When Rod Lurie decided to make the jump from film critic to filmmaker, not many in Hollywood gave him much of a chance, thanks in part to the venomous film reviews he wrote for Los Angeles Magazine. Too many players who might have helped the fledgling filmmaker refused to get involved, though some met with Lurie just to give him a piece of their mind. But despite the many roadblocks he himself put up-the most damaging when he called actor Danny DeVito a testicle with arms-Lurie managed to join an elite group of critics-turned-directors that included Francois Truffaut and Peter Bogdanovich. Though his first feature, "Deterrence" (2000), failed to gain recognition, "The Contender" (2000), which benefited from the marketing muscle of DreamWorks, placed Lurie firmly on the filmmaking map.
Lurie was born on May 15, 1962 in Tel Aviv and lived his first five years in Israel before emigrating with his family to New York where his dad, the famed political cartoonist Ranan Lurie, was hired by Life Magazine. Politics was routinely talked about in the Lurie household, as the lad spent his formative years engrossed in the Watergate scandal. The family later relocated to Greenwich, Connecticut where Lurie spent the remainder of his youth. After graduating high school, he attended West Point where he earned his bachelor's in political science in 1984. Lurie then spent four years serving as a combat arms officer and began writing film reviews on the sly for the Greenwich News, earning a whopping $25 a week. After leaving the army, Lurie began conducting celebrity interviews for the New York Daily News, a position that allowed him to ruffle his first feathers, including those of Jane Fonda, whom he asked if the country should view as a traitor for her trip to North Vietnam during the war.
In 1990, Lurie moved to Los Angeles where he began working for Los Angeles Magazine as a film critic and investigative reporter-he convinced the editor that he had an inside connection to Robert Bardo, the stalker who murdered actress Rebecca Schaeffer, when in truth his knowledge of the case came from what he read in newspapers. It was during his stint at Los Angeles Magazine that Lurie got into most of his trouble: He called Whoopi Goldberg a traitor to her race for the roles she played; was bared from Warner Bros. screenings for the DeVito crack; and was called homophobic for saying that Gus Van Sant's "My Own Private Idaho" (1991) wasn't his "cup of swill." Lurie also got into trouble with the National Enquirer over a story about payments from the tabloid to fake sources. He gained national attention after appearing on "60 Minutes" (CBS, 1968- ), "Larry King Live" (CNN, 1984- ) and "Good Morning America" (NBC, 1975- ), and though the tabloid threatened action, nothing ever came of their bluster.
Lurie began softening his critiques when he became host of a popular Saturday morning radio show on KABC in Los Angeles. Though he still reviewed movies, Lurie seemed to praise more than pan-he was even thanked by Mel Gibson and Martin Landau when they won their Oscars. Meanwhile, Lurie tried breaking into film, but had trouble getting meetings because of his nasty reviews. A meeting with Ralph Fiennes at Creative Artists Agency to discuss his screenplay "Porkchop" (to date unproduced) was canceled when Lurie's producing partner warned him that security would escort him out of the building if he showed up. Then Eric Roberts agreed to star, but pulled out a week before prep and financing soon dissipated. Despite the rocky start, Lurie managed to make "4-Second Delay" (1998), a 27-minute short about a crazed radio show caller who tries to get Bob Woodward to reveal the identity of Deep Throat. The short won a special jury prize at the 1998 Deauville Film Festival in France and was screened at the Palm Springs Film Festival where it garnered the attention of financiers.
Off the strength of "4-Second Delay," Lurie secured $800,000 to make his first feature, the political thriller "Deterrence," starring Kevin Pollack-a regular at Lurie's weekly poker game-as a Jewish president trapped in a Colorado diner during a blizzard and forced to contend with Iraq reinvading Kuwait. In a worldwide broadcast, the president takes the most direct and riskiest of actions-threatening to irradiate Iraq with nuclear weapons. Though it was successfully screened at the festivals in Cannes and Toronto, the film was released by Paramount Classics in only a handful of theaters. But "Deterrence" did impress investors enough to gamble on Lurie again for his next project, "The Contender." While presenting actress Joan Allen an award at the 1998 Los Angeles Film Critics Association for her performance in "Pleasantville" (1998), Lurie half-jokingly announced that he should write a script for her. She told him that he should.
