Counselor, The: Ridley Scott Meets Cormac McCarthy

the_counselor_posterOscar-nominee Ridley Scott and Pulitzer Prize winning author Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men) joined forces in the thriller The Counselor, starring Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, and Brad Pitt. McCarthy, making his screenwriting debut and Scott interweave the author’s characteristic wit and dark humor with a nightmarish scenario, in which a respected lawyer’s one-time dalliance with an illegal business deal spirals out of control.

Told with wit, and ultimately violence and pathos, The Counselor is a cautionary tale about mistakenly tempting fate. It is, says Cormac McCarthy “about people who get involved in something they should have stayed out of.”

Once dubbed the “Shakespeare of the West,” McCarthy’s unforgettable characters have captivated the imaginations of millions of readers. While several of his novels – including No Country for Old Men, The Road, and All The Pretty Horses – have been turned into films, McCarthy surprised everyone when he wrote the screenplay for The Counselor. Its characters are remarkable, the circumstances disquieting, and McCarthy’s wit and humor make the nightmare scenarios even darker.

McCarthy sold the script to producers Nick Wechsler, Steve Schwartz and Paula Mae Schwartz, the producing trio behind the adaptation of The Road. Shortly thereafter, Ridley Scott read the screenplay and wanted to make it his next film.

Scott began assembling his team of regular collaborators, including director of photography Dariusz Wolski (Pirates Of The Caribbean, Alice In Wonderland), reteaming with Scott following Prometheus, BAFTA-award winning production designer Arthur Max (Prometheus, Se7en, Gladiator), and Oscar-winning costume designer Janty Yates (Prometheus, Gladiator).
The Counselor is Max’s ninth collaboration with Scott, and Yates’ eighth time working with the acclaimed filmmaker. Two-time Oscar winning editor Pietro Scalia, A.C.E (Prometheus, JFK) teams with Scott for the seventh time. Mark Huffam (Prometheus, Mamma Mia!) and Michael Costigan (Robin Hood, Body of Lies) serve as the film’s executive producers, along with McCarthy and Scott Free president Michael Schaefer.

It all began with a morning cup of coffee. Cormac McCarthy was in the midst of writing two novels, when he one day he felt he needed a break. But he wasn’t thinking about a vacation; in fact, far from it. He decided to write a screenplay.

Upon completing the first draft script, he sent it to producers Nick Wechsler, Steve Schwartz and Paula Mae Schwartz – who had produced the film The Road, based on McCarthy’s acclaimed novel. “We were all fans of Cormac’s writing, and thought The Counselor was pure Cormac: mesmerizing, powerful and unsettling,” says Wechsler.

The Counselor brings the same kind of power and narrative drive that characterize McCarthy’s novels. “Some folks have called this film, No Country for Old Men on steroids,” says producer Steve Schwartz. “I think there is some truth to that. All the classic Cormac themes are in The Counselor: a view that humanity is not intrinsically good, but people always have choices, and we often make the wrong choices. Choices have consequences, and you sometimes live and die with them. Thus, it’s a cautionary tale.”

After the producers learned that that legendary filmmaker Ridley Scott was interested in the material, they set up a meeting between Scott and the author/screenwriter. McCarthy remembers, “We chatted about the screenplay and shook hands. One day you’re at home drinking coffee, and a few months later you’re in Spain, where much of The Counselor was shot with over 200 crew and actors.”

The meeting between the two artists seemed fated. Scott had long admired McCarthy’s work – he had read Blood Meridian, All the Pretty Horses, No Country for Old Men, and The Road – and he calls the author “the Great American Novelist.” Scott had a similar reaction to McCarthy’s screenplay for The Counselor. “It reads like an exceptional short story or novella; it’s an emotional rollercoaster ride,” says Scott. “The script had situations and characters that were epic and an inevitability that something awful was going to happen to them – and that there was nothing they could do to stop it.”

Intermingled with the titular character’s inexorable path to disaster, is Cormac McCarthy-esque dark humor. “I think there’s humor in everything,” says Scott. “The characters are damaged goods; they’re attractive but they’ve all ducked and dived in their professions,” and that leads to unexpected moments of humor. Adds Steve Schwartz: “These characters could only have come from Cormac. And while they vary in the extent and color of their flaws, they are always fun to watch.”

Producer Paula Mae Schwartz notes that, “Cormac’s novels are known to have colorful dialogue. This talent is even more powerful on film, where we see and hear the characters driving the story forward through a wide range of emotions – from unspeakable violence to laugh-out-loud humor.”