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Kenneth Lonergan

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Also Known As: Kenneth P Lonergan, Kenny Lonergan Died:
Born: October 16, 1962 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: New York City, New York, USA Profession: playwright, screenwriter, director, speechwriter

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Known for his insightful character studies and unique ability to draw real drama out of the outwardly mundane, writer-director Kenneth Lonergan boasted a career that was, in many ways, both impressive and surprising. After attracting significant early attention as a member of New York's Naked Angels theater company with his acerbic and insightful comedy-drama "This is Our Youth" in 1996, Lonergan earned his first screen credit as one of writers on the Robert De Niro-Billy Crystal hit comedy "Analyze This" (1999). After taking on a purely mercenary writing assignment for the film adaptation of "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" (2000), Lonergan displayed his true passion and understated talent with the low-key, but impactful family drama "You Can Count on Me" (2000). The film went on to earn widespread acclaim and helped launch the film career of longtime Lonergan friend and collaborator, Mark Ruffalo. Further stage works like 2000's "The Waverly Gallery" and script contributions to Martin Scorsese's sweeping "Gangs of New York" (2002) solidified the consensus that he was indeed an artist to watch. And then, nothing, until his sophomore feature film effort - filmed in 2005 - "Margaret" (2011)...

Known for his insightful character studies and unique ability to draw real drama out of the outwardly mundane, writer-director Kenneth Lonergan boasted a career that was, in many ways, both impressive and surprising. After attracting significant early attention as a member of New York's Naked Angels theater company with his acerbic and insightful comedy-drama "This is Our Youth" in 1996, Lonergan earned his first screen credit as one of writers on the Robert De Niro-Billy Crystal hit comedy "Analyze This" (1999). After taking on a purely mercenary writing assignment for the film adaptation of "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" (2000), Lonergan displayed his true passion and understated talent with the low-key, but impactful family drama "You Can Count on Me" (2000). The film went on to earn widespread acclaim and helped launch the film career of longtime Lonergan friend and collaborator, Mark Ruffalo. Further stage works like 2000's "The Waverly Gallery" and script contributions to Martin Scorsese's sweeping "Gangs of New York" (2002) solidified the consensus that he was indeed an artist to watch. And then, nothing, until his sophomore feature film effort - filmed in 2005 - "Margaret" (2011) was given a limited release six years later, due to a bitter dispute between the writer-director and the studio over the movie's running time. While not the most prolific filmmaker of his generation, audiences could always count on a thought-provoking look at the lives of identifiable characters in any Lonergan offering.

The son of a physician and a psychoanalyst, Kenneth P. Lonergan was born on Oct. 16, 1962 in the Bronx, NY and raised in the borough of Manhattan. While attending the Walden School - a private preparatory academy in Manhattan - he was asked by a drama teacher to collaborate on a play. This intellectually stimulating experience inspired Lonergan to pursue the subject after high school graduation, studying drama at Wesleyan College and taking part in the Young Playwrights Festival with his drama "The Rennings Children" in 1982. After graduating for the Playwriting Program at NYU, Lonergan paid the bills, in part, with writing scripts for industrial film productions for clients like Fuji Film and Weight Watchers. An early member of New York's Naked Angels theater company, Lonergan unveiled his one-act play, "Betrayal by Everyone," as part of a festival of short plays at the Met Theater in 1993. Featuring a young actor named Mark Ruffalo in the cast, the play focused on a trio of disaffected, well-off post-adolescents contemplating life, sex and the world around them 1980s New York. Later expanding the caustically humorous work into a full-length piece, Lonergan garnered considerable attention with his newly re-titled play "This is Our Youth" in 1996. Reprising his original role, Ruffalo earned a Theatre World Award for his performance the following year, in addition to a Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Actor when the production was revived in 1998.

Throughout this period, Lonergan had also been attempting to make inroads into the worlds of film and television. Other than a script for an episode of the kids' cartoon "Doug" (Nickelodeon, 1991-94), the writer had not much luck until a spec script he had optioned in the early 1990s miraculously saw the light of day as a feature film. The story of a Mafioso boss plagued by panic attacks and the nebbish psychiatrist who treats him, the script, although heavily worked over by no fewer than 14 contributing writers, nonetheless earned Lonergan his first screenplay credit. Directed by Harold Ramis - also one of the many contributing writers - the crime-comedy "Analyze This" (1999) starred Robert De Niro as mobster Paul Vitti and Billy Crystal as Dr. Ben Sobel. It also went on to become a huge box office hit, earning over $100 million in the U.S. alone. This unexpected success, combined with his rising notoriety in the theatrical arena, suddenly made Lonergan a screenwriter very much in demand. For his part, and in light of all the tinkering that had been done to the script, Lonergan no longer considered the screenplay his, later admitting in interviews that he had never even bothered to watch "Analyze This" in its entirety. With fame, however, came the desired offers to write and direct, but instead of accepting the first project thrown his way, Lonergan instead held out for something more personal. Written and directed by Lonergan and executive-produced by Martin Scorsese, the intimate drama "You Can Count on Me" (2000) starred Laura Linney and regular collaborator Ruffalo as estranged siblings struggling to connect and accept each other's vastly different life paths. While noticeably lacking in the pyrotechnic melodrama found in showier films, Lonergan's deeply emotional and nuanced script, as well as the lauded performances of the film's leads, earned critical raves and numerous independent film awards for all involved with "You Can Count on Me."

