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Douglas McGrath

On working with Bob, Woody and Carole (Redford, Allen and King)

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Doug McGrath is thrilled Beautiful, the hit musical still playing to sold-out audiences on Broadway, is heading to Idaho. After all, Carole King, the subject of his show, has called Idaho home for more than 30 years.

"I know that people in Idaho have a big place in their heart for Carole, and a big piece of Carole's heart belongs to Idaho," said McGrath. "This is pretty great."

McGrath, who has written and directed for television (Saturday Night Live, L.A. Law) and film (Bullets Over Broadway, Nicholas Nickleby), started out as an actor and, for the better part of the past 20 years, has collaborated with some of the entertainment world's most accomplished artists.

I know much of your acting career is in your rear-view mirror, but I vividly recall your performance in one of my all-time favorite films, Quiz Show.

It was the small but pivotal role of James Snodgrass—he led to the unraveling of the quiz show scandal. I hadn't seen it for years, until recently when I was at the Sundance Film Lab and Bob [Robert Redford, the film's director] said, "Let's screen it for the lab." It really holds up.

By the way, you're one of the few people on the planet who can call Mr. Redford "Bob" and Mr. Allen "Woody."

That's true. I got to know Woody through the woman who is now my wife [Jane Read Martin]. She worked for Woody for years, and they began inviting me to join them for dinner. I was worried that he wouldn't be what I thought he was, but he's exactly what you would think: charming, a great conversationalist and listener, and very curious. I was heart-stoppingly nervous, but I very quickly relaxed and we got along. Many months later, I was in Los Angeles meeting with Bob when my wife called and said, "Woody asked if you might want to write a movie with him." I spent the next 15 minutes, saying, "You better not be joking." She eventually said, nonchalantly, "I though you might be interested."

Of course that turned out to be Bullets Over Broadway, which earned you an Oscar nomination.

A more gracious, generous, writing partner I couldn't imagine. Sometimes, I think I dreamed the whole thing.

You've worked for, or with, some of the best directors of our our time. You've appeared in films by Robert Redford, Woody Allen, Todd Solondz and Michael Mann.

Honestly, I'm not an actor. I'm a writer and director. It was after that I graduated from Princeton when I got a job as a writer for Saturday Night Live, in 1980.

So, I would be remiss if I didn't ask about your time at SNL.

From 1980 to 1981, the uncontested worst year in the show's history.

But critics have said that about many different years over the show's 40-year history.

Believe me, I'm right about the 1980-'81 season. In hindsight, there was one good person in our cast by the name of Eddie Murphy.

Let's talk about Beautiful. I've seen just about every so-called "jukebox" musical on Broadway, stringing popular songs together with a passable script, but Beautiful is an entirely different experience.

Thank you for that. One of the fun parts of the job is that I got to choose all of the songs. Everything had to mesh with the story—I really wanted to write the true story. That meant asking a lot about some very emotional and, quite often, painful things in Carole's life.

That said, Carole King's music can also be a healing salve for those particularly painful wounds. More importantly, those amazing songs help us an audience move her story forward.

And when you really listen to the lyrics of something like "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," and you think about Carole's early years, it's more than the song you think you know. It's truly a very personal expression. And now the show is coming to Idaho which, of course, Carole calls home. Just talking about it gets me pretty excited to bring Beautiful to Boise.