One day while escaping the madness of the Thirtysomething production offices I met a writer whose office was down the hall. We began talking stories, as writers do, and he pitched an idea about young William Shakespeare and the writing of Romeo and Juliet. Marc Norman’s clever conceit was to imagine the Elizabethan theater as the Hollywood of its day, with young Will as just another struggling writer-director having to cater to the public’s appetite for innocuous, pleasing fare, deal with treacherous producers, mollify temperamental actors, struggle with writer’s block, and survive the plague. In other words, the usual.

Universal paid us to develop a script, and Marc’s first draft did a good job of shaping the overall concept—Shakespeare’s love affair with a young actress becomes the inspiration for the play as well as a drama in its own right. Life becomes art, and art becomes life. As well written as it was, the script lacked the wit, whimsy, and insight of Shakespearean comedy. Having once directed a tiny college production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, I knew of only one writer in the world whose verbal virtuosity, humor, and plotting acumen could reach such a high bar. Unfortunately, he wasn’t interested in being the second writer on anything, or so I was told by Tom Pollock, then president of Universal, when I suggested we get Tom Stoppard to do a re-write. Years before, Pollock had been my first lawyer, so I made a personal plea: let me go to England and try.

I arrived in London in the spring of 1992. With some reluctance, Stoppard had agreed to hear my entreaty. Arriving at his Chelsea apartment, rather than an intimidating presence, I found him to be generous and welcoming. In fact, he was the most gracious, well-mannered, self-deprecating, world-renowned genius I had ever met. Also, the only one, before or since.

As an English major in college, I had been obliged to defend my senior thesis in front of several big-shot professors, among them Harry Levin, a reigning Shakespeare scholar of his day. I was infinitely more anxious about this conversation. Fighting flop sweat and jet lag, I launched into my pitch. This wasn’t just a knockabout comedy, I said; it was an opportunity to talk about transmutation, the process by which the chaff of life is turned magically into the gold of art. I suggested several structural revisions and a few gags and ended with a bald-faced plea: here was a chance for him to show his classical mastery—already well known to theater aficionados—to movie audiences the world over.

After I finished my overheated supplication, he was very quiet. He turned to look out over Chelsea Harbor for a moment. It’s possible I heard him humming to himself.

Then he looked back at me, smiled pleasantly, and said, “Shall we go for tea?”

Tom Stoppard’s script won the Oscar for best original screenplay.

I wish I could recall everything we talked about that afternoon. I suspect I was working hard to impress him with my repertoire of erudite literary references before he kindly put me at ease by asking about my life in Hollywood. I must have mentioned the disastrous reception of my most recent film, Leaving Normal, because the conversation took a personal turn, especially about the importance of failure. He talked about his early struggles, fleeing Czechoslovakia for Singapore at age two, how his father was killed when his ship was bombed, about arriving in England with his mother at eight, and how studying Shakespeare had been intrinsic to his love of language—I remember he referred to himself as a “bounced Czech,” a line he threw away with typically casual brilliance.

He was the most gracious, well-mannered, self-deprecating, world-renowned genius I had ever met. Also, the only one, before or since.

After tea we took a long walk and stopped in a secondhand bookstore, where he picked up several musty volumes on English country gardens and one about A. E. Housman (both would figure centrally in later plays), and then it was time to say good-bye. As we went our separate ways, I realized he’d given no indication of whether he was interested in signing on, but sitting there talking about life and career with a childhood idol who’d been kind enough to act interested in what I had to say restored some inner confidence. I returned to L.A. with renewed hope and energy.

And then Tom said yes. Well, not exactly yes. Yes, if the studio was willing to pay him a million dollars. Which they weren’t. Until Julia Roberts entered the picture, that is. Someone, possibly her manager or agent, had gotten wind of the project and intimated to Universal that Julia might be interested in starring in a period rom-com, possibly this one. I know now she’d never read Marc’s draft, but the mere possibility of having the “Pretty Woman” wearing a corseted gown got the studio excited enough to cough up the dough. Ten weeks later I was back in London, where a xeroxed copy of Stoppard’s first draft was waiting in my fancy hotel room.