Far less expected was the indie-filmmaker/playwright's other project that year - the screenplay for the live-action/animation hybrid feature film adaptation of the classic Saturday morning cartoon, "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" (2000). While Lonergan's script remained faithful to the spirit of the Jay Ward cartoons, the good-natured comedy - which boasted an all-star cast consisting of Robert De Niro, Rene Russo and Jason Alexander - met with mixed reviews and less-than-thrilling box office. More indicative of Lonergan's creative interests and artistic instincts was his play "The Waverly Gallery," which saw its world premiere at New York's Promenade Theatre in 2000. Inspired by his recollections of his grandmother's Greenwich Village art gallery, the drama was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and went on to win numerous awards for star Eileen Heckart. The following year, "Lobby Hero," a play set in the foyer of a Manhattan apartment complex, earned Lonergan a pair of Outer Critics Circle Award nominations, while the movie sequel "Analyze That" (2002) put his name back on cinema screens, if only for a "created by" credit. More notable was the writer's script contributions to director Martin Scorsese's historical epic "Gangs of New York" (2002). Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day Lewis as bitter rivals amidst the tumult of New York City's early days, the ambitious film garnered several Oscar nominations, including one for Lonergan and company for Best Original Screenplay.

For several years thereafter, however, the public-at-large heard very little from Lonergan, save for his return to off-Broadway as the writer-director of the 2009 production of "The Starry Messenger," which starred fellow Naked Angels alum Matthew Broderick. Unbeknownst to most outside the entertainment industry, Lonergan had made his second feature film as a writer-director in 2005. Unfortunately, due to disagreements over the film's length, Lonergan's inability to deliver a final cut that would satisfy Fox Searchlight Studio and a series of lawsuits that followed, the movie - intended for a 2007 release - was delayed to the point of nearly killing the project. Years later, after Scorsese and his longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker stepped in to lend a hand with the editing process, the studio gave "Margaret" (2011) an extremely limited, almost perfunctory release. Starring Anna Paquin and Matt Damon, it also featured frequent Lonergan collaborators like Ruffalo, Broderick and Lonergan's wife, stage and film actress J. Smith-Cameron. The story of a young girl (Paquin) whose emotional life is thrown into turmoil after witnessing a deadly accident on the streets of New York, "Margaret" was greeted warmly by most critics and those lucky enough to see it in the few theaters where it was shown. In 2012 Lonergan returned to the stage, writing and directing "Medieval Play," a historical comedy set during the Hundred Years War of the 14th century. Like his most recent cinematic effort, "Medieval Play" was simultaneously praised for its intelligence and called into question over its creator's inability to pare it down to a more easily digestible length.

By Bryce Coleman

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Margaret (2011)
2.
  You Can Count on Me (2000) Director

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Margaret (2011)
2.
 You Can Count on Me (2000) Ron
3.
 Matthew Broderick (2001) Interviewee
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Raised in Manhattan
:
Attended The Walden School; first met Matthew Broderick
1982:
Won the first Young Playwrights Festival Award with play "The Rennings Children"
:
After graduating from NYU, became member of the Naked Angels theater company, where his plays were performed
:
To support himself, wrote speeches for the Environmental Protection Agency and Weight Watchers, video presentations for Grace Chemicals, and comedy sketches for Fuji Films sales meetings
1990:
Began career as a screenwriter, turning out a spec script (based on a story recounted by his stepfather) that eventually became "Analyze This"; sold screenplay to Warner Bros
1993:
Earned attention for one-act play "Betrayal By Everyone," featuring Mark Ruffalo
1996:
Expanded version of "Betrayal By Everyone" (now called "This Is Our Youth") premiered at the New Group; Ruffalo again played leading role
1998:
"This Is Our Youth" with Ruffalo in the cast opened off-Broadway to critical acclaim
1999:
First produced screenplay "Analyze This," starring Robert De Niro; because other writers worked on the material, has never seen the finished film
2000:
Feature directorial debut "You Can Count on Me" starring Ruffalo and Laura Linney; also wrote and played a minister in the film; debuted at Sundance Film Festival; nominated for Best Original Screenplay Academy Award
2000:
Wrote semi-autobiographical play "The Waverly Gallery" that was produced off-Broadway starring Eileen Heckart in a role modeled after his grandmother
2000:
Penned the screenplay for "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle"; De Niro played Fearless Leader
2001:
Returned to the NYC stage with the play "Lobby Hero" starring Tate Donovan and Glenn Fitzgerald
2002:
Nominated for Best Writing, Original Screenplay Academy Award for the Martin Scorsese-directed "Gangs of New York"
2011:
Wrote and directed the feature "Margaret" starring Anna Paquin, Matt Damon, and Mark Ruffalo; filming began in 2005, but spent over five years in post-production
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Wesleyan University: Middletown , Connecticut -
HB Studios: New York , New York -
The Walden School: New York , New York -
New York University: New York , New York - 1985

