Douglas McGrath and Toby Jones have heard all about that other Truman Capote movie, the one that threatened to make their own look like a copycat or an afterthought.
Jones stars as Capote in director McGrath’s “Infamous,” a portrait of the author’s dark quest to create the true-crime novel “In Cold Blood.” “Infamous” follows a year after the triumphant debut of the Academy Award-winning “Capote,” which centers on the same era in the man’s life.
As “Capote” did last year, “Infamous” is making the rounds at the Toronto International Film Festival and other industry showcases in advance of its Oct. 13 debut in theaters.
The two movies were in the works at roughly the same time, with filming on “Capote” beginning a few months before “Infamous,” enough lead time for the version starring Philip Seymour Hoffman to make it to theaters first.
Yet if Hollywood has room in the same year (1998) for dueling asteroid movies (“Deep Impact” and “Armageddon”) and battling bug flicks (“Antz” and “A Bug’s Life”), the filmmakers say there is room for two treatments of an emotional saga as rich and tragic as Capote’s.
McGrath, who adapted his version from George Plimpton’s book “Truman Capote,” said people who have seen both movies tell him they had not expected to like his but came away surprised at how different “Infamous” was from “Capote.”
“It wasn’t as backhanded as saying, ‘I didn’t think your movie would be good and I was wrong,”’ McGrath told The Associated Press. “It was, ‘I didn’t think there was a reason for your movie, and now I really see there is one.”’
It was pure coincidence two Capote movies wound up in the works at the same time, both McGrath and “Capote” director Bennett Miller and screenwriter Dan Futterman finding the author’s journey an irresistible saga.
“Infamous” treads plenty of the same ground as “Capote,” following the author from his glitzy New York hangouts to cold, drab Kansas as he researches the murders of a farm family for a magazine piece that grew into “In Cold Blood.”
A jolt of humor
While “Capote” was a sober story, “Infamous” opens almost as a black comedy before turning down the gloomy passages that clouded Capote’s life and made him a wreck of a man.
Jones’ Capote is an outrageous wit, hurling sardonic put-downs and prancing about with such an effete look that people keep mistaking him for a woman.
Hoffman’s Capote earned him the best-actor Oscar, while the film also competed for best picture, director and supporting actress for Catherine Keener as “To Kill a Mockingbird” author Harper Lee. The movie was a box-office success, rising out of the art-house circuit to connect with mainstream crowds.
Neither McGrath nor Jones have seen “Capote,” saying they will wait until they put their movie to rest to catch it.
“The other film I became aware of as awards season came ’round, and I kept getting all these sympathetic phone calls down the line from friends,” Jones told the AP. “It’s exciting, the idea that there could be two films. It’s an extraordinary precedent if both films find not just an audience, but a very wide audience.”
Early Oscar buzz is building for Jones, along with Sandra Bullock as Lee and Daniel Craig, who debuts in November as James Bond in “Casino Royale,” as Perry Smith, the death row inmate for whom Capote developed a powerful infatuation.
The “Infamous” cast also includes Sigourney Weaver, Isabella Rossellini, Hope Davis, Peter Bogdanovich and Juliet Stevenson as members of Capote’s New York crowd, Gwyneth Paltrow as a torch singer and Jeff Daniels as the detective investigating the murders.
“Infamous” takes the jailhouse relationship between author and killer to far more explicit depths than did “Capote.” McGrath said he thinks Capote found a kindred soul in Smith, only to see the man hanged.
After the enormous success of “In Cold Blood,” Capote eked out just one story collection in the following two decades, a period of heavy drinking and steady decline for the author.
McGrath recalls seeing Capote on television a few years before his death in 1984. The author was bloated, sweating and almost incoherent, in contrast to talk-show host Dick Cavett’s glowing introduction of Capote as one of the great writers of his generation.
“I came at the material with the point of view of ‘What happened to you?’ And I came to believe that what happened to him happened in Kansas,” McGrath said. “I believe he fell in love with Perry Smith. I don’t mean the two-teenagers-falling-in-love way. It was very complex. ...
“I believe there was some deeper intimacy than has been admitted, because I can’t make sense otherwise about how his life went so completely off the rails.”