How We Met: Neil LaBute & Anna Waterhouse

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The Independent Online

Anna Waterhouse 36

A highly successful West End theatre producer, Waterhouse has put on star-studded plays including 'Some Girl(s)', 'Fat Pig' and 'Oleanna'. She lives with her partner and children in London

When a person makes a living writing about the dark hearts of characters, you do worry what they're going to be like in person. I'd just moved to LA, in 2002, having produced my first West End play, This is Our Youth, and as a massive fan of Neil's work, I was interested in turning one of his short stories into a film. I got in touch with his agent, and Neil and I had lunch at a West Hollywood restaurant; it was a relief to discover that he was incredibly gentle and warm.

He's a private man, but I must have made a good first impression, as he began inviting me over to his house on Saturday mornings to read through new material he had. I'd sit in this great-looking lounge in a beautiful house in LA, reading his scripts while he made the coffee, and we connected over long chats about theatre. I thought I'd be the junior partner, but he took my ideas seriously, and when I suggested we put David Schwimmer up for a part in one of his scripts and aim it at a larger audience, he seemed very excited. The play, Some Girl(s), was a huge success; I felt like I'd proved myself to him, and it's turned into a really special ongoing collaboration.

Socially, we're very different. I like going out, having a few drinks, while he's teetotal and prefers to stay at home. In groups, I'm really outgoing, while he likes to be the silent observer. We might have a dinner with, say, Aaron Eckhart and Christian Slater, and while everyone is chatting merrily, Neil prefers to watch it all unfold, occasionally adding a carefully considered comment; he never bombards you with nonsense. When it's just us, he's very different; we both have an infantile sense of humour, and we end up laughing hysterically about the silliest things.

Neil is one of the most generous people I know. When my son Holden got very sick back in 2009, I decided to run a 10K event to raise money for the hospital he was in, and before anyone else had sponsored me, Neil gave £500.

Although we have had artistic disagreements, we've never had a harsh word for each other; in an industry often filled with tension, that's extraordinary.

Neil LaBute 48

A prolific American playwright and film director, LaBute's body of work ranges from Hollywood films such as 'Nurse Betty' and 'Lakeview Terrace' to controversial Broadway and West End productions such as post-9/11 drama 'The Mercy Seat' and edgy romance 'Fat Pig'. He lives in LA

Anna contacted me after moving to LA, about using some of my short-story material for a film, and when we got talking I found out she was a West End theatre producer who had a number of connections with recognisable actors. I don't write with actors in mind and my play material isn't written for a specific venue, so I needed someone who had vision and the confidence to make my stuff work in the marketplace, and Anna seemed to mesh with my sensibilities. She didn't fit that cliché of some cigar-chomping "We'll make things happen, hell or high water" producer. She was young, calm, keen and seemed to care about my work in a non-commercial way; she understood the process. And she made me believe it was possible to replicate a small, intimate off-Broadway experience in a 700-seat theatre.

Once she moved back to London, several years later, we kept in touch by phone and whenever I returned to London to work with Anna, her fantastic professionalism and spirit eventually turned our collaboration into friendship.

We both share a sweet tooth, so we've taken myriad trips to [London cake shop] Konditor & Cook; it has delicious brownie flavours such as pecan, and stem ginger. But while we both succumb to guilty pleasures, she's a lot fitter than me; Anna's about to start training for another marathon. I walk, sure, but I don't plan on running 26 miles – that's a job for the local taxi service.

Some producers want to be a writer, so they're kind of giving you prescriptions. But Anna understands that ultimately it's my vision, even if she might on occasions think, "That's not how I'd do it." But I can get too close to my material, so I'll say the same thing in several ways, several times, and she's great at picking that out.

When I'm in London, we go to [West End restaurant] J Sheekey for lunch, which we're both fond of. She's a great dining companion. I love how open she is; people who claim to know everything make me suspicious, but she's quick to say when she doesn't know something.

For me, friendship comes over a period of time, and it's because of the trust we have built up that we have such exciting plans for the future.

'In a Forest, Dark and Deep', written by Neil LaBute, produced by Anna Waterhouse, is at the Vaudeville Theatre, London WC2, to 4 June (