Fred Schepisi

Fred Schepisi

Schepisi dropped out of Catholic school and drifted into a professional career in advertising. Literally working his way up from messenger to copywriter, he eventually directed commercials and ultimately headed his own agency. Schepisi's first fiction film was "The Priest," a 30-minute segment for the episodic feature, Libido" (1973) that he made in collaboration with Australian writer Thomas Keneally and which earned a Silver Award from the Australian Film Institute. Encouraged by the recognition, Schepisi wrote, produced and directed his first full-length feature, "The Devil's Playground" (1976). Drawing from his own 18-month experience at a Marist Brother monastery, it was a deft look at the repression and hidden undercurrents of seminary life. But it was the probing race study about a half-caste aborigine based on a novel by Keneally, "The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith" (1978), that brought him international attention and paved the way for his first US-produced feature, "Barbarosa" (1982) starring Willie Nelson as a legendary outlaw on the lam.Now a part of the Hollywood scene, Schepisi next directed the haunting sci-fi parable, "Iceman" (1984), sensitively capturing a resuscitated Neanderthal's battle with the inhumanity of the scientists studying him. Schepisi continued to demonstrate his mastery of atmosphere and dramatic rhythm in the intriguing, if slightly overwrought, adaptation of the David Hare play, "Plenty" (1985). He teamed with Steve Martin on "Roxanne" (1987), a witty and surprisingly solid update of the "Cyrano de Bergerac" story, and reteamed with "Plenty" star Meryl Streep on "A Cry in the Dark/Evil Angels" (1988), a skillfully rendered thriller based on the true story of a mother falsely charged with killing her own infant. His stylish adaptation of the acclaimed play "Six Degrees of Separation" (1993) cinematically opened up the story of the escapades of a young con artist who convinces wealthy benefactors that he is the son of star Sidney Poitier and preserved original stage star Stockard Channing's brilliant performance. Schepisi's fanciful romantic comedy "I.Q." (1994) allowed veteran Walter Matthau to cut loose as the celebrated physicist Albert Einstein playing matchmaker for his unmarried niece (Meg Ryan). Schepisi was called in to provide triage on "Fierce Creatures" (1997), which reunited much of the cast of "A Fish Called Wanda." While both strove to recapture the zany qualities of the Ealing comedies, "Wanda" at least had Charles Crichton in charge. "Fierce Creatures," on the other hand, suffered from a lack of a single directorial vision. (Schepisi shared credit with Robert Young.) After nearly a four year absence (during which he attempted to mount a film version of "Don Quixote" with John Cleese and Robin Williams), Schepisi returned to the director's chair for "Last Orders," the film adaptation of Graham Swift's award-winning novel about a group of old friends determined to carry out the dying wish of one of the group. The veteran helmer, who had developed a deserved reputation for being an "actor's director," assembled a virtual who's who of British talent for the project, including Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins, Tom Courtenay and Helen Mirren.