When Steven Spielberg offered him a crack at writing TThe Bridges of Madison County, Richard LaGravenese hesitated. Despite his reputation as a master of dialogue, he felt tongue-tied by romantic Ubermensch Robert Kincaid. ''It was a little difficult finding his voice,'' says the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of The Fisher King and The Ref. ''I wasn't interested in his philosophy so much.''
That was fine with Spielberg, who greenlighted a draft that ignored Kincaid's mythic musings. But then along came other directors Bruce Beresford, who hired a new writer, then Clint Eastwood, who returned to LaGravenese's script with a proviso: ''Clint felt strongly that certain touchstones needed to be retained,'' he explains. In went such Kincaid chestnuts as ''The old dreams were good dreams; they didn't work out, but I'm glad I had them.''
LaGravenese's judicious tailoring of Bridges remains: scenes that bring lonely Francesca to the fore; the addition of a scorned, adulterous neighbor to illustrate the hazards in Francesca's choices; the touches of humor; and the friction he added to the book's conflict-free affair. ''When you're in love that much, you don't just feel euphoria, you feel fear, threatened, rage,'' says the 35-year-old former comedy club performer, legs draped over an armchair in his apartment on New York's Central Park.
Retooling comes easily to LaGravenese, who lives with his wife, Ann, and daughter, Lily, 4. He co-penned the script of another cherished book, A Little Princess, there too taking liberties while respecting the story's essence. His next adaptation, out this fall, is Franz Lidz's boyhood memoir, Unstrung Heroes, directed by Diane Keaton. Soon, he'll return to an original project, The Mirror Has Two Faces, for Barbra Streisand. And then it's on to his directorial debut, a comedy he's writing, loosely inspired by Chekhov stories. LaGravenese is pleased to be returning to his favorite voice: his own.