JeffreyÕs Paul Rudnick

Libby Gelman-Waxner sure looks different in person. The nose is unmistakable, but I always thought she sported blonde hair, not brown. And I think her wildly successful orthodontist husband, Josh Waxner, would be quite surprised to learn that his delightfully opinionated wife, film critic for Premiere magazine, is none other than playwright and screenwriter Paul Rudnick (Jeffrey, Addams Family Values). Rudnick is about to become better known as a result of HollywoodÕs boldest attempt yet to sell gay themes to mainstream audiences. When the movie version of RudnickÕs play Jeffrey opens in August, weÕll find out how LibbyÕs Long Island friends react to a dream sequence in which a doting mother asks her son whether he prefers "shaved assholes." "Libby was born about five years ago, when Premiere called me," Rudnick says. "They were interesting in having a new film critic, which I felt was the last thing the world needed. ItÕs one of those positions which seems to demand absolutely no credentials. So I felt, ÔWhat about someone somewhat fictional?Õ And so Libby burst forth and has just taken on this life of her own. She seems much happier and more frequently employed than I am!" Every month, Libby dissects several movies in her column If You Ask Me, the best of which were recently collected in a book by the same name (Fawcett, $11.50). Frequently, her observations are funnier than the films themselves. "ThereÕs that dirty little secret aspect to her that I certainly enjoy, and that I think everyone identifies with," Rudnick says. "Criticism viewed entirely as a subset of hair care." Equal parts Fran Liebowitz and Dame Edna Everage, "Libby can get away with things that I would be justifiably condemned as tasteless, insupportable, and completely politically incorrect for saying," Rudnick notes. "Something Libby and Dame Edna share is one of the great benefits of a pseudonym or alter ego: complete freedom and license to be wildly irresponsible. Libby eliminates thought from the critical process. She goes right from sitting there in the Cineplex to the Happy Meal to the typewriter. And thatÕs a joy." Even though sheÕs an assistant buyer for juniorsÕ activewear, Libby has yet to see the British department-store antics of Are You Being Served? But she is a huge fan of Absolutely Fabulous. Rudnick feels she would fit in just fine with Patsy and Edina. "I know that Jennifer Saunders often has said that sheÕd disturbed by peopleÕs admiration and worship of Patsy and Edina when theyÕre so morally appalling, but I have no problem with that. Libby would find them kindred spirits. I mean, any woman who would cross the Atlantic for a picture of a door handle has LibbyÕs sympathies -- and probably many of her sweaters." A Yale graduate, Rudnick penned such plays as Poor Little Lambs and Cosmetic Surgery before turning to novels like Social Disease and IÕll Take It ("the great shopping epic"). In 1990, he overhauled the first Addams Family movie, which stayed in production for a budget-busting six months. "I think the reason I was brought in was they were having a lot of trouble setting the tone," he remembers. "It couldnÕt just be a lot of bloody hatchets being tossed around. The Addams Family is one of the few large-scale pop movies thatÕs primarily verbal, largely a comedy of manners. The Addamses have a real gentility and dark sophistication to them, which was wonderful to write." As reward for his labors, Rudnick was allowed to write the sequel, Addams Family Values, on his own. "It was a sequel I actually looked forward to writing, because I knew I was writing for the same cast and the same director, Barry Sonnenfeld." Although heÕs currently working on a project for Paramount, the studio responsible for the Addams Family films, it isnÕt a third Addams screenplay. "ThereÕs been talk of it, but now that Raul Julia [who played Gomez] is dead .Ê.Ê. it would be very hard and sad to do a third film without him. He was the nicest man. He would do anything you asked. You could say, ÔRaul, climb the wall while youÕre dueling -- hereÕs 10 pages of dialogue -- and sing,Õ and heÕd just light up, couldnÕt wait." Between screenplays, Rudnick wrote the play Jeffrey, a tale of gay love and gay life in the 1990s in which a gay man sworn to celibacy finds the love of his life -- whoÕs HIV-positive. "Early on, people said Jeffrey would not be done anywhere outside of New York, except maybe Los Angeles or San Francisco," Rudnick says. "ItÕs now being done everywhere: in Omaha and Boston, and in very small towns." In the upcoming film version, Wings wise-ass Steven Weber portrays the title character, and his interior-designer best friend, Sterling, is boldly played by Star TrekÕs Patrick Stewart. Brian Batt reprises SterlingÕs boyfriend, Darius, having originated the role onstage in New York. "Patrick and Brian make the most adorable and sexy couple," Rudnick says. Former soap-opera star Michael T. Weiss landed the pivotal role of Steve. "We wanted a great romantic lead and a hunk if possible," Rudnick says, "someone who had a great sense of humor and a certain fearlessness -- because SteveÕs someone whoÕs HIV-positive without any sense of victimhood or self-pity. I think people will be impressed and moved in many parts of their bodies by Michael." One of his reasons for writing Jeffrey, Rudnick says, is that he "wanted to present the idea that people who are HIV-positive or have AIDS are still living very full lives. Even out of good intentions, you should never reduce anyone to just a disease or a red ribbon. These people have many years to live and should never be denied a sex life, a career, or any part of their lives. I hope that Jeffrey presents a character with AIDS who could not be more active in every sense of the word." Meanwhile, in addition to working on a Paramount project, Paul Rudnick has a new play, The Naked Truth, "which is being overhauled and will be done outside New York, probably in Houston. ThatÕs my sad little existence in LibbyÕs shadow." And what about the irrepressible Gelman-Waxner? "Her column in Premiere continues, and her columns are all archived on CompuServe. What can I say? Libby goes on. Libby triumphs. Libby soars! Libby is like a Michael Bolton song -- oh, sheÕll get me for that."

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