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Australian film director Peter Weir is best known for his poignant, soul-searching dramas, ranging from Witness (1985) to Dead Poets Society (1989) to Fearless (1993). He's also known for giving challenging dramatic opportunities to actors as represented by Harrison Ford, Robin Williams, and Jeff Bridges, respectively, in the above films. (Add Jim Carrey to that list with The Truman Show in 1998). Weir fans eschew these commercial successes in favor of his earlier, edgier work such as the cult favorite Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) or Gallipoli (1981), starring a 25-year old Mel Gibson. What Weir is not well known for is romantic comedy so fans and critics were surprised with the release of Green Card in 1990, which was written and directed by Weir. A tale of love and immigration, it starred French actor Gerard Depardieu and Andie MacDowell. Cinema art house aficionados and champions of Weir's earlier work cried sell-out, but audiences were enchanted by Weir's uncharacteristic offering. The film was nominated for a Best Writing Oscar®, and it won Golden Globes for Best Comedy and Best Actor for Depardieu.
Depardieu was actually the inspiration for the film's creation; known as "The Gallic Giant", he remains France's most beloved actor with numerous awards for his work in such films as The Last Metro (1980), Jean de Florette (1986), and Cyrano de Bergerac (1990). Although he appeared with Robert De Niro in Bertolucci's1900 (1976), Depardieu had yet to make his English-speaking film debut. That all changed when Weir saw the actor's performance in Danton (1982) by Polish director Andrzej Wajda. Weir began reworking an old short story into a screenplay about a marriage of convenience: Georges (Depardieu) needs a Green Card, Bronte (MacDowell) must be married to be eligible to live in her dream apartment. For inspiration, Weir stuck a newspaper photo of Depardieu above his typewriter. True facts from Depardieu's life were also integrated into the script, including his fondness for prostitutes and his multiple tattoos. No one else was ever considered for the role.
Still, there were some obstacles to overcome during pre-production such as convincing the studio to finance this atypical Weir project, set in New York City, with a relatively unknown European in the leading role. There was even some concern about Depardieu's unconventional personality and whether Weir would be able to effectively direct him. But all of these issues were resolved and the only remaining hurdle was Depardieu's filming schedule, which would not be open for at least a year. The shoot was put on hold, but Weir made good use of the time, directing Dead Poets Society in the interim.
After Depardieu was cast, a yearlong search was launched for the leading lady. Selected for her natural on-screen chemistry with Depardieu, Andie MacDowell eventually won the role of the horticulturist ingenue (her dream apartment has a solarium). MacDowell's film debut in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984) was inauspicious to say the least; her dialogue was ultimately dubbed over due to her strong Southern accent (Glenn Close did the honors). However, it was MacDowell's breakthrough performance in Steven Soderbergh's Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989) that brought her to Weir's attention. She was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance in Green Card. Bebe Neuwirth and Robert Prosky are also memorable as supporting characters. Neuwirth, best known for her character Lilith in the television series Cheers and Frasier, is also a potent force on Broadway with her starring roles in such productions as Chicago. Prosky, a frequent Broadway actor as well, is best remembered as Sergeant Jablonski in television's Hill Street Blues.
Producer: Peter Weir, Jean Gontier, Duncan Henderson
Director: Peter Weir
Screenplay: Peter Weir
Production Design: Wendy Stites
Cinematography: Geoffrey Simpson
Costume Design: Marilyn Matthews
Film Editing: William M. Anderson
Original Music: Enya, Hans Zimmer
Cast: Gerard Depardieu (Georges), Andie MacDowell (Bronte Parrish), Bebe Neuwirth (Lauren), Greg Edelman (Phil), Robert Prosky (Bronte's Lawyer), Jessie Keosian (Mrs. Bird), Ethan Phillips (Gorsky), Mary Louise Wilson (Mrs. Sheehan), Lois Smith (Bronte's mother).
C-108m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.
by Eleanor Quin