Chris Lee always sends the most interesting dispatches to the mighty Hero Complex. Like his piece on Kevin Smith confessing that his weight was so bad that he broke a toilet or the one about “The Transporter” hero being gay. Lee walks the weird edge of the showbiz beat, and here’s his latest must-read scoop…
In Quentin Tarantino’s freewheeling World War II action-drama “Inglourious Basterds,” which hits theaters today, Eli Roth gets his biggest film role to date. He portrays a rage-fueled Jewish-American covert operative out to destabilize Nazis in German-occupied France through terrorism. While other “basterds” collect Nazi scalps, Roth’s character Donnie Donowitz — who’s dubbed “the Bear Jew” by fear-stricken Nazi troops in the movie — prefers to bash their brains out with a baseball bat. (There’s more about his crucial part in “Basterds” in this story about Roth that ran in The Times last Sunday.)
If you know anything about Roth, though, you are well aware that acting is just a sideline. He’s the writer-director-producer of controversial “torture porn” movies “Hostel” and “Hostel Part II.” The polarizing horror auteur, who is both loved and loathed by film fans, burst on the scene in 2002 with his debut feature “Cabin Fever,” a canny, low-budget horror flick that made a bundle for Lionsgate and put Roth squarely on the Hollywood map.
What you may not know about Roth, however, is that before upsetting horror purists with such cinematic gems as a woman getting her eyeball blow-torched and a cheerleader doing a splits onto a giant hunting knife, he was seriously considering a movie adaptation of “Baywatch.”
He told me all about that brush with potential greatness earlier this month while sitting on a synthetic rock outside Hollywood’s ArcLight Cinemas.
“After ‘Cabin Fever,’ I had this meeting at CAA with my agents,” Roth said. “They said, ‘There’s this project and this project, but what do you think about directing “Baywatch”?’ And I was like, ‘I want to do it! I’ll cash in all my credibility!‘”
He continued: “They said, ‘There’s no writer.’ So I called up my friend Richard Kelly, the man who did a movie called ‘Donnie Darko.’ I was like, ‘Rich, I have a great idea. It’ll be ridiculous. We’ll make it like a “Simpsons” episode, totally absurd.’ And so we went and met with the producers who owned the rights. We said, ‘You can say, “From the creators of ‘Cabin Fever’ and ‘Donnie Darko’ — ‘Baywatch 3-Double-D’!”‘”
Roth and Kelly enthusiastically pursued the project, envisioning the blow back from their core constituencies.
“The fanboys will riot!” Roth said. “The Internet nerds will go crazy, saying, ‘Those dorks just wanted to meet girls in bikinis and they couldn’t do it any other way! We supported your weirdo movies and now you sold us out to hang out with a bunch of bimbos!'”
Then, of course, a cold blast of Hollywood reality intervened.
“We went on a bunch of pitch meetings and the next thing that happened was DreamWorks wanted it, but they wanted it to be an action movie. They wanted to hire their own writer and director. So all those jokes went out the window. Then I went off to direct ‘Hostel.'”
Like a jilted lover, Roth still pines for the one that got away and, worse, is now seeing other guys. “The producers have got one of the writers of ‘The Hangover’ to write it now,” he said. “Which is exactly what I thought it should be.”
— Chris Lee
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CREDITS: Eli Roth portrait by Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times. “Baywatch,” GTG Entertainment, photo from the Los Angeles Times archives. Roth in “Basterds,” Weinstein Co. Tarantino portrait by Spencer Weiner/Los Angeles Times.