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Hollywood humorist muses on moviemaking

Albert Brooks was on the phone with Sharon Stone describing "The Muse," a movie he was writing that he would star in as well as direct.

"I play this Hollywood writer who is fired from his studio job and suddenly hits a wall. He doesn't seem to do anything right. He needs a 'muse' - someone to inspire him. I want you to star in it."

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There was no response. Brooks's imagination was going faster than an Indy racer: "I don't really know her that well. Maybe it was presumptuous to call her at home. Maybe she hates the idea. Maybe she hates me."

"Yes, Albert," the velvet voice on the line began, "I'll be your 'muse.' "

Stone's answer startled him. "You mean you're saying 'yes'? Can I call the studio now and tell them?" The silky voice replied, "Yes."

"Don't you want to read the script?"

"I'll read it later," she replied.

"Okay, I'm calling the studio ... I'm telling ..." he said, but Stone had already hung up. Brooks quickly speed-dialed home to his wife. "Kimberly," he screamed, "she said, 'Yes'!"

Albert Brooks has directed, acted in, or written (with Monica Johnson) 14 films. "It doesn't get easier as time goes by," he concedes. "It just gets different."

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The cast for "The Muse" (opening Aug. 27) includes Andie MacDowell and Jeff Bridges, with cameos by Cybill Shepherd, Lorenzo Lamas, Jennifer Tilly, and Oscar-winning directors James Cameron and Martin Scorsese, as well as a pal from school days, actor-director Rob Reiner.

Brooks says, "Writing is the most rewarding, acting the biggest ego trip, and acquiring financing the worst job of all. With 'The Muse,' it took almost a year to get the backing. A few times I've told an idea to one studio and they said 'yes' right away. Other times it wasn't that easy."

A smile slowly rolls up his face. "I remember the first film I wrote, 'Real Life' in '78. I asked this millionaire, who at one time owned the Chicago Bulls team, if he'd invest in the film. Finally he agreed to put up half a million dollars. That's what the first movie cost. He said to me, 'I don't care about the script, I trust you ... but I want you to assure me that you'll never come back to me for any more money.' "

Rolling his eyes, Brooks continues, "I had to go to a bank, and put up my own money to get a letter of credit. In essence, I was borrowing in case there were delays.... It was pretty stressful. I didn't want to make a movie and wind up having to sell my car, too."

His track record has been excellent: "Real Life," "Modern Romance," "Lost in America," "Defending Your Life" with Meryl Streep, and "Mother" with Debbie Reynolds were brought in on time and on schedule. Each has made a hefty profit.

"I felt I had the dream cast for 'The Muse,' " he says. "Although I did have to convince Jeff Bridges. He'd never played a small role; he was always the star."

Brooks told him, "You don't know what you're missing. You can have fun and relax, since you're not in every scene, the whole film doesn't rest on your shoulders. After all, Jack Nicholson does it, and look at his career!"

Bridges said 'yes,' and Brooks could hear him laughingly add as he hung up the phone, "What a salesman!"

Brooks has learned a lot since that first movie. He believes in preparedness and rehearsals. He doesn't dismiss suggestions from the cast. Says Stone, "I liked the idea he'd listen and then explain why this comedy bit of business was good or bad." It became more than just another movie for Ms. Stone. "It was a learning experience," she says.

Until three years ago, Brooks was considered a loner and a recluse. His close friends would check their messages only to find recordings with Brooks doing one of a dozen impersonations. "I was lonely," he explains.

That changed when he met "the girl." It took him a long time to propose. "Even then, she had to direct me," he says, grinning. "She's very smart and someone I can talk to about everything. She owns her own company, designs Web sites.... "

Running a hand through his curly brown hair, Brooks says, "You know, I'm like God's mule. I'd just stay in one place forever if you didn't push me. But this is the woman I wanted to be pushed by."

One day she held up her hand, pointed to her ring finger, and asked, "Are we or aren't we?" Making their lives even fuller, Mr. and Mrs. Brooks had a baby boy 10 months ago. Currently, Brooks is working on his next film project, but before that, he may take an acting assignment to costar with Leelee Sobieski (Emmy nominated for the TV miniseries "Joan of Arc") in a new film, "My First Mister."

Brooks's close friends often describe him as "the wittiest man in the world." He doesn't mind that he's never been selected as "the sexiest man in the world." At this point, he confides, "I'll settle for anything with an 'est' at the end."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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