by

Zoë Lund

Jan. 23, 1997

Bad Lieutenant was written a year before the film was shot. I completed the script in a couple of weeks. Not much changed in the screenplay after that. Until shooting commenced. Upon viewing the rushes, we found that certain scenes weren't functioning properly: Those that concerned LT, his mistress, Ariane, and his mistress' mistress, Bowtay. For reasons that were deeply personal at the time, Harvey gave off a peculiar vibration when he neared any female. These "sexy" scenes just didn't work. In fact, in the film, Harvey has virtually no physical contact with women. In the "dance" preceding his famous nude scene, the two girls (actually Ariane and Bowtay) are doing little more than hold him upright. With the Jersey Girls, he masturbates outside the car while they pose and mime for him within. Surely, Harvey's most sensual act involving a woman is the kiss he gives to the elderly, crack-dealing matriarch. This alienation ended up working very well in the film. In fact, I am happy it turned out this way. But it necessitated the cutting of the scenes between LT and his mistresses. It also made it imperative that some of the material from those scenes be given to a new character. A woman who may or may not really be his mistress, but is certainly his dope connection and his medium: My character. The two scenes involving the woman called, "Zoë" (Abel dubbed her that in the credits without my knowledge), were written in the midst of production. In fact, I began and finished them within an hour of shooting. Then, the two scenes were shot one after another. My character took over the salient material from the now-absent mistresses, and then, gained a life of her own. I added an entirely new element to those scenes that had nothing to do with the old mistresses. This profound content was conceived spontaneously, as I thought about this new character, and the as-yet-unmet needs of the film as a whole.

In sum, I believe that the elimination of the mistress scenes, and the addition of my character, created a better film. It's a perfect example of how a spontaneous and creative attitude at every stage of production can solve most any problem. Of course, the most dire problems may end up being positive developments. Also, it was essential that everyone on the set be sensitive to exactly what we had when we engaged Harvey. The human material that is an actor is not always the same from film to film, year to year. It always comes with baggage, with advantages and disadvantages peculiar to that moment in the actor's life. We could have used the best take of Harvey and the mistresses. Forced the thing through. Instead, we let Harvey be himself being LT. That's why LT is the wonderful, authentic character as you know him. Filmmaking is an organic, dialectical process. You will constantly be denied and offered opportunities. Usually, one is obliged to turn a loss into a discovery. That's what happened with the script for Bad Lieutenant.

The "final script" includes the mistress scenes and doesn't include my character. Also, there were many small changes that occurred on-set. As I was present all the time, I was continually working directly with the actors and everybody else. I came in every day with pages of changes, and new ideas. But many additions were never even written down on paper. The script-girl must have a version of the script that reflects this final whole. What is necessary is that someone make a direct transcript from the screen. Then, the script as actually implemented will truly exist in its entirety. This will be very fulfilling to me, as I feel my work of art exists nowhere on paper. I don't grieve too much, however, for it lives on film.

Zoë talks about the script of "Bad Lieutenant"