Class Action (25th Anniversary)

As you know, we here at Abnormal Use are fans of popular culture, legally themed films in particularly. Twenty five years on this month, on March 15, 1991, the film Class Action saw its release. You may remember it. As we noted a few years back, the film “chronicles a products liability suit involving an allegedly defective station wagon, which when struck from the rear when the left turn signal is operating, bursts into flames.” The gimmick is that a Big Law defense lawyer, played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, finds herself on the opposite side of the case as her father, a plaintiff’s attorney played by Gene Hackman. It is a fun, but dated, film.

Five years ago this month, back in 2010, we published an interview with producer Robert W. Cort and writer-producers Carolyn Shelby and Christopher Ames. In light of the film’s 25th anniversary, we wanted to direct your attention back to that interview, which you can find by clicking here.

Our favorite scoop from the interview was this bit of Hollywood gossip:

DEDMAN: How did Gene Hackman and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio become involved with the project?

CORT: . . . Gene was always kind of in our mind. We wanted a very powerful character who played against the Henry Fonda of that character . . . We wanted someone who had been toughened and was tough because that’s who those people are; they’re not saints. They’re rough people even if their passions will have been shaded over into obsessiveness. And if you look at a lot of Hackman’s roles, going back to Popeye [Doyle] and The Conversation, you see a character in pursuit of what he believes is right [who] will go to any length and ignore everything else, including, in this particular case, his daughter.

. . . I had seen Mystic Pizza, and there was an enormous amount of heat about this young actress and it was, of course, Julia Roberts. We had given it to a few other major actresses and we’d been passed on . . . The character had a lot of gravitas and huge intelligence and a fair piece of alienation even though she was working very much within the system. . . . Michael Apted and I and Scott and Chris and Carolyn met with Julia, kind of saw what she was like, and she desperately wanted to do the movie. And we really believed in her. I was friendly with the people at Disney and knew that they had not released Pretty Woman yet, but that they were through the roof on the movie. They thought that she was going to be the biggest movie star around and she desperately wanted to do it, we wanted her, Joe Roth, who was the head of Fox, just didn’t believe in her, and he just kept fighting us and fighting us and he said “Well, all right maybe.” And we thought, “Oh my God, we’re going to get her.” And then he called me one day, and he said, “Forget Julia Roberts.” He said, “I have just seen the biggest movie star of her generation.” And he had just come from a screening of James Cameron’s The Abyss, in which Mary Elizabeth starred. Mary Elizabeth had been in, at that time, The Color of Money, in which she was great. She’s a terrific actress, absolutely a terrific actress. We couldn’t see the movie because Cameron wouldn’t show us. We never got to see it. Joe was sure it was going to be titanic. Obviously, it turned out not to be titanic. He said, “You’ve got to go to her, and if she doesn’t do it, all right you can use Julia Roberts.” So, we made the offer, she was represented by a man named Sam Cohn, who is a legendary agent in New York, and he gave it to her, and she delayed, and she hadn’t read it. I kept calling, and I said, “Sam, we need an answer ,”and he said, “Yeah, I’ll get you an answer.” I called Roth, and I said, “Look, we’re just getting jerked around, let us go with Julia.” He said, “All right, I’m calling Sam. If she doesn’t commit to it by noon on Friday, noon L.A. time, 3:00 in the afternoon in New York, go with Julia Roberts.” I absolutely kid you not, at 11:55, the phone rang in my office in L.A. and it was Sam Cohn saying “All right, Mary Elizabeth will do the movie.” So, by five minutes, we missed the part being played by Julia Roberts. And I think that it wasn’t just, in my opinion, the fact that Julia Roberts became this enormous star, and we would have been following Pretty Woman, [adding] incalculable value to that. But I think that Mary Elizabeth is a very dramatic actress, and she always went for the very dramatic and the very hard. And Julia, by nature of who she was and what she brought to it, always had that vulnerable, softer quality. And I think it would have been, opposite Hackman . . . it would have taken the movie, perhaps from a commercial standpoint, to another dimension. And the great story was that she got so mad that she went to see Joe Roth and said, “You didn’t believe in me,” and she and Joe Roth became unbelievably good friends. Basically, I didn’t talk to her again until she did Runaway Bride for us.

How about that?

In conjunction with our interview, we also ran a full review of Class Action, which you can find by clicking here.

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