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Robert De Niro and Robin Williams visit me for Awakenings


Being approached to make a film about Awakenings
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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Then in, I think, '87, '88, the long dormant option of making a film with Awakenings surfaced, rather suddenly, and I was approached, I think it was at Halloween in '88, they said Peter Weir had been very taken by the subject, he would be visiting New York and hoped to meet me, and they would be sending a script to me.

I'm sorry, I've omitted something which is that the... obviously there was a visit the previous year with the two producers and a script writer, a man called Steve Zaillian. I... but I hadn't seen any scripts, and suddenly here was a script and a film director. If only there had been more time. The script arrived as I’ve said, in fact, on Halloween night and... which is sometimes called Fright Night in America, and I think this partly tainted my reaction to the script which... this original script, which I thought was melodramatic and... and frightful in the extreme and designed to cause fright and was, sort of, a Halloween version of Awakenings. And then the next day Peter Weir came, and this was very unfortunate, he was a director whom I greatly admired, but I could not accuse and abuse the... the script strongly enough, and he said, well, I can hardly make a film, you know, where the author hates the script. And... but he also said that he wasn't sure that he... how did he put it, he had some Australian phrase, only someone who lives in Australia... reefs... shoals and reefs, yes. He said that he felt there would be many shoals and reefs in making a film about Awakenings.

Incidentally I have... I always visited Peter when I went to Australia and he visited me here and we've been good friends, and I... I love his work.

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) was born in England. Having obtained his medical degree at Oxford University, he moved to the USA. There he worked as a consultant neurologist at Beth Abraham Hospital where in 1966, he encountered a group of survivors of the global sleepy sickness of 1916-1927. Sacks treated these patients with the then-experimental drug L-Dopa producing astounding results which he described in his book Awakenings. Further cases of neurological disorders were described by Sacks with exceptional sympathy in another major book entitled The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat which became an instant best seller on its publication in 1985. His other books drew on his rich experiences as a neurologist gleaned over almost five decades of professional practice. Sacks's work was recognized by prestigious institutions which awarded him numerous honours and prizes. These included the Lewis Thomas Prize given by Rockefeller University, which recognizes the scientist as poet. He was an honorary fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and held honorary degrees from many universities, including Oxford, the Karolinska Institute, Georgetown, Bard, Gallaudet, Tufts, and the Catholic University of Peru.

Listeners: Kate Edgar

Kate Edgar, previously Managing Editor at the Summit Books division of Simon and Schuster, began working with Oliver Sacks in 1983. She has served as editor and researcher on all of his books, and has been closely involved with various films and adaptations based on his work. As friend, assistant, and collaborator, she has accompanied Dr Sacks on many adventures around the world, clinical and otherwise.

Tags: Awakenings, Steven Zaillian, Peter Weir

Duration: 2 minutes, 45 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012