Remembering New England Screenwriter Douglas Cook
For nearly three decades, David Weisberg and Douglas Cook were an inseparable screenwriting team who penned several action blockbusters, including 1996’s The Rock and 1999’s Double Jeopardy.
Their latest thriller, Criminal starring Kevin Costner and Ryan Reynolds, hits theaters this weekend. Sadly, it’s the final project that Douglas was able to work on before he passed away last summer.
While they weren’t instant best friends when they met on the first day of school at Phillips Exeter Academy way back in 1974, the duo became very close over the years, eventually forming a relationship not all that different from a marriage.
“Once you’re a writing team, you’re a writing team,” David says. “We were essentially married for the next 25 years.”
Their paths veered a bit after spending their high school years in New Hampshire. Doug wound up at Harvard and got his feet wet in the filmmaking industry out west following graduation, while David declined attending Yale in order to be a theater director in New York.
Struggling to make ends meet in the Big Apple, David decided to give Douglas a ring to see if his old classmate would be interested in a screenplay he had written. Douglas thought the script wasn’t that bad and encouraged David to pursue his dreams by moving to California.
Eventually, the pair ended up collaborating on a screenplay for a Showtime movie called Payoff. David admits that the film was laughably bad, but it started what would be an amazing, decades long partnership and friendship.
According to David, neither writer had an ego when it came to their work. It was always a team effort that thrived due to their courtesy and respect for each other.
“Doug and I always wrote at one computer monitor with two keyboards,” David says. “Nobody really had pride of authorship.”
Mack, Douglas’ son and a Northeastern graduate, remembers playing hooky from school just to watch the men work out of his father’s back office as they chain-smoked cigarettes.
Although Hollywood was just down the block, Mack says that Douglas never succumbed to the allure of celebrity life. He was a family man who never forgot his roots and loved spending time with his wife, son, and daughter.
“He was a quiet Boston boy that got thrown into this life of Hollywood,” Mack says. “He drove a Prius and worked out of our guest house, that was his life.”
While working on Criminal, family took on an even bigger role for Douglas as his wife Justine, a former casting director and production manager for the Marat Daukayev School of Ballet, was diagnosed with cancer.
At a moment’s notice he’d drop what he was doing in order to be by his wife’s side during weekly chemotherapy treatments. Somehow, Douglas found the time to not only write a movie with David, but he put in the effort to make sure that the project made it to the big screen.
“Being the spouse of someone with cancer is like having a job,” David says. “It was just really challenging.”
Unfortunately, Justine passed away in 2013, but Douglas never stopped being a rock for his family.
Mack recalls that, just like the one-liners in some of his movies, Douglas always knew how to make him and his sister, Hannah, laugh. The levity helped the siblings get through the “rough and dark times.”
“He was always somebody that put a smile on people’s faces,” Mack says. “I would consider him one of the funniest men I knew.”
Following Douglas’ death last year, his writing partner and family are trying to move forward with their lives, but it hasn’t been easy.
Despite working solo these days, David still writes out of their old office at his friend’s guest house three days a week. He’s currently working on a series for Fox with Criminal director Ariel Vromen, but it’s been strange not having Douglas by his side.
For Mack, he’s been inspired to pursue his own creative endeavors and hopes to one day follow in his father’s footsteps.
“Every father is their child’s inspiration, so to speak, but I wish that I could follow in his footsteps,” Mack says. “He was an incredible light in my life.”
Criminal is now in theaters.
Editor’s Note: In the interest of full disclosure, the author of this post was roommates with Mack Cook in college.