THE GHOST WRITER
His spectacular trip on LSD in 1965 fired both his writing imagination and his spiritual life, intertwining them for a stellar career in movies. Andrew L. Urban meets Oscar winning writer Bruce Joel Rubin.
Rubin & his take on life – after life, and the context for Ghost
You simply can’t tell that the casually dressed, bespectacled Bruce Joel Rubin has had a journey of three or four billion years, a journey that began his career as a writer. “In world time it was about eight hours,” he explains over beetroot and rocket salad with roast pumpkin, on the edge of Cowper Wharf in Sydney. He chooses to sit opposite me instead of looking at the view across the water. “I want to focus on you,” he says quietly.
Rubin’s journey to Australia from California (well over eight hours) is not really about his spiritual experience while high on LSD back in 1965, but it is profoundly relevant to the reason he is here. On his way to Melbourne for the Victorian premiere (last weekend) of Ghost The Musical, which he wrote, adapting his iconic global hit movie, Ghost (1990) starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg, for which he won an Oscar (Best Screenplay) – as did Whoopi Goldberg (Best Supporting Actress).
Rubin (who dislikes his middle name Joel but was forced to use it to differentiate himself from another writer called Bruce Rubin) will be 73 in March 2016, and he has recently stopped writing, but he credits his start and his continued success (with films such as Stuart Little 2, Deep Impact, Brainstorm and Jacob’s Ladder, in which some of his spiritual themes are explored*) to that youthful eight-hour experience, triggered by a trip on LSD. The pill he had taken had no effect and his flatmate was going to give him a drop of some specially pure and powerful LSD in liquid form they were safekeeping in the fridge for a friend. The flatmate accidentally squeezed the entire contents of the eye dropper into Rubin’s mouth – with happily positive results.
“That experience defies description,” he says between mouthfuls. “I died, it was a horrifying experience but somehow familiar. The thought I remember was ‘Oh, this again’. There were also a lot of biblical references …” He also went to hell. “I had a mystical experience through the drug.”
Wondering why this was happening, he sensed it was so he could tell people what he saw and experienced. It’s as if he was to be the ghost writer for the universe.
He began studying Hindu teachings and meditation, and travelled through Asia and the Middle East. He studied the late Swami Rudrananda (affectionately known as Rudi).
He is quoted in the Ghost The Musical program saying: “I was in the middle of Afghanistan and I was sheltering from the wind in a three-sided mud house – the ceiling and one wall were gone; it was a nightmare – and I was lying in this sleeping bag, looking up at the stars. That night I said, ‘You’re going to have stories to tell.’ And it was true, that was where all the stories, including Ghost, were starting to germinate, in that moment. It was extraordinary. I came back from that trip trying to figure out how you get into the movie world.”
Rob Mills and Jemma Rix as Sam and Molly in The Australian production
Meditation, he says “is a slow motion LSD trip … over a long time. Religion is a codification of the spiritual journey. Not everybody gets to go on such a journey.”
If you think about it, Ghost is about such a journey, even though it is a commercial, mainstream movie and now, 25 years later, a spectacular musical on the stage.
“I never wanted to do a remake or a sequel to Ghost,” Rubin confides, “but people kept asking me. Then these two brilliant producers came to me, visited me at home in upstate New York, and convinced me with their amazing vision for the musical. We talked for hours … so long that they missed their train back to New York City and had to bunk down at our place.”
Rubin agreed to write the musical; “I could see it . . . and I realised that in a musical, a song is the equivalent to the close up in a movie. I wrote 22 songs and I’m very proud of them … even though our brilliant director Matthew Warchus convinced me to let a couple of really great professional musicians have a go. So slowly, one by one, my songs were replaced… I think there are four left in the show that are mine.”
It took a total of seven years to get the musical from when Rubin started work on it to the world premiere on April 23, 2012 at London’s Piccadilly Theatre – where it won a clutch of awards. Promising to observe but say nothing, Rubin attended all the preparations and rehearsals, and was inevitably asked for his opinions and thus was drawn into the process.
“It’s an extraordinary production,” he feels. “Matthew (the director) is an amateur magician and he has done things never done on stage before.”
* Jacob’s Ladder (1990) D: Adrian Lyne. Stars Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Peña: Mourning his dead child, a haunted Vietnam war veteran attempts to discover his past while suffering from a severe case of dissociation. To do so, he must decipher reality and life from his own dreams, delusion, and perception of death.