Notes

In December 2001, it was announced by Warner Bros. that the studio had signed Lonergan to adapt the T.H. White classic "The Once and Future King" as a feature film.

"Everything has to be 'okay' in America. In our popular movies, the idea of a sad ending is completely gone. This has the unintended effect of making people for whom things don't work out feel very isolated. Not only did something terrible happen to them, but they're totally alone with it. ... Tragedy and sad stories have been around since the beginning of human history. The hallucination of the moment seems to be that people need a happy ending." --Lonergan quoted in Time Out New York, March 2-9, 2000.

"Screenwriting is a great way to make a living. It may eventually lead to artistic fulfillment. If you can stay in the independent world you can retain all the control." --Kenneth Lonergan to Daily News, March 19, 2000.

"My apartment number is GRR, as in grrr. Many people feel it's appropriate for my personality. I characterize myself as a loveable curmudgeon." --Lonergan to Rolling Stone, April 13, 2000.

Kenneth Lonergan on his feature directing debut "You Can Count on Me": "I'm happy with how the film came out, but I didn't fall in love with directing the way some people do. I was shocked at how much pressure there was every day just to get the shot."

The screenwriter-director, who also appears in the film, added: "It was hard to edit myself. I just looked so good fom so many different angles." --quoted in Premiere, April 2000.

"The fallacy is to think that writing can be done by a group, If executives took that approach with cinematography, there would be no movie. Of course, they realize they don't know anything about cinematography, but everybody knows how to read and write, so they think they can improve a script.

I would love to do an experiment where you tell the studios, 'Half your movies will have no story consultation and no market research, and you have to advertise them as much as the others, which will have as much story consultation and as much market research as you want.' I swear to God there would be absolutely no difference in the amount of money those two sets of movies make.

But a lot of people would be out of work, especially all the marketing people and all the development people." --Lonergan to the Los Angeles Times, July 2, 2000.

On directing for the first time, Lonergan confessed to Variety (July 31, 2000): "I looked around on the set one day and thought, 'There's only two actors in this entire movie that I haven't worked with or at least know from something else,' and that was really nice [because] I was always worried the crew thought I didn't know what I was doing."

"Kenny is regarded as an extraordinary writer in the theater community. He's all about language, and yet his work is not about spectacle or showy plots. His characters feel real because he has such compassion for the people he writes about." --stage director Mark Brokaw quoted in The New York Times, November 17, 2000.

"I started out doing screenwriting as a way to make some money because playwriting doesn't pay very well, even if you're doing okay. I wrote the original script of "Analyze This" about ten years ago and optioned it to [Warner Bros.] and that sort of got me started in screenwriting. About five years ago, when all these independent movies were being made, I thought I could write a movie to direct and not sell it or lose control over it, so I wrote "You Can Count on Me". Through the theater I hooked up with a lot of independent producers. A lot of them came to see This is Our Youth and were very interested in producing it as a film, including John Hart and Jeff Sharp, so I gave them "You Can Count on Me". --Lonergan to The New York Screenwriter Monthly, November/December 2000.

On Martin Scorsese's involvement with "You Can Count on Me". Lonergan told Emily Sumner of the British Web site 6 Degrees (www.6degrees.co.uk) in a December 2000 interview: "I'd met him over the years a few times and worked with him on various things and so I basically wanted final cut otherwise I wouldn't do the movie so I asked him if he would have final cut as the producers would all trust him. He wasn't involved too much on a day-to-day basis but if there was a conflict - and thankfully there weren't too many - he would supervise, really. When there was a question of the music he supported me in my choice and he also came into the final edit of the picture and made some minor suggestions, some of which I took and others I didn't, but obviously it was great just having him there."

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
J Smith-Cameron. Actor.

Family close complete family listing

daughter:
Nellie Sharp Lonergan. Born in 2002.

Bibliography close complete biography

"This Is Our Youth" Overlook Press

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