Most times reading a new script, I’ll fall asleep midway through, narcotized with disappointment, my hopes dashed by wooden characters, limp dialogue, predictable plotting, or all three. But from the first page of Tom’s draft it was clear that this story was one he was born to write. I devoured it, often laughing out loud. The second time through I caught puns and double entendres I had missed, not to mention references so recherché I would have needed the variorum Shakespeare to understand.

It was four a.m. L.A. time. I hadn’t slept much on the plane, but I was too turned on to sleep. I knew in my heart this was the movie I’d waited my whole life to direct. I might have done better to remember Gloucester’s words when he cries out about the cruelty of fate: “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; / They kill us for their sport.”

A Kind of Soliloquy

The next six weeks were dreamlike as I worked with gifted designers, and an exact replica of the Globe Theatre rose above Pinewood Studios. I returned home to be with my family one last time before returning to London. Julia would be coming back with me this trip; she had been working by phone with Joan Washington, the illustrious dialect coach. I had also scheduled “chemistry” readings for her with a wonderful crop of actors I’d met in London. It was on the morning of my departure that things began to get weird.

The plan was for a car to pick me up, and then to pick up Julia en route to LAX. But an hour before the car arrived, I received a cryptic message from Julia’s assistant: Julia was staying at an undisclosed location—no one was to know where. The driver would pick me up as planned and we would then be informed where to find her.

It seems Julia’s personal life, already a constant subject of tabloid high drama, had gone off the rails. (I’m obliged to evoke a few details, not as gossip, but rather because they directly figure in the travesty that followed.) Apparently, days before she was to marry Kiefer Sutherland, her co-star in the movie Flatliners, Julia had more or less left him at the altar. The address to which we were directed was the home of Jason Patric, Kiefer’s friend and co-star in the film The Lost Boys, with whom she was currently shacking up. Julia ran out to meet us, glancing furtively around for lurking paparazzi, and jumped in the car, then off we went to the airport.

In those days, the first-class cabin of the British Airways direct flight to London was very intimate. Rather than sleeping pods, seats were arranged in adjacent pairs. When laid flat, the effect was perilously close to that of a double bed. Julia and I didn’t know each other well, but this arrangement had every indication of changing that in a hurry.

Kiefer Sutherland and Julia Roberts in 1990. The pair were engaged until Roberts left him for his friend Jason Patric just before their wedding day.

Over dinner and a couple of glasses of wine, we chatted about friends we had in common, our childhood love of movies, our experiences in Hollywood. It was the kind of conversation that touches gingerly on more personal subjects but then dances away as you both wait to see who will be the first to volunteer an embarrassing detail or reveal a secret. It didn’t take Julia long.

I must have dozed off for a couple of hours, because I awoke to find two famously brown eyes staring at me from only inches away. Suddenly I was back at summer camp with my bunk squeezed in beside a fellow camper who in this case just happened to be a world-famous movie star. I can’t remember how the conversation took the turn it did. A night flight across the ocean carries its own romance, and we were both headed off on an adventure. Julia was obviously too excited to sleep; she was a 24-year-old girl riding a whirlwind. She wanted to talk about her life, and I was her anointed confidant.

It wasn’t an entirely unfamiliar role for me. As a director, I’d been privy to some very private confessions, but the speed at which her intimacy tipped into the red zone took me by surprise. She began, innocently enough, by talking about why she loved the script, how it captured the madness of falling in love, but she soon moved on from literary criticism to personal confession, talking about the almost trance-like abandon of giving over to a new lover, how that excitement was at the very core of her acting.

“It’s one of the reasons I love making movies,” she whispered. “I know some people might not understand or approve, but I can’t help falling in love with my co-stars. You understand, don’t you?”

I nodded. Another important part of directing is nodding.

