After two successful comedy albums, Comedy Minus One (1974) and the Grammy Award-nominated A Star is Bought (1975), Brooks left the standup circuit to try his hand as a filmmaker; his first film, The Famous Comedians School, was a satiric short that appeared on PBS and was an early example of the mockumentary sub-genre.
In 1976, he appeared in his first mainstream film role, in Scorsese's landmark Taxi Driver (Scorsese allowed Brooks to improvise much of his dialogue). The role reflected Brooks's decision to move to Los Angeles to get into the film business. In an interview, Brooks mentioned a conversation he'd had with Taxi Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader, in which Schrader said that Brooks' character was the only one in the movie that he couldn't "understand" — a remark that Brooks found amusing, as the movie's anti-hero was a psychotic loner.
Brooks directed his first feature film, Real Life, in 1979. The film, in which Brooks obnoxiously films a typical suburban family in an effort to win both an Oscar and a Nobel Prize, was a sendup of PBS's An American Family documentary. Brooks also made a brief cameo in the film Private Benjamin (1980), starring Goldie Hawn.
Brooks's Defending Your Life (1991) placed his lead character in the afterlife, put on trial to justify his human fears and thus determine his cosmic fate. Critics responded to the offbeat premise and the surprising chemistry between Brooks and Meryl Streep as his post-death love interest. His later efforts did not find large audiences, but still retained Brooks's touch as a filmmaker. He garnered positive reviews for Mother (1996), which starred Brooks as a middle-aged writer moving back home to resolve tensions between himself and his mother (Debbie Reynolds). 1999's The Muse featured Brooks as a down-and-out Hollywood screenwriter using the services of an authentic muse (Sharon Stone) for inspiration.
Brooks also acted in other writers' and directors' films during the 1980s and 1990s. He moved into the horror genre in one of the stories in Twilight Zone: The Movie, playing a driver whose passenger has a shocking secret (Dan Aykroyd). In James L. Brooks's hit Broadcast News (1987), he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor as an insecure, supremely ethical network TV reporter, who offers the rhetorical question, "Wouldn't this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive?" He also won positive notices for his role in 1998's Out of Sight, playing an untrustworthy banker and ex-convict.
In 2005, his film Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World drew controversy for its title. Sony Pictures eventually dropped the film altogether because of their desire to change the title. Subsequently, Warner Independent Pictures purchased the film and gave it a limited release in January 2006; the film received mixed reviews and a low box office gross. The movie goes back to the days of Brooks's Real Life, as Brooks once again plays himself, a filmmaker commissioned by the U.S. government to see what makes the Muslim people laugh, thus sending him on a tour of India and Pakistan.
Brooks resides in Los Angeles.
|1975-1976||Saturday Night Live||n/a||writer, director various short films/segments|
|1979||Real Life||Himself||writer, director|
|1980||Private Benjamin||Yale Goodman|
|1981||Modern Romance||Robert Cole||writer, director|
|1983||Twilight Zone: The Movie||Car Driver (Prologue)|
|1984||Unfaithfully Yours||Norman Robbins|
|1985||Lost In America||David Howard||writer, director|
|1987||Broadcast News||Aaron Altman|
|1991||Defending Your Life||Daniel Miller||writer, director|
|1994||I'll Do Anything||Burke Adler|
|The Scout||Al Percolo||also writer|
|1996||Mother||John Henderson||writer, director|
|1997||Critical Care||Dr. Butz|
|1998||Out of Sight||Richard Ripley|
|Dr. Dolittle||Jacob the Tiger||voice only|
|1999||The Muse||Steven Phillips||writer, director|
|2001||My First Mister||Randall 'R' Harris|
|2003||The In-Laws||Jerome 'Jerry/Jer' Peyser|
|Finding Nemo||Marlin the Clownfish||voice only|
|2006||Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World||Himself||writer, director|
|2007||The Simpsons Movie||Russ Cargill||voice only; Credited as A. Brooks.|
Book Review A madcap, delightfully inventive sendup of academic lit crit and various literary conventions - and also a real novel
Aug 23, 1992; BOOK A Novel. By Robert Grudin. Random House. 257 pp. $19. As the 20th century drew to a whimpering close, many believed it to be...
Superhero sendup; Unlike many DreamWorks movies, the animated "Megamind" winningly pays attention to story.(VARIETY)
Nov 05, 2010; Byline: COLIN COVERT; STAFF WRITER "Megamind" is a genial animated sendup of superhero flicks that should appeal to kids...