Tom Shadyac is one happy man these days; after all, how many American directors defy
the critics and end up making films that overtake that magic US $100 million at the box
office? Tom Shadyac's latest film, the medico comedy/drama Patch Adams, may well have
received some of the worst notices in his career, but it's turned out to be the most
successful film in a troublesome year for Universal Studios. "There's no doubt that
critics have lost touch with audiences", explains the director from his office.
"We got some of the best results at our test screenings, we knew we'd do well. After
all, when Ace Ventura came out, the critics not only hated us, but also predicted Jim
Carrey would quickly disappear. I don't make films to please critics; if I did, there'd be
forty people attending my movies, and they'd all be critics", he adds laughingly.
"I'd always had a passion for comedy"
The 41-year old director had no idea what he wanted to do as a youngster. Born and
raised in Virginia, he discovered early on his penchant for comedy. He utilised those
talents to his advantage, when he started writing humorous articles for school papers.
"An uncle of mine knew Bob Hope, and suggested that if I wanted to start writing
jokes for him, I'll give him the material. So I did, and Hope called me one day and said:
There's some pretty good stuff here, can you do it again? That's how the relationship
started." Shadyac was a mere 21, and a senior at college at the University of
Virginia, where he was studying government, of all things. "And let me tell you, that
remained the greatest source of humour, giving me the greatest material in the world. And
it still is - Bill Clinton's zipper is the greatest source of comedy than I can
From government to film would seem quite a leap, and indeed it was, but Shadyac, who
was unsure of his life's ambition at that stage, formed a passion for it through his love
of comedy. "I'd always had a passion for comedy. Even as a kid I would write skits,
obviously as a way to get your friends to go: Hey, you're pretty funny. It was a means to
popularity. I dabbled in stand-up for a while and wrote a lot. When I came out to Los
Angeles, I didn't really know how my passion was going to be focused, so I tried a whole
bunch of things, from stand up, to joke-writing, did a little acting and I eventually
tried directing, just like I was trying all these other things; that's where all the bells
"He was a dynamite waiting to explode" on Jim
Shadyac meandered in Hollywood for more than a decade before hitting pay dirt as the
co-writer and director of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, the 1994 feature film that confirmed
that Jim Carrey as one of the biggest stars in Hollywood and grossed more than $200
million worldwide. It was Shadyac that really gave audiences Carrey. "I'd watched In
Living Colour for years and Jim made me laugh; he was a dynamite waiting to explode, but
nobody gave him the right venue; the freedom to do his thing."
Shadyac's latest film is the semi-true story Patch Adams. It opens in 1969, where
Hunter ‘Patch’ Adams (Robin Williams) is a voluntary inmate in a mental
hospital. His experience with the patients there energises him with a desire to heal,
leading to his enrolment two years later in medical school. There he becomes a top
student, but angers a conservative dean (Bob Gunton) by testing his theory that laughter
is the best medicine on actual hospital patients.
While repeatedly butting heads with administrators, Patch and two classmates (Monica
Potter and Daniel London) commit themselves to creating a place where they can treat
patients not just with prescriptions, but with compassion, personal contact and big red
Shadyac first saw a finished script of Patch Adams after he got off Liar, Liar. "I
read it on the plane the first day I took off on vacation. It made me laugh, it made me
cry, and I connected to it very personally on a number of levels. I called the studio and
told them I'd do it - but only with Robin Williams; I didn't see anyone else playing this
role. I wasn't expecting him to do it, but he responded in much the same way I did."
He waited for Williams to complete three other films, and in the interim got married,
before he was finally ready to go.
"People go to movies to have some kind of emotional
The film defied a strong negative reaction, to become the unexpected box office champ
over a competitive US Christmas weekend. The reason for this success is simple, explains
Shadyac. "People have told me that it touched them in an extraordinary way; it put
them through a gamut of emotions, from laughing to crying, it made them think, it made
them reassess. I think people go to movies to have some kind of emotional experience and I
think Patch Adams takes them there. It's such an interesting and unique story."
Shadyac doesn't want to remain compartmentalised as merely a comedic director, so his
next film will be a complete departure: a dramatic thriller. "It involves the world
of near-death experiences in children, and it's essentially a movie about faith; how
somebody goes from being a complete non-believer to reawakening his faith through this
incredible journey that leads him through the world of near death experiences of children
in a very personal way. I can tell you it's the best ending of a movie that I've ever
read." He's hoping Mel Gibson may agree to play the lead.