She went on, whispering in the dark about being in love with love. She talked about past co-stars who had become much more, Kiefer, Liam Neeson, and Dylan McDermott. Why was she telling me all this, I wondered? What was it she needed me to know? I couldn’t help but notice she didn’t seem to fall in love with her directors. Despite a momentary frisson of rejection, this was a good thing, since I was in love with my wife and wished to stay married.

It was the kind of conversation that touches gingerly on more personal subjects but then dances away as you both wait to see who will be the first to volunteer an embarrassing detail or reveal a secret. It didn’t take Julia long.

After a moment, I realized Julia wasn’t really talking to me anymore but had drifted into a kind of soliloquy. Was she trying her hand at a Shakespearean convention? It was mesmerizing and at the same time oddly terrifying. It put me in mind of one of my favorite lines from a Fitzgerald short story about a young flapper: “Lola Shisbe had never wrecked a railroad in her life. But she was just sixteen and you had only to look at her to know that her destructive period was going to begin any day now.”

And then Julia got to the punch line.

“I’ve decided who should play Shakespeare,” she said.


I started to list all the brilliant actors I had read who were scheduled to meet her in the coming days. Julia, however, was on a roll.

“There’s really only one actor who can do it,” she gushed. I closed my eyes in dread.

“Who … ?”

“Daniel, of course!”

She was referring to Daniel Day-Lewis, who had won the Academy Award for best actor two years before.

“He’s brilliant—he’s handsome and intense. And so funny! Did you see his performance in A Room with a View?” She went on, “He’s done Shakespeare too. Don’t you think he’d be perfect?!”

I took a deep, cleansing breath.

“I can’t argue with you, Julia. But I met with Dan last month. He’s committed to do In the Name of the Father with Jim Sheridan. Jim directed him in My Left Foot. They’re very close. He calls Jim his ‘best mate.’”

“I know,” she said, brushing my objection aside. “I can get him to do it.”

There was something in the way she said it—the same tone of voice I would recognize years later when, while giving her Oscar-acceptance speech for Erin Brokovich, she refused to be played offstage, looking down at Bill Conti in the orchestra pit and ordering him to sit down:

“’Cause I may never be here again, Stick Man.”

I have no memory of the rest of the flight. It was one of those moments in the life of a director when you are reminded that control is an illusion, that there are certain forces of nature, the weather for instance, that will not heel to your command. As we deplaned and I followed meekly behind Julia as she sailed, impervious, through the swarming paparazzi who had somehow been notified of her arrival, I realized she was going to be a person to be reckoned with. Despite my many entreaties, she was already on her cell phone asking her assistant for two dozen roses to be sent to Daniel Day-Lewis, along with a card that read:

“Be my Romeo.”

Every Actor in England

Upon reaching my hotel, I fell asleep with my clothes on. Hours later I awoke jet-lagged, dehydrated, and disoriented. I sat up and tried to regroup. Julia’s fascination with Daniel was understandable. There’s a mirroring effect in Hollywood romances. Acclaimed by all as the new It Girl, she naturally felt her co-star should be the world’s greatest actor! There was something poignant about it: a young woman whom every man desires had found someone she herself desires. She had said it herself: part of what animated her work was being in love. Who was I to deny her this fantasy?

That night, I introduced Julia to Tom at dinner at the Savoy Grill. It was a festive occasion with a champagne toast to the success of the film. Julia gushed about the script and couldn’t have been more charming and enthusiastic. I did notice her checking her phone quite often but thought nothing of it. Then, just as the waiter brought the dessert menus, she received a message and leaped to her feet, grabbed her purse, made a quick garbled apology about having forgotten plans to see an old friend, and hurried away.

Edward Zwick on the set of his film Pawn Sacrifice.

Tom looked slightly confused by her sudden exit. I on the other hand smelled trouble. He sensed my chagrin, shook his head knowingly, and simply said:


Casting was to begin the next morning at 10 a.m. By 10:15, actors were already waiting. By 10:45, the bar of the hotel was filled with well-heeled studs who’d all attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, acted together at the National Theatre, and competed for the same roles throughout their careers. By 11, I was sweating. And then the phone rang.

