This Cultural Life: Neil LaBute

The playwright and film-maker's life is a comedy with tragic interludes, in the Western genre. But what do you expect if you like Kings of Leon, Caspar David Friedrich and golf?
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The Independent Culture

What are you reading in bed?

What are you reading in bed?

Lately I've been reading a lot of myself, doing re-writes till I drop off to sleep. So one author I've been keeping an eye on is me. Recently I was re-reading The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford. It's a beautiful book and a terrific use of the unreliable narrator. I look at it first for instruction and then I get lost in it and start reading it for pleasure.

What was your main cultural passion when you were 14?

I was totally passionate about Annie Hall. Even though it was probably beyond my 14-year-old mind, I wanted to believe that it wasn't. It was the film everybody was talking about. And my Mum made it clear that Equus wasn't something I should be passionate about. She wasn't quite sure what was wrong with it but she was sure something was. So she thought it was marginally safer to leave me with Woody Allen. Although now, that's questionable.

Which painting most corresponds with your vision of yourself?

Oh gosh, The Scream! Because I'm so tortured inside. No, really, I think it might be a Caspar David Friedrich, because so many of his figures are turned away from the viewer and there's a certain kind of distance I put between my characters and my audience, the audience and myself. Things are kept at bay.

Do you have a secret cultural passion?

I can spend hours watching golf on television.


See, I gotcha. I'm not a sportsman at all but I love the drama of golf where the stakes are high - when so much appears to be on the line with every shot. I do a short victory lap around the sitting room if the person I'm gunning for wins.

What do you cling onto from childhood?

I have this little sled, called Rosebud... No, what do I cling to from childhood? The wreckage! Childhood is not something I remember a great deal of, and I think that's indicative of a childhood that was fraught with a fair amount of tension. It was an idyllic setting, in the mountains and so forth. But my father was a kind of a tough, interesting character - is that the way you in England say "a son of a bitch"? He was challenging - the way Hitler was challenging. So, you never really knew what you were waking up to. I really enjoyed school. I went on and got a couple of degrees, and then I taught for a while at a university. I liked that learning atmosphere.

What's the soundtrack to your life at the moment?

Kings of Convenience, Kings of Leon, anything with Kings in their name... Martha Wainwright - it's a solid album. I picked up the new Stereophonics too the other day.

What's the least disposable pop song?

"Oliver's Army" - I'm just an endless fan of Elvis Costello. Like most of his work, it's completely infectious but carries a little sting. And anyone who can use the term "white nigger" and live to tell the tale is doing something right.

And the most disposable piece of classical music?

Probably Pachelbel's Canon in D. I never need to hear that again in this life.

Your house is on fire. What do you save?

I would jump for the computer. It's such a salvation from the work of writing, being able to write so freely and move great chunks of work around. I might also get a good handful of movies on DVD to see me through the period when I'd be living in the gymnasium, before my house got rebuilt.

Is your mind a porn cinema or an art gallery? If neither, what kind of civic building is it?

It's certainly not a porn cinema. It's probably a 100-seat theatre or cinema. My mind revolves around the work I do most of the time. So no doubt it's some little space that people can only come if they've been very nice to me. I still might not be nice to them, but you know, that's too bad - that's the way it works in my cinema.

If you could tear down any building, which would you choose?

I should probably say the palace of some despotic ruler. But I'd probably rather tear down a Wagamama and re-build it in New York so I could visit it. I can't believe they haven't done that already.

Who should play you in the Hollywood biopic, LaBute?

Give me Elliott Gould. At the height of his powers, in The Long Goodbye, he was pretty phenomenal.

What genre would the film be?

I would want it to be a Western, but it would probably be some kind of comedy with tragic interludes. Being American I would probably want to use some awful term like dram-edy.

And who would be your nemesis in the final scene?

I'm a stress eater, you know, so it would have to be someone like Sara Lee. Death by popcorn. I go for the salt, so Willy Wonka holds no power over me. The man with the salt shaker will lure me to my death. Lot's wife - my idea of a great woman. Lovely to look at, and practical.

'This Is How It Goes': Donmar Warehouse, London WC2 (020 8544 7412), from Thursday; Bristol Old Vic (0117 987 7877), from 12 July; Quays Theatre, Salford (0870 787 5793), from 19 July. 'Some Girls': Gielgud, London WC1 (20 7494 5065), Tuesday to 13 August