Paul Attanasio

Paul Attanasio

Born in the Bronx, NY, Attanasio was raised in the Pelham Bay area and later Teaneck, NJ by his father, Joseph, an actor and retired commercial consultant, and his mother, Connie, a former real estate broker. After graduating Harvard University in 1981, he attended their law school and earned his juris doctor in 1984, before being hired on at the law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York City. Convinced by a senior partner to find something that he truly loved, Attanasio left the firm and landed a trial run as a film critic at The Washington Post following freelance gigs for The Boston Phoenix, Rolling Stone and The New Republic. He quickly secured the job and served as the Post's film critic from 1984-87 while also playing host of "The Movie Show" (Cinemax, 1986-87), a cable series devoted to movie reviews, interviews and behind-the-scenes-reports. After burning out from writing constant film reviews, Attanasio left Washington for New York to write screenplays. Though his first script was terrible by his own admission, it had enough in it to attract an agent and later an assignment to write a spy movie for Paramount Pictures.Though mostly known for his film work, Attanasio had his start on the small screen when he wrote the pilot for "Homicide: Life on the Streets" (NBC, 1993-99) for producer Barry Levinson, who had secured the rights to Davis Simon's gritty non-fiction novel Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets (1991). An unglamorous look at the glory-free lives of Baltimore homicide detectives, "Homicide" was widely hailed by critics as being one of the best cop procedurals ever made and went on to become the first drama to win three Peabody Awards in 1993, 1995 and 1997. A year after creating "Homicide," Attanasio had his first produced screenplay with "Quiz Show" (1994), an exemplary docudrama about the quiz show scandals of the late 1950s. Focusing on the game show "21," the movie starred Ralph Fiennes as the erudite Charles Van Doren, a charming college instructor who becomes entangled in a growing scandal involving the show's crooked producers (David Paymer and Hank Azaria) feeding him answers, thanks to the investigation of an intrepid Congressional lawyer (Rob Morrow). Though not a major box office hit, "Quiz Show" was highly praised by most critics and earned four Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Adapted Screenplay.That same year, Attanasio was hired by Levinson to adapt Michael Crichton's best-selling thriller, "Disclosure" (1994), which starred Michael Douglas as a corporate executive accused of sexual harassment by a new hire (Demi Moore) that turns out to be a ploy to remove him from his virtual reality company. Despite mixed reviews, the film was a big hit, earning over $200 million at the box office. With Levinson producing and Mike Newell directing, Attanasio next wrote the script for "Donnie Brasco" (1997), a look at the real-life story of Joe Pistone (Johnny Depp), an FBI agent deep undercover in the Bonanno crime family, thanks to his friendship with low-level mobster Lefty Ruggiero (Al Pacino). Both grittily realistic and entertaining, the intimate character study of a man struggling to reconcile his real life with his undercover persona earned Attanasio his second Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. From there, he shared screenplay credit with four other writers on the woeful adaptation of Michael Crichton's sci-fi thriller "Sphere" (1998), directed by Levinson and starring Dustin Hoffman, Samuel L Jackson and Sharon Stone. While he did some uncredited work on both "Armageddon" (1998) and the colossal bomb "Town & Country" (2001), Attanasio returned to the small screen to create "Gideon's Crossing" (ABC, 2000-01), a short-lived medical drama starring Andre Braugher as an unorthodox doctor juggling new techniques with old-school bedside manner.He went on to write the action thriller "The Sum of All Fears" (2002), which starred Ben Affleck as a young Jack Ryan called up to stop terrorists from pushing the U.S. and Soviet Union into war. Back to television, Attanasio created and executive produced "Century City" (CBS, 2003-04), a futuristic law series that explored the legal system in the year 2030. Following more uncredited work on films as varied as "Beyond the Sea" (2004) and "Poseidon" (2006), he adapted "The Good German" (2006) for director Steven Soderbergh, a period espionage thriller about an American reporter (George Clooney) searching for his lost love (Cate Blanchett) in postwar Germany. Attanasio bounced back to television to collaborate with David Shore to help create, write and executive produce the Emmy-winning medical procedural, "House" (Fox, 2004-2012), which starred Hugh Laurie as a drug-addicted, misanthropic, but utterly brilliant diagnostic physician who acts as something of Sherlock Holmes in solving tough infectious disease cases. A big ratings and critical hit, "House" won numerous awards, particularly for Laurie, over the course of its eight-season run. During that time, Attanasio did uncredited work on "The Bourne Ultimatum" (2007), "Leatherheads" (2008) and "The Fighter" (2010), and after "House" left the airwaves, he created "The Vatican" (Showtime, 2013-), a thriller that covered the politics inside the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.By Shawn Dwyer