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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended September 10, 2000
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Summarized by Vickie Speek

'Nurse Betty' Leads To LaBute Profile in LA Weekly

"Nurse Betty" Leads To LaBute Profile in LA Weekly

Much like the title character in his new movie, LDS writer Neil LaBute is following his own glittering road.

LaBute, the 39-year-old director of the big budget film, "Nurse Betty," which opened last week, is featured in this week's cover story for the current issue of LA Weekly. He's quite a contrast to the other LDS scriptwriter and director that has gotten attention recently, Richard  Dutcher, who directed the film "God's Army."

Probably the most fascinating thing about LaBute is that he seems to have become so successful in Hollywood in a matter of just three years. His success, however, comes with material that most LDS Church members would find distasteful.

Nurse Betty, an alternately dark and sly road movie starring Renee Zellweger, Morgan Freeman, Chris Rock and Greg Kinnear, opened last week across the country. The film, funded by USA Films, a division of Universal Pictures, was produced for under $30 million

LaBute, the director of two modest independent films, "In the Company of Men" and "Your Friends & Neighbors," makes films that are routinely called dark, bleak, despairing and cruel. Often considered very funny, and whip-smart, his films are made for grown-ups. Sometimes brutality honest, especially about sex, they can seem even sadistic. He also wrote the critically acclaimed stage work 1999 trilogy "Bash," in which some Mormon characters commit heinous sins.

Although, many critics think LaBute deploys an almost gleeful sadism toward both his characters and audiences, much like the filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, he is being called one of the most exciting filmmakers to emerge in the past few years.

When Nurse Betty premiered in May at Cannes, it won the prize for best screenplay for John C. Richards and James Flamberg, LaBute, the director, was banished to the sidelines during the film's big festival moment.

Born in Detroit and raised near Spokane, LaBute, who began acting in junior high school, attended a non-denominational church, watched a lot of TV, and with his mother's encouragement, began cultivating a taste for foreign films that aired on public television. His father worked as a long-haul truck driver.

A high school adviser steered him toward Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, which had a theater program and a number of non-Mormon scholarships. It was while he was at Brigham Young that LaBute was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

LaBute has already begun the production of his next film; a lavish romance set in both the Victorian era and the present day called Possession. USA Films and Warner Bros. are backing the film, which is based on the novel by A.S. Byatt. The film will star Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Northam, Jennifer Ehle and La Bute's college friend and regular collaborator, Aaron Eckhart.

"I'm interested, in the plays I've written, with the idea not just of sin," he says, "but of guilt, and what people can get away with. Have they gotten away with something just because no one knows?"


The Moralist: Neil LaBute, Latter-Day Filmmaker
LA Weekly 8Sep00 A2
By Manohla Dargis


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