A few months later, Allen read "The Contender" and signed on immediately. Despite Lurie snagging a top actress for his project, no studio wanted to back the film because they felt Allen wasn't marketable. Lurie was forced to find outside funding and eventually landed $10 million from German investors. After finishing his film, he shopped it around and on the day New Line was to see it, director Steven Spielberg requested a copy for his viewing at home that evening. Since there was only one print, Lurie canceled the New Line screening and sent the film to Spielberg's house. As he waited for the call, Lurie made sure "Schindler's List" (1998) was on in the background. He was disappointed, however, when Spielberg failed to call. But he did call the next day to say he loved the film and wanted to meet. DreamWorks then committed to distribute the film.
Despite DreamWorks's marketing department and good reviews, "The Contender," a political drama about a female senator (Allen) nominated to succeed a deceased vice president and forced to face public pressure about a past that may have included her involvement in a college orgy, failed to make a dent at the box office. Allen and co-star Jeff Bridges did, however, receive Oscar nominations for their performances. Meanwhile, Lurie turned his attention to his next feature, "The Last Castle" (2001), a political thriller starring Robert Redford as a former three-star general stripped of rank and dignity, and sent to a maximum security prison where he leads his fellow prisoners in a coup against its murderous warden (James Gandolfini). Though not as critically acclaimed as its precursor, "The Last Castle" mimicked its box office performance.
In 2003, Lurie made the jump from feature director to television executive producer with the one-hour drama, "Line of Fire" (ABC, 2003-2004). Lurie stuck with what he knew best-politics-in this crime drama set in Richmond, Virginia about two FBI agents (Leslie Bibb and Jeffrey D. Sams) struggling to maintain law-and-order in a town controlled by a big city mobster (David Paymer). Despite rave reviews, the show failed to attract a large audience and was canceled midseason. Lurie got another shot with "Commander In Chief" (ABC, 2005-06), a politically-driven drama about a female vice president (Geena Davis) who ascends to the presidency after the death of her predecessor. This time, however, Lurie had a hit, as the show proved well in the ratings-buzz about the show anesthetizing Americans to the idea of a female president (read: Hillary Clinton) may have helped boost viewership. But after only two episodes, Lurie stepped aside after conflicting with network executives, forcing ABC to replace him with accomplished showrunner Steven Bocho over concerns that episodes of the season's biggest breakout hit would not be delivered on time. Publicly, Lurie took the switch in stride, saying that while leaving the show was like giving up a child for adoption, at least he was assured that the adoptee was "a Rockefeller."
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Worked as a film critic, investigative reporter and contributing editor to Los Angeles magazine
Made writing and directing debut with the dramatic short "4 Second Delay"
Directed first feature length film, "Deterrence," a drama about America coming to the brink of nuclear war, starring Kevin Pollak and Timothy Hutton
Wrote and directed the widely praised political thriller "The Contender," starring Joan Allen, Gary Oldman and Jeff Bridges
Directed Robert Redford in the military prison drama "The Last Castle"
Created the short-lived ABC series, "Line of Fire," about the FBI's office in Richmond, Virginia
Created and executive produced the ABC series "Commander-in-Chief," starring Geena Davis as the first female US president; earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Drama series
Directed "Resurrecting the Champ," starring Samuel L. Jackson as a former Boxing champ who is living on the streets
Wrote and directed the thriller "Nothing but the Truth," starring Kate Beckinsale as a reporter who faces a possible jail sentence for outing a CIA agent and refusing to reveal her source
Directed a remake of "Straw Dogs"; also produced and wrote the current version