BEAUTY MYTH

Byline: Merle Ginsberg

Caroline Thompson didn't grow up among the horsey set, but she's part of it now.
The writer and first-time director of the new version of "Black Beauty" has indulged in her recent Hollywood success in the most appropriate of ways: She now owns and rides horses at her home in L.A., including the horse that played "Merrylegs" in the film.
"Horses don't lie," she says, flopping around a suite at The Regency Hotel, while in New York to promote the film. "I probably relate much better to them than to people. That's what made them such good actors--they're totally in touch with all their emotions, their faces do change expression. You can see it in the closeups, that's why we did so many closeups of the horses. They have moods.
"Some of our best scenes were just letting them be in a mood and finding a place to insert it in the picture. And they definitely knew they were being photographed--they'd get more animated when the cameras rolled."
"Black Beauty" is, of course, the story of one horse's nag to riches tale, told from the horse's point of view. And Thompson, who has garnered a reputation as a writer who excels at "quirky" screenplays--"The Addams Family," "Edward Scissorhands," "The Nightmare Before Christmas"--found it easy to comprehend what that was.
"I'm always coming from the outsider's place," she says, perched on a sofa like a big kid. "I don't know why. I had a completely normal childhood; I wasn't ostracized. I've just always seen things that way--maybe it's from a child's point of view, really. I based the character of Edward Scissorhands on my dog. It's probably why I get along so well with Tim."
Tim being Burton, her mentor, who discovered her via her first novel, "Firstborn," which she wrote in 1983. After one lunch, they were kindred spirits, inventing Edward over pasta, and planning a long association that has panned out to be fruitful for both.
"What I love about Tim," Thompson says, "is that he's always coming from a completely inner place. It's not about ambition or money at all. We don't even really need to speak to each other that much anymore, we're on our own shorthand."
Thompson hails from Washington, D.C., and studied English and classic literature at Harvard and Amherst. She never had much interest in movies, certainly never planned on becoming a filmmaker or screenwriter.
"It's a great irony, isn't it?" she smiles gently. "So many people are dying to break into this business, they just want to be a part of movies. For me, it's just about the stories, telling the stories that are in my head. I only wanted to direct 'Black Beauty' because I loved the book so much as a kid, and I knew I knew more about horses than anyone. People are telling me that they're so excited that I'm one of the youngest female directors in Hollywood right now. They don't know that I never planned this, that I have no idea what I'm going to do next and that if it all ends tomorrow, I'd just do something else."
Thompson seems almost a little disappointed that adults are taking to this new version of the classic as much as kids.
"It was so important to me that 'Black Beauty' not pander to kids, not talk down to them. Kids are honest. If they feel like crying in a movie, they do. They know more than we do. They're very intuitive--like horses!"

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