“It’s Julia.”

“Hi, Julia. Where are you?”

“I’m in my room.”

“We’re all downstairs. There are actors waiting.”

“I’m really sorry, you’d better come upstairs.”


“Room 34 … I’ll explain.”

I climbed the ornate stairs and knocked.

“Come in … ”

I stepped into the most majestic hotel suite I’d ever seen. Ornate chandeliers, gold-flocked wallpaper, overstuffed furniture. A room fit for the Gods.

Or, in this case, Julia Roberts.

With a smile even bigger than the night before, she proceeded to tell me that Daniel was going to do the movie and I should cancel today’s casting.

I was speechless. I tried not to envision what had happened after she left the restaurant and ran off into the night. Had she really managed to beguile him in that Olympian hotel room? I’ll never know. What else could I do but walk back downstairs and inform a group of surly brilliant British stage actors that the American movie star wasn’t feeling well after her flight and abjectly beg their forgiveness? I went back up to my room and sat on the bed. Sat there and did nothing. Immobilized. What was wrong with this picture? I should be triumphant. Instead, I sensed disaster.

Hours later, the phone rang. It was Daniel.

“Hey, can you meet me at the pub across the street?”

I trudged across to the little place where we had met for a drink months before. Daniel had already ordered me a pint of Guinness.

“I can’t do your movie, you know,” he said.

“Of course not.” Like I said, disaster.

“I told you I’d promised my mate, Jim Sheridan, I’d do his film.”

“I remember.”

After a few pleasantries, Daniel went on his way, leaving me with the tab in more ways than one. I finished my beer and plodded back across the street, mumbling reassurances to myself: It will all work out … Every movie encounters a bump in the road … I have so many wonderful actors lined up for Julia to meet … She’s a pro … She loved the script …

Back in my room, I didn’t have the heart to call Julia myself. I asked the beleaguered casting director to notify Julia’s assistant that casting would start up again the next day at 10 a.m.—and promptly fell asleep, face down, with my clothes on.

The next morning when she came downstairs, Julia’s smile was nowhere in sight. Eyes red-rimmed, hair unkempt, she looked like she hadn’t slept. I tried my jovial best to act like it was business as usual, but my transparent cheerleading couldn’t elicit more than a wan smile. I can’t imagine a worse state of mind for an actress to read with other actors, especially for a romantic comedy. I should have canceled this session, too, but our prep schedule was terrifyingly tight. Also, I was still convinced that, even in her current state, the quality of the actors Julia was about to meet would raise her spirits. (Representatives for Roberts did not respond to AIR MAIL’s request for comment.)

As we deplaned and I followed meekly behind Julia as she sailed, impervious, through the swarming paparazzi who had somehow been notified of her arrival, I realized she was going to be a force to be reckoned with.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

My favorite among all the actors I wanted Julia to meet was Ralph Fiennes. Not only was his work onstage nothing short of magnificent (he would go on to win a Tony for Hamlet in 1995) but he also had the driest, keenest wit I’d encountered since … well, since Tom Stoppard. In addition to great warmth and charm, he also had a face that photographed beautifully. (As did his younger brother Joe, who years later, wound up playing the part in the film.)

After some awkward chitchat, he and Julia opened their scripts. It would be the first time I heard her in the role, and I was more than a little curious. Ralph’s work was every bit as good as I remembered, but Julia was hardly there at all. There are actors who hate to read—Denzel Washington is one—and their first readings are often restrained, reluctant as they are to do anything inauthentic. But this was something else. Even as Ralph did his best to elicit the famous smile, Julia barely acknowledged him. I’m not suggesting she was deliberately sabotaging, but it was a disaster nonetheless. I tried to catch Ralph’s eye to apologize as he left but he couldn’t get out of there fast enough. After he was gone, I turned to Julia, awaiting her reaction.

