Direct me!” Joel Schumacher is yelling at the photographer who’s trying to shoot him at his suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in Manhattan. “I want to be directed! Tell me to wet my lips and throw my hair back! Tell me to take my shirt off! When I shot with Joyce Tennison, she told me to take my clothes off. I said, ‘I have enough trouble being taken seriously!’ But this is my ninth film, so hopefully that’s not so true anymore.”
Joel Schumacher is talking about “The Client,” but the way he’s talking, you’d think it wasn’t going to be the blockbuster Warner Bros. is betting on, or that almost all his films, from “St. Elmo’s Fire” through “The Lost Boys,” “Flatliners” and “Falling Down” weren’t big box office hits.
“You have to remember,” he says, “that no other director has come to directing films from designing costumes like I did. I did costumes, sets, art direction, production design. Only Woody Allen, who I worked with on ‘Sleepers’ and ‘Interiors,’ encouraged me. He said, ‘There’s a handful of geniuses out there, touched by the gods. The rest of them — if they can do it, you can do it, and you can do it better.”‘
Schumacher is known for spinning a great yarn, and not only on screen. He’s one of Hollywood’s great talkers.
“I’m not one of the geniuses touched by the gods,” he goes on. “What I am is lucky. I grew up on Long Island, right near the Chicklets sign near Silvercup Studios [formerly Silvercup Bakers]. I wanted to make movies all my life; I was this poor kid from Queens. So I’m grateful for everything. Mostly, I’m lucky to be alive. I was a drug addict in the Sixties. I know the realities of this business. Sometimes everybody loves you, sometimes everybody hates you. We’re not sitting in Esalen, chanting. It’s the ego business. There’s no standard of behavior. And there shouldn’t be — people should express themselves. But sometimes their expressions should be edited out.”
Fortunately, none of that behavior was exhibited on “The Client,” the third of John Grisham’s legal-eagle novels to appear cinematically.
It’s the story of a poor Memphis kid, Mark Sway (played by newcomer Brad Renfro), who hears information that incriminates some extremely dangerous people who suddenly are out to get him. Susan Sarandon is Reggie Love, a local lawyer who takes him under her wing to protect him from Tommy Lee Jones, the tough-talking prosecutor, and Anthony LaPaglia, the weasel of a bad guy. “Brad was a novice, we discovered, but he was as streetwise as his character, and it turns out, he’s very ambitious and didn’t want to be treated like a child,” Schumacher says. “Lucky for him, he didn’t get to see any bad acting in this movie. Isn’t Susan great? And you know why everyone loves her? She’s 45, and she looks it — she hasn’t erased her soul with surgery. Her aging process is real, her beauty’s real, her integrity’s real.”
Schumacher’s about to start shooting “Batman Forever” (with its all-new 11th-hour cast) in the real Gotham City — New York — and he’s in town to scout locations. All he’ll say about the casting problems — Robin Williams being replaced by Jim Carrey, Michael Keaton dropping out and Val Kilmer stepping in — is, “Sometimes you meet your movie idols in person — and you wish you hadn’t.”
He’s also in town to screen “The Client” for author Grisham’s agent. Turns out, all of Schumacher’s old pals from his fashion days in New York — he was a window dresser at Bendel’s and designed clothing for the Paraphernalia boutique along with Betsey Johnson in the Sixties — want to come. Even though Schumacher claims to have no personal life, the phone doesn’t stop ringing. “Ralph!” he greets the noted fashion designer on the other end of the phone. “Are you and Ricki coming tonight? Great, great. It’ll be about 10 people, and we’ll go to Elaine’s after. It’s really casual. He hangs up and the phone rings again.
“You want to know about the Hollywood personal life?” he asks. “This is it!”

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