EXCLUSIVE: Months after becoming the Oscars’ oldest winner for adapting Call Me By Your Name, James Ivory has found a follow-up. He’ll adapt for director Alexander Payne and Fox Searchlight The Judge’s Will, based on an article in the New Yorker. It is a special assignment, given that the article was written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who was screenwriter on 23 films Ivory directed in their long partnership with producer Ismael Merchant. Now, he’ll adapt the last article she wrote before she died.
Conde Nast Entertainment’s Jeremy Steckler and Dawn Ostroff will produce with Ad Hominem Enterprises, the company Payne runs with Jim Burke and Jim Taylor.
Jhabvala wrote the article about the final moments in the chess game relationship between an ailing Delhi judge and his Bombay wife. Each had separate lives even though they lived under the same roof and, as he nears death, the judge wants to be sure that his even younger, barely educated mistress is cared for and not cast out.
The story was published in 2014 and Payne and Searchlight moved quickly to option it. Payne got busy with other projects and never had it adapted. Then Ivory, who directed so many of Jhabvala’s scripts, got the nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay and Payne asked him if he would take on another writing job. He liked Payne’s idea to move the film from India to Chicago, believing that Jhabvala would herself have embraced the suggestion.
“It’s a universal enough premise, the business of a wealthy man having a mistress and wanting to take care of her after he dies,” Ivory told Deadline. “You feel her influence, her way of thinking about people and relationships. There were people she wasn’t fond of when she met them, and in time grew to like them very much and she didn’t hold on to her dislikes. The family, needing to take care of the mistress, to worry about her, that seems a very Ruth way of looking at things.”
Ivory met recently with Payne, and is allowing himself a summer vacation in Europe but intends to turn in his draft by year’s end. Ivory is repped by Paradigm.