“He isn’t funny” is all she said.

Ralph Fiennes was one of a number of actors (many of whom would later be stars) to read with Roberts for the part of Shakespeare. The role was eventually played by his brother Joseph.

The rest of that day and every day of the week that followed went just as badly. I no longer have my cast lists, but among the yet-to-be-discovered young actors, I remember: Hugh Grant, Rupert Graves, Colin Firth, Sean Bean, Jeremy Northam. Julia found fault with all of them: one was stiff, another wasn’t romantic, and so on.

To be sure, none of them, no matter how gifted, funny, or handsome, were as “right” as Daniel—which stands to reason, because they weren’t Daniel. To this day, whenever I run into Russell Crowe, he berates me for not having cast him. We must have auditioned every actor in England.

After two weeks of casting, there was only one actor with whom Julia was willing to test. His name was Paul McGann. We arranged a full screen test at Pinewood. On the morning of the test, Julia emerged from makeup, looking radiant in full period costume. But once she began to say the words, something was wrong. There was no magic. The problem wasn’t the script. Or Paul McGann. It was Julia. From the moment she began to speak it was clear she hadn’t been working on the accent.

Accents are tricky. It takes weeks of hard work for one to become second nature. Until then, an actor’s essence is dimmed, and the performance favors the accent over the acting. Sensing Julia’s discomfort, I tried to be encouraging, but she must have intuited my unease, and I made the tragic mistake of underestimating her insecurity. Having only recently been catapulted to the dizzying heights atop the Hollywood food chain, she must have been terrified to fail. But I would never get to talk her off the ledge. The next morning when I called her room, I was told she had checked out.

I made several more calls trying to track her down—to her assistant, to her agent—but nobody seemed to think anything was amiss. It wasn’t until late that afternoon that I reached Julia’s manager, who informed me that Julia had flown back to the U.S. and that she was leaving the project. I called Tom Pollock, the head of the studio, who by now had been told what was going on.

“She can’t do this!,” I screeched. “We made her deal! She’s been on the movie for months. We’ve secured locations, built sets, made costumes—”

“I realize that,” he said.

“—we’ve spent millions of dollars!”

“Six million, to be exact,” he said.

“You’ve got to hold her feet to the fire, Tom.”

“I plan to,” he promised. “She’s probably just scared. How many times did Matthew Broderick walk off Glory? She’s an emotional 24-year-old.”

“You’re right,” I sighed.

“Just give me a little time to get into it,” he said. “And relax. You’ve been working seven days a week. Take the day off and enjoy yourself. I’ll get back to you soon. And don’t worry, this will all work out.”

It didn’t. Whether because Universal had other projects in mind for her, or some agenda to which I wasn’t privy, Tom Pollock chickened out. (Privately, he fumed, “Couldn’t she have waited to fuck him until we had his name on a piece of paper?”) He ordered the production shut down. The next day our newly built set began to be struck.

I’ve never spoken to Julia again. Instead, I’ve observed from afar as her work grew in depth and stature. I bear her no ill will. She was a frightened 24-year-old. I wasn’t much older, trying to act the grown-up as I watched the Globe Theatre torn down. And with it my dreams of grandeur.

Lecherous, Treacherous Monsters

It is at this point a villain worthy of Shakespeare makes his grand entrance onto the Elizabethan stage.

I had heard of Harvey Weinstein, but he had not yet achieved his full eminence. Having just been nominated for a Golden Globe as best director for Legends of the Fall, I was in N.Y.C. with a print. I was doing press screenings when my agent called to say that Harvey had heard about the movie and asked to see it. I said sure and forgot about it.

Harvey Weinstein became interested in the project in the mid-1990s.

My phone rang at 11 p.m. that night. Somehow, Harvey had managed to track me down. He had just finished watching the movie, and I could hear James Horner’s end credits in the background as he went on and on. It was the best movie he’d seen all year, I was going to win the Oscar for best director, and could I please, please, please come to Tribeca and talk to him.

