Adaptation. is a 2002 comedy-drama satire film directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman. The film is based on Susan Orlean's book The Orchid Thief through self-referential events. Adaptation. stars Nicolas Cage (as both Charlie and Donald Kaufman), as well as Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Cara Seymour, Brian Cox, Tilda Swinton, Ron Livingston and Maggie Gyllenhaal. The film tells the story of Charlie Kaufman's difficult struggle to adapt The Orchid Thief into a film. In addition Orlean romances with John Laroche while Charlie enlists the help of his obnoxious twin brother Donald.
The film had been in development as far back as 1994. Jonathan Demme brought the project to Columbia Pictures with Kaufman writing the script. Kaufman went through writer's block and did not know what to think of The Orchid Thief. In turn Kaufman wrote a script about his experience adapting The Orchid Thief into a screenplay. Tom Hanks was at one point set for the role of Charlie Kaufman while John Turturro was approached to portray Laroche. Jonze signed to direct and filming finished in June 2001. Adaptation. received positive reviews and critical acclaim, as well as outstanding success at the 75th Academy Awards, 60th Golden Globe Awards and 56th British Academy Film Awards.
Laroche is caught at the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, ensuing into a trial and catching the interest of New Yorker journalist Susan Orlean. Laroche and Susan become great friends, with Susan writing The Orchid Thief. Laroche and Susan then become romantically involved, while Susan is still married, albeit unhappily, in New York. The Orchid Thief is then optioned by Columbia Pictures.
During the filming of Being John Malkovich, Charlie Kaufman is hired to write the screenplay. At the same time Charlie is going through melancholic depression and his obnoxious twin brother Donald moves into his house. Donald decides to become a screenwriter like Charlie, and visits the seminars of Robert McKee. Charlie wants to adapt the script into a faithful adaptation of The Orchid Thief, hoping to impress Susan. However, he realizes that there is no narrative involved and finds it impossible to turn the book into a film, going through a serious case of writer's block.
Meanwhile, Donald's spec script for a cliché psychological thriller sells for over one million dollars, while Charlie accidentally starts writing his script with self-reference. Already well over his deadline with Columbia Pictures, Charlie (from Los Angeles, California) visits Susan in New York for advice on the screenplay. In New York Charlie finds that he is not courageous enough to meet Susan, leaving without consulting with her. Charlie visits a McKee seminar in New York, gaining advice from McKee, and bringing Donald to assist with the story structure. Donald suggests having sex, a car chase and drugs for the climax. Charlie and Donald follow Susan to Florida where she meets Laroche. The film indeed ends with Susan and Laroche taking the Ghost Orchid drug, having sex, a car chase involving Susan and Charlie and with Donald being shot and killed, and Laroche getting eaten alive by an alligator. His writer's block broken, Charlie finally summons up the courage to tell his former girlfriend, Amelia, that he is in love with her. He finishes his script, with Gérard Depardieu in mind to portray him in the film.
Tom Hanks was originally set for the double role of Charlie and Donald Kaufman, while Variety was convinced Donald was a real person. Cage took the role for a $5 million salary, and wore a fatsuit during filming. Streep previously expressed dire interest in the role before being cast, and took a salary cut in recognition of the film's budget. John Turturro was approached to portray John Laroche. Cooper heavily considered turning down Laroche, but accepted it after his wife's persistence. Albert Finney, Christopher Plummer, Terence Stamp and Michael Caine were considered for the role of Robert McKee, but McKee personally suggested Brian Cox towards the filmmakers.
Litefoot and Jay Tavare have small roles as Seminole Indians. Catherine Keener, John Malkovich, Lance Acord and Spike Jonze have uncredited cameos as themselves in scenes where Charlie Kaufman is on the set of Being John Malkovich. John Cusack filmed a cameo before it was deleted from the final cut of the film. More cameos include Doug Jones as Augustus Raymond Margary for a small scene when Susan fantasizes about the history of orchid poaching, Jim Beaver as Ranger Tony and David O. Russell as a New Yorker journalist.
The idea to do a film adaptation of Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief dates back to 1994. Fox 2000 purchased the film rights in 1997, eventually selling them to Jonathan Demme, who set the project at Columbia Pictures. Charlie Kaufman was hired to write the script, but went through writer's block and did not know what to think of The Orchid Thief. In turn, Kaufman wrote about his experience adapting the script through exaggerated events, and created a fictional "brother" named Donald Kaufman. Charlie even went as far as putting Donald's name on the script and dedicated the film to the fictional character. By September 1999, Kaufman had written two drafts of the script, and turned in another draft in November 2000.
Kaufman explained, "The idea of how to write the film didn't come to me until quite late. It was the only idea I had, I liked it, and I knew there was no way it would be approved if I pitched it. So I just wrote it and never told the people I was writing it for. I only told Spike Jonze, as we were making John Malkovich and he saw how frustrated I was. Had he said I was crazy, I don't know what I would have done. In addition Kaufman stated, "I really thought I was ending my career by turning that in! Adaptation. went on fast track in April 2000, with Kaufman mildly rewriting the script. Scott Brake of IGN leaked the script on the Internet in June 2000, as did Drew "Moriarty" McWeeny of Ain't It Cool News in October. Columbia Pictures committed to North America distribution only after Intermedia came aboard to finance the film in exchange for international distribution rights. Filming started in late March 2001 in Los Angeles, California, and finished by June.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times believed the film was something "That leaves you breathless with curiosity, as it teases itself with the directions it might take. To watch the film is to be actively involved in the challenge of its creation. Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe thought "This is epic, funny, tragic, demanding, strange, original, boldly sincere filmmaking. And the climax, the portion that either sinks the entire movie or self-critically explains how so many others derail, is bananas. David Ansen of Newsweek felt Meryl Streep had not "been this much fun to watch in years", while Mike Clark of USA Today gave a largely negative review, mainly criticizing the ending: "Too smart to ignore but a little too smugly superior to like, this could be a movie that ends up slapping its target audience in the face by shooting itself in the foot.
Chris Cooper won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, while Nicolas Cage (Actor in a Leading Role) and Streep (Supporting Actress) were nominated. Charlie and Donald Kaufman were nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. Donald became the first truly fictitious person nominated for an Oscar. Cooper and Streep won their respective categories at the 60th Golden Globe Awards. Spike Jonze, Cage and Kaufman were nominated for awards while Adaptation. was nominated for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy. Cage, Cooper and Streep received nominations at the 56th British Academy Film Awards, with Kaufman winning Best Adapted Screenplay.