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Interview with Dennis Lehane, part 2


Here's something I forgot to mention: Lehane's most recent book "The Given Day", a working class epic set in post-WW I Boston and points west that is a kind of local noir version of Dos Passos's  "USA,"  has recently come out in paperback and is also in the process of being adapted for screen with Sam Raimi directing. Just so you're not surprised when this comes up later in the conversation.

PK: A couple of blocks away they're making a movie at Fenway Park called "The Town," it seems to me that that never would've been possible in all this renaissance of filmmaking in Boston had you not written the book "Mystic River" and had Clint Eastwood not made a successful movie out of it. Do you think that that's a fair statement?

DL: I think that between Clint Eastwood making "Mystic River" and the way teamsters began to treat film crews was at that exact moment, created the perfect storm. The good perfect storm and that helped make movies in Boston because originally, before "Mystic River"...I'm trying to think how long the desert lasted before somebody would film a movie in Boston before Clint filmed a movie in Boston.

PK: The problem started I guess with, or most surfaced with "The Brinks Job," there was a heist in more ways than one.

DL: Oh yeah, and then it just continued and then it got worse and worse and worse and worse and you know in the 90s I was in the independent film scene in Boston, horrors, I can tell you-I can't tell you-horror stories about that. I saw some really terrifying things, and it ran everybody out of town. So when Clint came in and kind of worked a deal and said you know if you stick me up don't stick me up too heavily, it worked, and it brought a lot of good things to the city, so for whatever reason, that started. And you know, there's the tax breaks and there's all these other wonderful things that are going on with film communities, so I think "Mystic River" certainly got the ball rolling, but it's weird for me to try, I never want to come off taking credit for most of the things that go on with these movies because they don't have much to do with me, you know, I sold you the book, good luck.

PK: So you were into making movies in the 90s, you just said?

DL: Yeah, yeah. A little tiny film that was a little too much like "Good Will Hunting."

PK: Was that a feature length film?

DL: Yeah, it was, it was. Ben and I had a hilarious conversation about it where I just, I'm one of the only people in America who's never seen "Good Will Hunting" and we, it was just two different scripts out of this zeitgeist  and we filmed almost, pretty much in two months of each other and neither of us has seen each other's film-each other scripts-and all of a sudden, I saw it again, and I was in editing, and I started worrying about this movie, this Gus van Sant  movie, like oh shit, and I saw it and then I thought we're dead.

PK: So does a copy exist?

DL: Oh yes, but I do not show it to people (laugh).

PK: You don't think you're cut out to be a director, or filmmaker?

DL: I discovered that I think I was adequate at it, on one hand I had a good eye, on the other hand I wasn't terribly patient with actors. I could fake it, inside I just wanted to kill them and I think when you see Scorsese work with actors, when you see the way Ben works with actors, you just see this generosity of spirit, which I just don't think I have, I'd be too impatient.

PK: You're more the Otto Preminger type, I guess.

DL: Yeah, well you hear it about a lot of the Irish-Neil Jordan-they just don't want to sit around and chat, you know, like Ang Lee. You know there's certain directors who are just, "What the fuck, hit your marks." And unfortunately I think I'd be more like that and that doesn't make me a good actors' director.

PK:  Plus it's an incredibly painstaking process and you're dependent on so many people, and like when you're just sitting down writing a book...

DL: Oh yeah, or even when we worked on "The Wire," we ran the show pretty much in every single aspect. TV, you're almost the playwright, in a good TV show certainly, premium cable, so the writers, you don't need to be the director, let that guy deal with the camera, you know, we'll deal with the production. So it's something that, it was an itch I scratched and then I went back to doing what I loved.

PK: So, you're happy to let other people do the directing, like Sam Raimi is doing the adaptation of your new book.

DL: Yeah, although Sam's got a lot of irons in the fire right now

PK: Yeah, I just looked at his IMDB thing and it had like twenty projects in development.

DL: Yeah, yeah, so where we'll get, I don't know. I've talked to Sam a couple of times, he is advertised as one of the nicest human beings I've ever met in Hollywood, but where we're going to go, I mean, I don't even think they've hired a screenwriter yet.

PK: And there's nothing like a cast put together or anything like that?

DL: Oh, God no. Literally is just in negotiations with the screenwriter.

PK: When I see the movie of a book that I've read that I liked I always have mixed feelings because it seems they've reimagined the character and have taken the place of the character I've imagined. Do you think that happens with your own characters?


DL: Completely, completely. I just feel like it's an alternate universe and I feel very comfortable with the split, some people don't, I just feel like that's-on the screen that's Sean Penn's Jimmy Markum, that's not my Jimmy Markum, you know what I mean? There's two different people and Sean Penn's interpretation is wonderful but it's a different entity, you know, it's like the film is a giraffe and the book is the apple.

PK: He won an Oscar for it too, he must've been doing something right.

DL: Oh, he was outstanding, I mean, but again, there's just that part of you that goes, "Right, that's brilliant, it's a great interpretation, but a different beast from the character of the book."

PK:  So you never, when you write a book, have an image of an actor or another person?

DL: Every now and then I'll get something and it tends to happen against my defenses because I always fend against that idea, I just don't want to write to the movies, you know, let the movies be the movies, let me just write books and I've had moments, I remember at the end of "Shutter Island" and it just began to pop up very strongly near the end of that book that I was seeing Russell Crowe as Teddy, who was much younger in those days, then they would've thought of him.

PK: That's when you were writing it?

DL: Yeah, it was right at the tail end, for whatever reason, the face came into my head and I remember when I was writing "Mystic River,"  Lili Taylor popped into my head as the Annabeth [played in the film by Laura Linney] character, you know the actress? 

PK: Yeah, right I know her, she's a great actress.

DL: Yeah, and it's funny I told her boyfriend that years later and he was like, "Oh, I don't even know if I should tell her," (laugh), know what I mean? But that was, for whatever reason, those are the only times I can think of it happening.

PK: That book was that your most ambitious book because it seems like you've gone from first person and then to third person and now you've gone from a minimalist into an epic kind of format.

DL: Yeah, I just, the only way I know is to keep sort of walking the path, whatever it is, I can't describe it, I know that everybody wishes at some level, certainly in my business world that I'd be a little more clear about where I go but I can only follow the stories, you know? So right now I'm writing, what, eleven years to the sequel to "Gone Baby Gone?"

PK: So you're going to continue with the two characters? [Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, the detective team in "Gone Baby Gone" and four other Lehane novels].

DL: Yeah, just when I was sure they were dead, like literally I was putting the last nail on the coffin and it just started talking to me: "Hey wait a minute, we got one more in us." So...and I'd like to do a continuation of the world I was dealing with in "The Given Day," you know, after that. But, yeah, I don't know, I never set up to go from minimalist to become epic.

PK: From Carver to Tolstoy.

DL: Yeah, no, no, no, not at all, (laugh). But, it's definitely been an interesting path and I wouldn't trade it for the world. But of course some fans would view, it's like the, the Woody Allen movie, "Stardust Memories," tell funnier jokes.

PK: He never followed that advice, unfortunately.

DL: No, he didn't, although there's some hilarious shit in "Crimes and Misdemeanors."

Next: words of wisdom - "Nobody cares."

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