“Now?” I asked.

“Right now!” he exclaimed.

I happened to be downtown just finishing dinner with friends. Ever a sucker for praise, and with an agenda of my own, I said yes.

Harvey Weinstein’s depredations are public record, but little has been said about his extraordinary displays of enthusiasm and powers of persuasion. At the risk of wearing out a metaphor, Richard III’s seductive prowess comes to mind.

“You’re a genius! What do you want to do next? I’ll finance it, whatever it is!”

“There’s a movie I almost made last year called Shakespeare in Love.

“Let me read it! Who wrote it?”

“Tom Stoppard.”

“My hero!”

I sent over the script the next day. He called two hours later to say he loved it, and that his next call would be to Tom Pollock to see if he could get the rights in turnaround. Unfortunately, when Pollock mentioned the $6 million in sunk costs, Harvey’s enthusiasm withered, and that was the last I heard from him for several years.

Julia’s smile was nowhere in sight when she came downstairs the next morning. Eyes red-rimmed, hair unkempt, she looked like she hadn’t slept all night.

But Harvey had helped in one significant way. His unbridled zeal helped sustain my belief in the project, and given the success of Legends of the Fall, I decided it might be a good moment to see if anybody else in town was willing to step up. Over the ensuing four or five years I must have shown the script, often more than once, to every studio and independent financier with two nickels to rub together. All said no.

At various times during my years in the wilderness, I would finagle different pairings of actors to play Romeo and Juliet: among them, Kenneth Branagh and Winona Ryder, Stephen Dillane and Emily Watson, Jude Law and Somebody I Can’t Remember. None of them elicited enough interest for someone to write a check for the $6 million of sunk costs before proceeding. Mel Gibson read the script, showed interest for a while, then danced away. So did Johnny Depp.

After each attempt fizzled, I’d go off and work on something else. My So-Called Life was on the air from 1994 to 1995. Courage Under Fire was released in 1996. Later that year, Menno Meyjes and I had rewritten The Siege, and I was scouting locations in New York when I saw an announcement in the trades that Harvey Weinstein and Miramax had acquired the rights to Shakespeare in Love and intended to make it the following year. How perfect (and how very Harvey, as I would soon learn) that neither he nor anyone else had seen fit to tell the contractual producer, a.k.a. me.

There’s a story I’ve heard a couple of times—it may be apocryphal—about how Harvey’s interest was rekindled in the project enough to pursue the rights. It seems there was a moment in which Winona and Gwyneth were best friends, and while staying at Winona’s house, Gwyneth happened upon the script of Shakespeare in Love I had sent to Winona. And Gwyneth, having made six or seven movies for Miramax while becoming Harvey’s go-to movie star and resident muse, told him she wanted to do it.

However it happened, Harvey had also learned that Universal wanted the rights he owned to King Kong, and he called Tom Pollock, offering to make a trade. What other terms may have been part of the deal I don’t know, but it was done quickly.

When my agent, Jeff Berg, called and asked Harvey what my role would be in a movie I’d developed and nursed for seven years, Harvey said that I was being cut out of the process. That I had been paid during the term of my deal with Universal, and he had no obligation to include me. My next call was to Bert Fields, the Hollywood lawyer. Equally respected and feared throughout town, Bert sent Miramax a legal letter. And that’s when the threats began.

“You think you can sue me, you prick? You don’t know who you’re dealing with.”

It was midnight. I was in a hotel room across the street from Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago, where my father was dying.

“I’m going to ruin you!”

“Hello, Harvey.”

“I’m going to make sure you never work again!”

“It’s midnight, Harvey. My father is sick. It’s not a good time.”

“Oh, you’re sensitive! I’ve hurt your feelings … ”

“Fuck you.”

“I’ll kill your whole family, you little fuck.”

“Nice talking to you, Harvey. See you in court.”


