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Film director James Ivory says Lake of the Woods cabin 'goes back to my earliest memories'

LAKE OF THE WOODS — If James Ivory ever needs the perfect setting for a film about life in the years before World War II, he need look no further than the cabin he's been visiting since he was a teenager.

Ivory, 88, is known for his sophisticated, artfully detailed period films such as "Room With a View," "The Bostonians" and "The Remains of the Day." He lives in upstate New York, spends time each year in Venice and visits New York City to see plays and movies. But, less known, he also spends several weeks each summer at the Lake of the Woods cabin that's been in his family since the early 1940s.

"From the time I grew up I had one foot in the city and one foot in the country," says Ivory, while sitting on the front deck of his cabin. It's comfy and cozy, nestled in the pines just a short stroll from the lake.

Ivory, who grew up in Klamath Falls and graduated from Klamath Union High School in 1946, has made pilgrimages to the cabin since he was 14 years old.

"It's the only remaining and existing house that goes back to my earliest memories," he says. He could stay closer to his New York home, "but I've never wanted to do that."

Escapes to Lake of the Woods aren't necessarily escapes from work. Over the years he's refined film scripts, planned publicity campaigns, read books that might inspire future films and, especially during the 1980s and '90s, has written his unpublished, not-yet completed memoirs.

"I've done a lot of work here," he says. "It's always been a good place to work."

This summer's work includes planning his long-delayed filming of "Richard II," a seldom-produced Shakespeare play about an unpopular English king who is deposed and murdered. The play is being staged coincidentally this summer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.

"It was good in its way," Ivory says of the Ashland production. "It was useful. It made me realize you have to be very sure the audience knows what is happening." He's seen other performances of "Richard II" in England, New York and elsewhere: "Wherever it's been produced, I've seen it."

Ivory's fascination with "Richard II" and the ensuing history plays — including "Henry IV" parts one and two, "Henry V," "Henry VI" parts one and two and "Richard III" — began during his college years at the University of Oregon, where he majored in architecture and fine arts.

"It's the contradictions in Richard's character. It's how he starts out and how he ends up," Ivory says of why Richard and the play appeal to him.

"He really loses his identity," going from the all-powerful, entitled king before losing his crown and, at age 33, being imprisoned — and murdered. Ivory, who has done extensive research, believes Richard was the first English king to develop a sense of spectacle, partly through his manner and physical appearance.

"He dressed resplendently," Ivory says. "He was a clothes horse. ... He invented that idea of political showmanship."

Ivory's choice for Richard is Tom Hiddleston, an English actor who's best known for such films as "The Avengers," the ongoing "Thor" series and "I Saw the Light," a recent biography about Hank Williams. Ivory hopes to lure Damien Lewis, best known for television's "Homeland" series, as Bolingbroke. Depending on Hiddleston's schedule, filming could begin next year.

"It's not just straight Shakespeare," Ivory says of the script, which incorporates years of study about Richard.

"Richard II" is just the next project.

"I'd still like to try that no matter how old I get," he says of filming "Twelfth Night," a lighthearted Shakespeare play that's also being performed in Ashland. He envisions Hugh Grant in the starring role, insisting, "He was put on Earth to play Malvolio."

Ivory, whose last film was 2008's "The City of Your Final Destination," recently spent time in Italy working on the screenplay for "Call Me by Your Name," based on the novel by Andre Acimar. Directed by Italian director Luca Guadagnino, the film is expected to be released next year.

While he doesn't expect "Call Me" to be a major commercial success, Ivory has learned he can't predict what movies will and won't be successful.

"I have no idea what they'll enjoy," he says of reactions to his films by critics and audiences. "Who would think 'Howard's End' would become a success? There's the rule of 10. Three films are successful, seven are flops. If the successes are big enough, you're always able to raise more money" for future films.

Whether they were successes, Ivory says the Merchant Ivory Productions films reflect the partnership he shared with Ismail Merchant, who produced nearly 40 films with Ivory until his death in 2005, and novelist Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, the screenwriter for many of the films, including several based on novels by Henry James and E.M. Forster.

"They're all very personal," he says. "Some I like better than others, and some were better than others. Those are expressions of all three of us. Some of the films that were terrible flops were at the center of my life at the time.”

As a film director, Ivory appreciates good movies.

"I often see a film and think, 'I could have directed that,'" he says, noting a movie that fits that category is "Casanova," a 2005 production that starred Heath Ledger. Three recent releases he liked were "Florence Foster Jenkins," "Captain Fantastic" and "Free State of Jones."

How many more films he'll direct is uncertain.

"I've come to the period where I can't expect to do too many more films," Ivory says, barely pausing before adding, "If you're a film director, that's the energy of living. You do what you do best."