he wasn’t hot enough. At any rate, it took several more years for the M. BUTTERFLY movie to go into production, with David Cronenberg directing.
One day in 1992, while M. BUTTERFLY was still in post-production, I read rapturous reviews of a new Neil Jordan film with a twist which upended conventional notions of gender and sexuality. Sounded right up my alley, so I bought a ticket for the first day of the picture’s release. I ended up seeing THE CRYING GAME: an IRA terrorist involved in the abduction and death of a British soldier falls in love with the dead man’s girlfriend … who turns out to be a man in drag. Amazingly, it took me several days to put two and two together: wasn’t that the same story Jordan had told me at our lunch, with the addition of — a gender-bending twist? Hey!
THE CRYING GAME, of course, became a landmark film success. Released one year later, M. BUTTERFLY, er, didn’t do nearly as well (and may be the subject of a future blog post — or not).
To read the full blog, click here.
And in the spirit of #FlashbackFriday, here’s the OG cast and crew of M. BUTTERFLY from 29 years ago: