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Phyllis Nagy: From the movie to the writer

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Phyllis Nagy profile

Phyllis Nagy: From the movie to the writer

Phyllis Nagy profile
Phyllis Nagy’s screenplay for the movie Carol has won her accolades. For writers, it’s usually best to let the work speak for themselves.

But this time, we were curious: who is Phyllis Nagy?

Here’s a look at the award-winning scriptwriter and playwright, and why her effort to bring novelist Patricia Highsmith’s book The Price of Salt to screen is part of her commitment to her craft.

The works of Phyllis Nagy

Born in New York City in 1962, Nagy has lived in London since 1992. She is a Writer in Residence at the Royal Court Theater and is also writing for the Royal National Theater and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

However, instead of movies, she has written a number of plays, like Weldon Rising (1992), Butterfly Kiss (1994), an adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel The Scarlet Letter (1995), Trip’s Cinch (1994), Disappeared (1995), The Strip (1995), and Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999).

She has also directed the first production of Disappeared and The Scarlet Letter in the UK, as well as the Italian-language premiere of Never Land in Rome.

Recently, she tried her hand at movies as writer/director of her first feature film, Mrs Harris, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2005.

The obsessions of Phyllis Nagy

Nagy was struggling as a playwright in the US, but when she moved to London in 1992, she quickly found recognition.

In the introduction to Nagy’s collected first four plays– entitled Plays One (1998)– Michael Coveney theorized that her works’ popularity with British audience is probably because her “local obsessions come up sharper when seen out of their immediate cultural context.”

“We can relish her characteristic exotica, her details of language and topography, in a fiercer focus, as we do those of Sam Shepard, another great poetic American monitor of specific landscapes and weird and winding adventures,” Coveney noted.

For the British Council, Elizabeth o’Reilly wrote that Nagy– being a gay writer and a transatlantic emigrant– is “no stranger to the experience of challenging conventional expectations of gender, culture and nationhood.”

“However, her work explores far beyond the autobiographical, and her characters subvert boundaries and conventions in many different ways,” o’Reilly.

The commitment of Phyllis Nagy

Nagy had wrote the script for Carol in the late 90s, going through four main drafts even as various names were attached to– and detached from– the project.

But despite the setbacks, Phyllis was determined to make the late Highsmith, a good friend despite the distance of an ocean between them, proud.

In a video to aspiring writers, she said, “Never forget that the best thing they can do is say no. Learn what you re good at and don’t be tempted by things you’re not because you fear not getting a job.”

“It’s never works if you do. Learn to say no, protect that,” she said.

Check out our Phyllis Nagy interview in our latest March issue of LesbianNews as she talks about writing the critically-acclaimed script for the movie, Carol.

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