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Montgomery Advertiser

Lifestyle-Jan. 24, 2003

By Rick Harmon
Montgomery Advertiser

Richard Zanuck, came into "Big Fish" partially because he had worked so well with director Tim Burton on "Planet of the Apes."

He produced his first film when he was 25 and was head of 20th Century Fox studios by the age of 28.

"I've been on studio lots and sets almost since I was born," said Zanuck, whose famous father Darryl F. Zanuck created movies such as 1927's "The Jazz Singer" and "The Grapes of Wrath."

Zanuck said a famous name can open doors, but it can't keep them open.

"If the son of a great quarterback comes in and throws three interceptions, well, he probably isn't going to stay in the game long enough to throw a fourth one," he said.

"This isn't an industry that lets people work when they don't have much success. You might be able to get into the game with a great name, but you are going to need to have some success if you want to stay in it."

Zanuck has stayed in it, and he has had plenty of success.

He has helped create some of Hollywood's greatest movies, from "The Sting," and "Cocoon," to "Jaws," and "The Verdict." Both of the latter were nominated for best picture Oscars. He was nominated for an Emmy Award, with his wife Lili Fini Zanuck, for his production of the Oscar telecast.

The Academy of Motion Pictures presented him the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1991.

Still, he said one moment stands above the others.

"The highlight would have probably been receiving an Oscar with my wife for 'Driving Miss Daisy.' I probably took the greatest satisfaction in that because no picture had a tougher time getting made.

"I had to go back and beg for resources time after time. It was the little picture that nobody wanted, but it was a great story and we stuck with it, and it was very gratifying when it got made and won the Oscar for best picture."

Some of Zanuck's more recent movies he has produced include "Road To Perdition," "Reign of Fire" "Planet of the Apes," "True Crime" and "Deep Impact."

Zanuck said one of the biggest challenges with "Big Fish" has been casting it.

The problem wasn't getting great actors, but deciding who to get.

"If you have a great script, it helps you get a great director," he said. "With 'Big Fish' there was a great script and that got Tim Burton interested, and when you have a great script and a great director, you know you can get a great cast."

The problem was who to get.

"That was a little more complicated," said Zanuck. "We knew we could put together a great ensemble cast, but since the story moves back and forth in time, for some of the main characters, that meant before we could sign an actor we wanted, we also needed to be able to sign the other actor who would match him.

"For instance we went to Albert (Finney) first, but until we signed Albert to play the father, we didn't know whether we could sign Ewan to play the younger version of the character.

We actually decided on Ewan when we saw an old People magazine from about five years ago that had a picture of Ewan beside a picture of Albert when he was the same age. They looked like they could have been twins."

Zanuck said casting the younger version of Jessica Lange was even harder, and they needed to make sure that the looks of those actors were compatible with those of Billy Crudup, who plays their son in the film.

"We had to cast someone you could believe was their child," he said.

But the 68-year-old Zanuck still thrives on challenges.

"I still feel that incredible excitement with each project," he said. "I've worked with just about every top star and director, and the challenges keep me alive. I don't feel like I'm going to work, I feel like I'm going somewhere to have an interesting day.