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Hatching a Hollywood fairy tale: watching the filming of his novel Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, gay author Gregory Maguire was impressed with the stars--and the cell phone. (television).

My exposure to TV as a child was limited, therefore I love the special magic of made-for-TV movies--the budget-mart sheen of their sets and their themes alike, to say nothing of the artificial plot climaxes when the coitus interruptus of advertising needs to break in. When I heard that my 1999 novel Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister had been purchased for an ABC TV film, I cherished the slim hope that I too might be invited to the ball--I mean, the filming. I wanted to see the magic close up.

My invitation came in the form of an E-mail communiqu4 from Alliance Atlantis, the company producing the picture. I shopped for clothes with which to make a good impression--mostly mittens, for the filming was to take place in Luxembourg, in what turned out to be northwestern Europe's rainiest, windiest November in the past several decades.

The pumpkin coach was British Airways and then Sabena--actually not coach at all, but business class. When I landed in Luxembourg, a driver from the production company met me and handed me a small plastic implement for my use while in the country.

A cell phone.

I'd never handled one, believe it or not.

The first evening, the executive producer, Ed Gernon (Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows), took me by the elbow and ushered me across the floor of the hotel restaurant. "We're dining with Trudie Styler," he said. "Hi, Trudie!" Sotto voce: "You know who this is, don't you?"

I didn't, and in between the maitre d's podium and the restaurant's best table I could think of no one in Luxembourg to call to find out. Luckily I picked up fairly quickly that this was Sting's wife, and I got around to asking casually, off the cuff--not that it mattered much--whether Sting might be joining us later. (He would not. It wasn't that kind of a fairy tale.)

In my retelling of Cinderella, set in 17th-century Holland, Trudie plays the gypsy queen, a kind of fairy godmother. She is commanding and serene if less portly than your usual fairy godmother. Jonathan Pryce plays the guild portraitist who paints Cinderella in oils. Stockard Channing is Cinderella's stepmother.

Cinderella (in my story, named Clara van den Meer) was brilliantly cast: a young English actress named Jenna Harrison. Possessed of a perfect pout, Jenna is so beautiful that I could almost feel the cameras blinking their lenses in disbelief.

But the so-called ugly stepsisters, Iris and Ruth, make the show. Anything but ugly, the American actress Azura Skye plays Iris with a native tenderness and shrewdness. Her slowwitted sister, Ruth, whose physical deformities have been scaled back for the TV production, is portrayed by Emma Poole, an Oxford-educated young actress.

I'm not a film critic, and maybe I was overly pleased with the good company and the bonhomie on the set. But the production of Confessions seemed a classy affair. Within the limited budget of a TV production, the director, Gavin Millar, presents a two-hour story that reminds one of walking through a gallery of Dutch and Flemish genre paintings. Some of the darker aspects of the characters have been eliminated. But Channing's trademark carriage and vermouthy voice serve her well in the role of a widow desperate to put food in the mouths of her homely daughters, ready to climb the social ladder with her teeth if need be.

I left before the other guests, a very Cinderella thing to do, though I was neither Cinderella nor an ugly stepsister but a kind of beaming stepfather to the project. I did get a gander at the audition tapes of half a dozen very princely types who would have charmed the glass slipper off any scullery drudge. But I had to fly. My partner and I had adopted our first son earlier in the year, and I felt the tolling of the midnight bell calling me home all too soon. When my boys are old enough to understand this sort of fairy tale, they'll better appreciate the message Stockard Channing kindly left for them on our answering machine: "Good night, fellows. Sleep the night through."

I didn't pick up right away that Confessions was intended to air on The Wonderful World of Disney. Though my novel is for adults, I don't mind the Disney association. Perhaps the film will appeal to the teenage girl who lurks inside all of us. So the TV production is prettier than the book--less vinegary, less ambiguous--so what? The novel admits, in conclusion, "Beauty is no end in itself, but if it makes our lives less miserable so that we might be more kind--well, then, let's have beauty, painted on our porcelain, hanging on our walls, ringing through our stories. We are a sorry tribe of beasts. We need all the help we can get."

Maguire is the author of Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West; Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister; Lost; and a dozen books for children.
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Article Details
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Author:Maguire, Gregory
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 19, 2002
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