The Iconic Career of Lawrence Kasdan


The 2016 Icon Award honoree is perhaps best known for his writing credits on the Star Wars films Empire Strikes BackReturn of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens, or perhaps the classic Raiders of the Lost Ark, which kicked off the Indiana Jones franchise. But Lawrence Kasdan's career as a writer, director, and producer goes much further.

The very first script he ever sold, The Bodyguard, was penned in the 1970s and originally conceived as a vehicle for Steve McQueen and Diana Ross. Audiences remember it for the electric performances of Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, who ultimately starred in the film in the 1990s. It was the one-two punch of Empire Strikes Back in 1980 and Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, however, that made Kasdan famous for his talents at plot construction.

In 1981, Kasdan also added another screenwriting credit to his résumé with Continental Divide (some trivia: it was both John Belushi's penultimate film and the first to be produced by Steven Spielberg's famous Amblin Entertainment), but that was also the year he moved from screenwriter to the director's chair with the steamy noir Body Heat. The critically acclaimed film, which Kasdan also wrote, starred William Hurt and introduced Kathleen Turner to the silver screen.

Kasdan's directing accomplishments have shown a sophisticated appreciation for character development. His filmography behind the camera is a list of poignant ensemble dramas, such as The Big Chill (1983), for which Kasdan earned his first of four Oscar nominations; The Accidental Tourist (1988), which nabbed two more Oscar noms for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay; and the quirky Mumford (1999) in which Zooey Deschanel made her screen debut.

He also directed two notable westerns, a genre that had declined in popularity since its peak in the 1950s and 1960s. Silverado (1985) was a bit of a family affair. Kasdan co-wrote the script with his brother Mark, and his wife Meg played a small role in the film (something she did on three other of her husband's films). Working with family has been a theme of Kasdan's career, not just with his wife and brother, but also with his sons Jon and Jake. It was his partnership with Meg in 1991, co-writing The Grand Canyon (which he also directed) that earned a fourth Oscar nomination, this time for Best Original Screenplay.

As for the film itself, Silverado earned Kasdan a special mention at that year's Venice Film Festival. It also showcased another theme of his career, repeated pairings with particular stars, in this case with Kevin Costner. The film was their second film (following The Big Chill) together, and they'd join up again for Wyatt Earp (1994) and, of course, the aforementioned The Bodyguard. In addition to Costner, other frequent collaborators have included William Hurt (who rejoined both Kasdan and Kathleen Turner on The Accidental Tourist), and Kevin Kline, who appears in six of Kasdan's films.

On May 22, when Kasdan receives the inaugural AJFF Icon Award, it will be the latest in a long line of such honors. From major industry awards to noteworthy film festival credits, his career is often punctuated with such accolades. For example, in addition to an Oscar nomination, The Grand Canyon also earned Kasdan a Golden Bear for best picture at the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival. Before he made his name in Hollywood, his work as an advertising copywriter even earned him a Clio Award. After more than a quarter-century in film, the Writers Guild of America West awarded Kasdan its Screen Laurel Award, screenwriting’s highest honor, in 2006.

So it is no surprise that Kasdan's return to the Star Wars universe was met with cheers from fans around the world. It is also no surprise why AJFF partnered with ArtsATL to make this incredible writer, director, and producer the inaugural recipient of the Icon Award for Contributions to the Cinematic Arts.

Learn more about the program on Sunday, May 22, 2016, when Kasdan will accept his award and join us for an intimate conversation about his career and influences at the Woodruff Arts Center's Rich Auditorium, or become a sponsor of the event.

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