Very A-Muse-ing

People Online JACQUE JONES

Albert Brooks thinks about inspiration

Ask writers their biggest fear in life and most will undoubtedly reply “writer’s block.” Try to imagine the frantic feeling that your creative well has run dry at the same time that your livelihood depends on it flowing and you’ll get the panic behind Albert Brooks’s new comedy The Muse. Brooks plays a Hollywood screenwriter desperate for inspiration who finds it with a little help from a real-life Muse (Sharon Stone). (The Muses, according to Greek mythology, were the nine daughters of Zeus, who inspired artists with boundless creativity.) She turns out to be so powerful that even such real-life directors as Rob Reiner, Martin Scorsese and James Cameron appear in cameos for a quick consult. Brooks talked with PEOPLE Online’s Jacque Jones about his inspiration for the film, his own muse, writer’s block and being an inspiration to others.

Q: How did the idea for The Muse come about?
A: I always felt that one of the best bits I ever did on “The Tonight Show” was where I literally ran out of material. I was only five years into my career and I just sat in a chair and looked at the camera and said, “I have no more material left. Now don’t think I couldn’t do the cheap stuff because I could. I could drop my pants and draw a face” and I wound up doing all the stuff I said I would never do. That idea of running out and finding someone to come up with stuff is a gift. It’s such a romantic fantasy notion that there’s this goddess looking over you to make sure you can write.

Q: How did you get Sharon Stone?
I called her up and told her what the movie was about. There was a 4-second pause and she said, “OK, I’ll be your muse.” I asked her, “Don’t you want to read the script?” Stone said she’d read it later. I kept saying, “Are you sure, because I’m going to call the studio and tell them?” She said, yes, she’d be the muse. So that was really great. Even goddesses like to gab on the phone.

Q: Who acts as your muse?
It changes from time to time. At this moment, I don’t know. When I first got married, I felt my wife was a muse. At times I still feel she is. Certainly, Monica Johnson [his longtime writing partner] has been very muse-like. Years ago, if I met a woman and even if the relationship lasted two weeks the first two days you’re on cloud nine and you say “Oh my God, I’m in love” and you can go home and write. Songwriters work that way. Sometimes they meet people so they can break up with them so they can write. The nature of a muse is not a 24-hour thing. You can’t expect that of a person. Sometimes a muse can come in the guise of a non-human. It could be an event. You could see some news event and get this huge idea and Dan Rather could be your muse because he brought the event to you. In this movie, it’s literally a person, but it could be a feeling.

Q: How does it make you feel that a lot of young comic actors and filmmakers like Ben Stiller name you as their inspiration?
I’m thrilled about it. I’ve been working for almost 31 years now and you don’t exactly know who’s out there or how people are reacting so when you get feedback like that it makes you feel great. And after all these years, there’s really only two things positive that can happen. You can make 200 million dollars or you can have people say these things in print. If you can have both, you’re really something. But it’s really cool. It makes me feel happy about it.

Q: Have you ever felt blocked and what do you do about it?
I take a long drive. I remember during Defending Your Life, that subject was so complicated and I couldn’t figure out how to do it, so I just sort of moved out to Palm Springs and got away from everybody. I used to write in the bar of the Marriott and watching those boats coming in and out of the lobby. It gave me this idea for Judgment City. You do anything you can. Sometimes it’s best to stop pushing. The down side of that is you can be Terry Malick [The Thin Red Line] and stop for 22 years.