John Patrick Shanley once joked that he was doomed to an obituary proclaiming him ''the guy who wrote Moonstruck.'' But that was before he created the 2004 stage show Doubt, a Tony- winning drama set in a Bronx Catholic school in 1964. The story centers on Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), a principal who accuses a parish priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) of sexually abusing a 12-year- old boy the school's only black student. Theater audiences around the world have debated whether Sr. Aloysius is right to push for the priest's removal, despite a lack of conclusive evidence. (Sex-scandal refugee Roman Polanski directed a 2006 Paris run of the show.)
So why didn't Shanley hire Tony winner Cherry Jones (Ocean's Twelve) and Brían F. O'Byrne (No Reservations) from the Broadway cast? ''There was a real possibility of a retread feeling,'' he says. ''I wanted a fresh take.'' He might also have wanted A-list names in his first film-directing effort since 1990's Joe Versus the Volcano. He says going after Streep was ''a no-brainer,'' and she found him a welcome partner because he knew the material so thoroughly going in. Shanley chose pal Hoffman who'd starred in a Chekhov play with Streep because ''I never know what the hell he's going to do. He's the one guy that could make Meryl sweat.''
Still, it's unclear who wound up perspiring. Shanley reports that Streep, while prepping a key confrontation scene, would mutter things like ''I'm gonna kick his a--'' and Hoffman wouldn't answer. Asked about her psych-out
attempts, Streep dodges. ''We have to maintain a certain mystery,'' she says.
OUR TWO CENTS Advance buzz says that Davis, as the boy's mother, seems like a can't-miss Supporting Actress candidate, while Streep looks ineluctably headed toward Oscar nom No. 15. 12/12
DEEP DIVE What does Streep know that you don't about Saint Elizabeth Seton, founder of the bonnett-and-cape-wearing Sisters of Charity? Find out at setonshrine.org