'Atlas Shrugged:' Who is James Hart?
by Scott Holleran
Ayn Rand
May 18, 2003

HOLLYWOOD (Box Office Mojo) - Atlas Shrugged is not the first literary adaptation for James V. Hart.

The screenwriter penned the screenplays for Carl Sagan's Contact, the Peter Pan-derived Hook, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and last year's Tuck Everlasting. He also recently finished the upcoming adaptation of Clive Cussler's best-selling novel Sahara.

Hart told Box Office Mojo that Ayn Rand's epic novel, which traces what happens—and why—when the world's creators go on strike, wasn't exactly his favorite novel.

"I hated [Atlas Shrugged] in college," the 56-year-old New Yorker admitted. "It was the peace and love era and the values of the time weren't consistent with Ayn Rand's philosophy. Years later, I read it again and it blew me away. I've read it four times in the last six months."

What changed Hart's mind?

"We're on the threshold of what Ayn Rand predicted," he noted. "Socialism has crept into everything and we're penalizing the thinkers, the movers and shakers for being successful. In a way, the world that Ayn Rand created in Atlas Shrugged *is* the United States today."

The idea that the world's creators would stop creating appealed to Hart, who has written movies directed by Spielberg, Coppola and Zemeckis. "It always impressed me that this was a strike not of workers but of thinkers," he said. "It's a strike of the movers, the doers and dreamers."

Hart said he was drawn to one of the novel's prime movers—main character Dagny Taggart, a brilliant businesswoman who runs a transcontinental railroad. The character's fierce independence and ruthless rationality make her irresistible to the novel's industrialists, innovators and businessmen.

"Dagny Taggart is the woman of my dreams," Hart declared. "She has six of the most incredible men I've ever read who are deeply, madly in love with her. She's a staggering character. My goal is to tell Dagny Taggart's story."

While Hart declined to speculate about casting, when asked, he did mention a few actresses who might be right for the part.

"Julia Roberts. Jodie Foster—she was wonderful in Contact. Ashley Judd," he suggested. "If I do my job, they'll be raising their hands. I think there will be a large list of female actors who want to play Dagny. I really don't want to slight anyone so I'm very reluctant to name anyone in particular. If Carole Lombard was around, I'd cast her."

As he begins the process of adapting one of the most challenging and popular novels of the 20th century, Hart is restrained. Still, Box Office Mojo managed to learn a few key script details.

"It will be not be [set in the past]," Hart revealed. "This is 15 years in our future. John Galt, Hank Rearden—these are the kind of heroes we don't see anymore. All the main characters stay. Jim Taggart and Cherryl are in there. Eddie Willers is in there—he's the voice."

Hart's take on John Galt—the man who leads the strike and stops the motor of the world—echoes Rand's literary presentation of Galt as heroic, mysterious and larger than life. For much of the novel, Galt is a mythical figure in a collapsing society and isn't introduced until late in the story. Hart aims to honor Rand's legendary, philosophical puzzle: Who is John Galt?

"It's like with Dracula," Hart pointed out. "Dracula only appears in about 60 pages of Bram Stoker's novel. But he's always there."

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