Twenty years later, having heard the litany of Harvey’s sexual crimes, I can’t help but think of the full force of that malignant energy focused onto a young girl alone and terrified in his hotel room. There’s no way I could have known the extent of his evil, yet I’d like to think there was something more than the righteousness of my cause that drove me to fight back as hard as I did. In 15th-century Italy, the Borgias were lecherous, treacherous monsters. Also patrons of the arts with exquisite taste. Aggression and intimidation are useful attributes, especially in a business with as little governance as Hollywood, and they served Harvey well for years. Until he was called out at last. And rightly punished.

This wasn’t the last late-night call. I started recording them and forwarding them to the lawyers. Apparently, Harvey didn’t believe I would go through with a lawsuit, so he was surprised when we threatened to enjoin his production and he was served a subpoena to be deposed. He called Jeff Berg the next day and begged to meet. The suite where we convened at the Peninsula hotel in L.A. has since become infamous. I’m happy to say Harvey was not in his bathrobe when we walked in. But it was an unrecognizable Harvey nonetheless, meek and abjectly contrite.

“I’m sorry for everything, Ed. You’re a brilliant artist. You know how much I respect you.”

I said nothing. Jeff Berg spoke up on my behalf. “And is this how you treat artists you respect?”

“I know, I know,” Harvey said. “I get carried away. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”

As he repeated, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” something monstrous happened. His eyes began to fill with tears—

“I can’t help it. I do bad things.”

Gwyneth Paltrow and Weinstein at the premiere of Shakespeare In Love.

It was as good a performative apology as I had ever seen. Big crocodile tears dripped down his face. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d fallen to his knees. Had it not been for the unhinged, threatening calls I might even have believed it. I couldn’t help but imagine how many others had been susceptible to his act. Instead, I just shook my head, fighting an impulse to laugh.

“This movie would never have existed had it not been for you, Ed. What can I do to make it up to you? I’ve just acquired the rights to Rent. Would you like to direct it? We have a great script of Elmore Leonard’s La Brava. You’d be great for it.”

“How about Shakespeare in Love?” I said.

“But you’re already in prep for The Siege. My deal with Universal is that it must go into production this year.”

It wasn’t a long meeting. Among the many things Harvey promised was to include my central role as producer in all press releases and to feature me in every major interview about the genesis of the movie. In exchange, Marshall Herskovitz, my partner in the Bedford Falls Company, nobly agreed to have his producer credit replaced by Donna Gigliotti and David Parfitt. The Bedford Falls Company presentation credit would remain. In later years I’ve read that Harvey claims to have fired me. What’s more likely is that he was lying about his deadline to put the film into production.

“Nice talking to you, Harvey. See you in court.” Click.

Back in New York again for final prep on The Siege, I met with Paul Webster, the head of production at Miramax, to discuss directors. I’d seen John Madden’s theater work at Yale and very much liked Mrs Brown, the film he’d done with Billy Connolly and Judi Dench. I gave John my blessing—not that I had any influence.

Things went south when I sent Gwyneth a letter asking if she’d be interested in the part in The Siege eventually played by Annette Bening. At that point Miramax had no production date set, and I’d assumed she could do both films. Nevertheless, Harvey went apeshit, and the threats began anew. From that moment on, I was excluded from all press on the movie, including the production notes, and from the dailies of casting, despite our earlier agreement.

Not that I would have been able to concentrate. I’d begun shooting The Siege and had more than my share of problems making a huge action movie on the streets of New York. I had managed to put it all out of my mind until we heard Harvey was again threatening to remove my credit. Another call from Bert Field solved that. It was only upon watching the final cut in a preview that I saw Harvey had placed our Bedford Falls credit over the shot of a foot stepping in a pile of horseshit—a classy move.

In France, there are pigs who root around in the muck and mire for treasured truffles. They have a remarkable nose for what is valuable, but at the end of the day they’re still pigs. It wasn’t until years later that we found out Harvey had given himself a first-dollar gross position in the profit stream, thus denying thousands of dollars to all the other participants. Had we known, that alone would have been cause for yet another lawsuit.

