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Where have you been, Tom Hulce?

| Friday, Aug. 13, 2004

You know Tom Hulce, the 49-year-old producer of the film "A Home at the End of the World," which opens here today.

But you know him as an actor, a profession he mostly set aside 10 years ago.

Hulce played Larry "Pinto" Kroger in "Animal House" (1978) before being Oscar-nominated for his leading role as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in "Amadeus" (1984).

He was here with Ray Liotta and Jamie Lee Curtis in the spring of 1987 to film the moving, neglected "Dominick and Eugene" (1988) in which Hulce played a learning-impaired South Side man who worked on a garbage truck to pay his brother's way through medical school.

Hulce was Larry Bruckman in "Parenthood" (1989), Ivan in "The Inner Circle" (1991), Henry Clerval in "Frankenstein" (1994) and the voice of Quasimodo" in Disney's animated "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1996) and its 2002 video sequel.

Voiceovers notwithstanding, he walked away from acting a decade ago.

"My brain just changed. The very particular concerns of climbing inside the fictional circumstances of a part became much less compelling to me than looking at the full concerns of a story and putting all of the pieces together."

The genesis of his producing "A Home at the End of the World" goes back to ... Where do you begin•

The Internet Movie DataBase says Hulce was born Dec. 6, 1953, in Whitewater, Wis., misinformation he admits he disseminated because his parents and other relatives were from there, and he spent childhood summers there.

"In fact I was born in a hospital in Detroit, Mich.

"Around 1969 I was in Ann Arbor, Mich., and there were 11,000 people on the streets, and no one was homeless.

"That was an amazing summer of first adventures with sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll in a way that's quite reverberant to parts of Michael Cunningham's novel (on which the movie is based). It was as if he'd been in some of the same rooms I had with some of the same experiences.

"When it came time to produce a film, this one had chosen me in a way. I read it probably in 1991. The rights became available in the mid-'90s. Michael and I made an agreement that I'd begin working on a film of it. It's been a long process. Five years were spent just on writing. (Cunningham did his own adaptation.)

"It's quite a challenge to take a story where the writer has written such beautiful words and find a cinematic equivalent."

Few had heard of star Colin Farrell until "Home" was close to fruition. Farrell first got noticed in the barely-released "Tigerland" (2000) and then in a now-uncommon total of eight pictures just during the past two years.

"When we got word that Colin was interested (in playing Bobby), the director and I went to Los Angeles to meet with him. I had seen 'Tigerland.' He was in the middle of making a movie for which he was being paid a few million dollars more than the entire budget of our film.

"We knew we wanted the actor playing Jonathan to be someone the audience didn't know." Dallas Roberts was selected.

And Sissy Spacek, who plays Jonathan's mother?

"All I know is they sent the script to her, and over a weekend we heard she wanted to have a conversation with the director (Michael Mayer). We knew we wanted to have one of the great screen actresses."

And so, finally, "Home" happened. But producers cannot live by one film per decade.

"In the last eight years I had a five-year process with a stage version of John Irving's novel 'The Cider House Rules.' That was a two-evening production. I developed that and directed it and shepherded it. It played about six months in Los Angeles and then in New York.

"And I worked with a collection of Alan Bennett plays called 'Talking Heads' that was in New York and previous to that in Los Angeles."

Looking ahead, "A number of projects could land as early as a year from this fall. A lot of them have a major musical component so that could be great fun.

"I'd love to do a theater piece with (singer-songwriter) Patty Griffin. Another project has a jazz component.

"Another still is the story of an all-girl orchestra during World War II."

Like Phil Spitalny's•

"Why do you ask that ... because that's exactly what I'm talking about. My mom sang with them right after the war. I have the recordings. It would be a fictional version inspired by him and his orchestra. I wish it could be for the theater, but my guess is it will be for film."

Backtracking a little, was it true that for "Amadeus" director Milos Forman didn't want to cast anyone in the part he already had played on stage•

"Yes, and my great good fortune was the fact I hadn't played Mozart on stage."

And have you seen (Oscar-winning co-star and Pittsburgh native) F. Murray Abraham since•

"We live right across the street from each other (in New York), and we never run into each other."

And you'll never act again?

"After 10 years away from acting, I'm just beginning to miss it. So who knows what that means."

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