"I love it," the 57-year-old novelist said at the film's premiere Dec. 7 at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. "I feel not just extremely well-treated, but the finished film really looks better than I imagined it."
Kudos from the author should be praised enough, but the adaptation, which Irving penned himself, has won acclaim on its own: On Dec. 8, the National Board of Review, one of the early indicators for the Academy Awards, named "The Cider House Rules" the best screenplay of 1999.
The coming-of-age film stars Tobey Maguire as Homer, a young man growing up in an orphanage in Maine in the 1940s. Sheltered and reared as the successor to the orphanage doctor (Michael Caine), he decides instead to strike out on his own after meeting a young couple (Charlize Theron and Paul Rudd).
As he forges a new life as an apple picker and falls in love, Homer finds that his past collides with his present, forcing him to decide where he really belongs. The film is directed by Lasse Hallstrom, who helmed "What's Eating Gilbert Grape."
"They hadn't been taught enough lessons to know how to get it wrong," the actor said. "They were still sincere children, rather than knowing half-trained actors, which is the worst kind of person to work with.
"That's why some children are a pain in the neck, because they know enough to foul it up and not enough to do it right. These children didn't know enough to foul it up, or they knew how to do it right, so they were real kids."
The film also stars Delroy Lindo, Kathy Baker, Jane Alexander, Kieran Culkin, singer Erykah Badu and rapper Heavy D. The rapper said he was bitten by the acting bug upon making an appearance on TV's "A Different World" and plans to balance movies with music.
"My life is great right now," he said. "Sitting around all this talent ... I'm the guy who sits back, watches everybody, sees what they're doing.
"I would ask them a million questions: 'Is this right? Am I feeling this right? Doing this right?' and there were times I didn't have to be on the set, and I would just go and watch. ... It doesn't happen a lot. I thought I was very fortunate."