Ang Lee and James Schamus: Partners for Life

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Published November 19, 2009

“The most miserable, boring, long-winded pathetic pitch I had ever heard in my life,” is how producer and screenwriter James Schamus describes his first meeting with director Ang Lee.

Their first meeting might have been a dud, but twenty years, eight movies, and a few Oscars later, the partnership has turned out to be one of the most successful in Hollywood.  Lee was equally effusive about their collaboration, explaining, “James is always part of the movie. I don’t see him as producer or writer: He’s a collaborator.” Last night, the National Arts Club celebrated the duo by giving each a Lifetime Achievement Award. Sneaking in among certified club members were Sigourney Weaver and Christina Ricci, both of whom starred in 1997’s Schamus-Lee collaboration, The Ice Storm.

Crowded into an alcove filled with wood carvings of angry lions, Weaver remembered her own first encounter with the honorees, which occurred on the birth of Schamus’s second child: “So there Ang and I were and we were so shy I don’t think we spoke for twenty minutes.” They finally decided that The Ice Storm should be a comedy, and Lee let Weaver pick her part among the cast of characters. Ricci, only fifteen at the time of shooting, remembers to Lee and Schamus as forgiving parental figures. Playing in a film set in the 1970s, the actress had no idea why she was wearing a Nixon mask: “I think they both secretly knew I didn’t do the homework.”