Meanwhile, for the president of a studio to have given himself a producer credit created a firestorm within the industry that resulted in what has come to be known as “the Harvey Rule,” which stipulates that to earn the Producers Guild credit, a producer must have performed some real role in making the damn movie. I’m proud to point out that Marshall, a former president of the P.G.A., was the driving force behind the rule’s adoption.

Paltrow as Viola De Lesseps and Joseph Fiennes as William Shakespeare in a promotional photograph for the film. Paltrow won the Oscar for best actress for her performance.

There’s no reason to go into the notorious Oscar-campaign smackdown between “our” film and Saving Private Ryan, which has been well documented by others. But I do have two other significant memories, each from an awards ceremony. One was rewarding, though I received no award; the other was traumatic when I did.

The first took place at the Golden Globes, always a weird and wonderful night. Weird because it’s an illegitimate, corrupt, and biddable institution; wonderful because they serve booze at your table for hours and the food never arrives, and everybody is so shit-faced by the time the awards are handed out that the winners can be counted on to give crazy, epically cringey acceptance speeches. But when Tom Stoppard stepped onstage to accept his award for best screenplay, his first words were:

“Sorry, Harvey. I first want to thank Ed Zwick.”

I realize just how petty it is that this pleased me so much. But it was the first and only time my contribution had ever been publicly acknowledged, and it meant something to me. Thanks, Tom.

The second took place at the Oscars. Before the ceremony begins, it’s traditional for a film’s producers to huddle in the lobby to make a plan. If by chance we were to win best picture (as we had at the Golden Globes), none of us was eager to be treated to another heartfelt acceptance speech like the one in which Harvey thanked not only the cast and crew, but also his parents, his wife and children, his brother, Universal, Miramax, and everyone, it seemed, except the Lumière brothers for inventing cinema. I can’t remember the negotiations, but it is agreed that Donna Gigliotti will speak first, then David Parfitt, then me.

We do win. A close examination of my body language onstage shows me inching toward the mike, knowing it is my turn after Parfitt finishes. Suddenly, though, I realize the fix is in. Knowing what side her bread is buttered on, Gigliotti passes the baton to Harvey rather than to me. Unnerved, I allow myself to be hip checked aside as Harvey waddles forward to the mike.

As I stand there, the rictus of a frozen grin immobilizing my face, it occurs to me to shove him over the edge of the stage into the orchestra pit. Faced with the choice between an act of violence before a worldwide audience of 100 million movie fans … and false modesty, I make the wrong one. I close my eyes, not at all present in the moment, recalling instead the joy I felt in first imagining the film, the exaltation of knowing that I was going to get to direct it, and the crushing disappointment when I realized I wasn’t. What I’m most afraid of, I realize, is that this might have been the best work I would ever do and that I may never be up here again.

David Parfitt, Donna Gigliotti, Weinstein, Paltrow, Zwick, and Marc Norman at the 71st Academy Awards, where Shakespeare in Love won best picture.

In film school we were all contemptuous of awards. We believed that institutions have never been reliable judges of art. How can a comedy about a 16th-century playwright be compared to a drama about the men who died on Omaha Beach? I look out into the audience and see Steven Spielberg sitting on the aisle so that he could have easily come onstage if his name had been called. He is stone-faced and looks upset. His marvelous film has just lost. Does that make him a loser?

In some essential way we are all losers in Hollywood. It’s hard to think of any other bond that distinguishes us as a community. In each of us there is something unfulfilled, some ache or deficiency of character that leads us to fill a hole in the heart with the love of strangers. Or awards. Like the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, we imagine that what is broken inside can somehow be fixed by an Oscar. The faces of my children suddenly swim into my thoughts. It occurs to me that they are staying up very late to watch me and that it is a school night. Tomorrow, in fact, is my day to drive car pool.

I hope it won’t be a long night.

Edward Zwick is an award-winning writer, director, and producer. This is the first chapter to be published of his recently completed memoir