The night before the opening of Geoffrey Nauftts’ new play Next Fall, which premiered at the Helen Hayes Theatre on Wednesday, March 10, the cast gathered at a party hosted at the Royalton by Sir Elton John-who is, along with his partner, David Furnish, among the show’s executive producers. Sir Elton held court at a table in the back of the restaurant, with a huge cheese platter placed in front of him, but departed by a back door before 10:30 p.m. Designer Donna Karan, wearing a wide smile and an all-black ensemble, also proved elusive.
So we zoomed in on film director Doug Liman, a friend of one of the producers. Best known for The Bourne Identity and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Mr. Liman just wrapped filming on a distinctly different kind of husband-and-wife spy drama: Fair Game, based on ex-C.I.A. operative Valerie Plame’s memoir, starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts, whom he called his “favorite person I’ve ever worked with,” he said. And Mr. Penn? “He’s probably the greatest living actor right now,” Mr. Liman said earnestly. “I was working with him right after he won the Academy Award, and he was so hardworking and committed to the character and to spending a serious amount of time with Joe Wilson to get all the little details down.”
Mr. Liman stressed that his film isn’t a history lesson. “If you want the political story, go watch CNN or Fox or read The New York Times,” he said. (How evenhanded!) “There’s an amazing personal story about a husband and wife choosing to stand up to an extremely powerful White House, and the personal toll that that took-and the toll that being in the C.I.A. takes on a marriage. That’s not going to be in the history books, that’s not going to be on CNN, that’s not going to be on Fox, but that’s why we go to the movies.”
Mr. Liman, of course, is no stranger to spycraft: The Bourne Identity was based in part on work his father did on the Iran-Contra scandal. But could he live the life himself?
“No,” he said, half-smiling, “because I’m a little too gossipy.”