by Sara Michelle Fetters -
SGN Contributing Writer
If author Michael Connelly isn't a household name, it isn't for lack of effort. The writer of over 20 successful pulp thrillers, 16 of them revolving around hardened investigator Harry Bosch, his works have sold over 42 million copies worldwide and been translated into 35 languages. He's had numerous New York Times #1 bestsellers, won the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for Best First Novel in 1992, and saw his book Blood Work turned into a major motion picture by none other than director and star Clint Eastwood in 2002. In short, he's a busy and highly successful guy, and even if his name is unfamiliar chances are many of his characters probably are not.
Connelly was in Seattle to chat about the adaptation of his novel The Lincoln Lawyer starring Matthew McConaughey as fast-talking Los Angeles defense attorney Mickey 'Mick' Holler. It is the second of his works to make it to the big screen, and even though the author is extremely pleased with the finished product, he does find it odd that his most famous character, Harry Bosch, has yet to get cinematic treatment.
'It is curious,' admits Connelly. 'The Bosch character is the deepest character I've gone into because I've written about him in so many books. It seems to me logically there's just more in the way of substance for Hollywood to choose from. At the same time, he's also been in a jail of rights issues, and it is only recently that I've been able to let a deal expire and am now on the road to getting the rights back to Harry Bosch. Then I'll be like a free agent on a baseball team. I'll be able to do with him what I like.'
'But I also look at the Bosch stuff as the most internal of all the characters I've written about. He's a grinder. What I think attracts him to readers is what is going on in his head, and that's very hard to get into a screenplay, to craft into a visual medium. So I also understand why it has taken so long for him to get a movie treatment from that standpoint.'
In many ways, this makes a lot of sense. Mickey Holler is a proactive guy. He's always on the move, always making deals, always trying to stay ahead of the game, working from the backseat of his massive Lincoln Town Car to secure the best for his clients and figure out the proper angle to achieve the maximum amount of success.
'Yeah, I can go along with that,' says the author. 'At the same time, each guy [Holler in The Lincoln Lawyer, Terry McCaleb in Blood Work] has a thing that would translate, in Hollywood terms, into 'high-concept.' There's the guy with the transplant trying to find out who murdered his donor, while here you've got a lawyer who works exclusively out of his car. Nobody has seen those things before. Immediately these concepts lend themselves to Hollywood. The Bosch books have been optioned. Others of my books have been optioned. But these two books were the ones Hollywood chose [to adapt first].'
In the case of this film, the book was optioned by producers before it was even published. But just because that happened quickly, that didn't mean going from page to screen occurred overnight. In the time it took to find a screenwriter, secure a director, and sign up an all-star cast, Connelly had already written two more books featuring the character, and Holler had teamed up with detective Bosch for a pair of literary mysteries.
'Coming from being a journalist,' he explains, 'you've got daily deadlines, and I've got a work ethic that I carried over from the newsroom business. I don't stop writing. Whether they're making a movie or not, it's a long shot that something ultimately ends up making it to the screen. I've had two books turned into movies, but I've probably had 15 or 16 books optioned over the years to Hollywood, so I'm like two for 15 - which isn't a great percentage.'
'You've just got to keep your head and force yourself to sit down and do the work. I'm trying to be the best novelist I can be, and if they make a movie, that's great. If not, that's also good because it doesn't establish the character and potentially change my perception of them.'
I wonder aloud exactly what the author means when he says that, how a motion picture can alter the perception of characters he himself thought up and created from scratch. His answer was hardly a surprise.
'What happened with Blood Work,' begins Connelly, 'was that I had written one other book with [Terry McCaleb] and he was paired with Harry Bosch so he wasn't the main character. In my mind, that character was not anchored strongly enough, so that when Clint Eastwood came along and played the part, Clint Eastwood ended up invading my mind. That's why I don't write about that character anymore. Not because I have anything against Clint Eastwood, but Clint Eastwood from the 1970s isn't the guy I imagined in the book, so it just made it too hard for me to continue on and think about that character.'
'Now, with Lincoln Lawyer, I just finished writing my fourth [Mickey Holler] story, so the character is really solid in my mind - how he thinks, how he looks, and so forth. So while cinematically I see Matthew McConaughey as the perfect Mickey Holler, he's still not the guy I see in my head when I'm writing the books. He hasn't been able to knock down that wall and invade that creative space. I couldn't do it with Eastwood, but I could do that here.'
Which isn't to say Connelly wasn't impressed with what McConaughey brought to the table. The writer was on the set for quite a few days of shooting so he got to see what the actor was doing with his character first-hand, and his praise is as effusive as it gets.
'I don't want to take anything away from McConaughey,' he reiterates. 'I just thought he totally owned this part. And it's not because of the way he looks; it's the way he takes it. Mickey Holler is a guy who always looks for the angle and he knows how to game the system. You could just see McConaughey in this character doing that, even when he's not talking a lot of the time. Just by the way he's walking down a hallway; you can just see he's hungry and looking for the angles. I just love what he did.'
Matthew McConaughey is one of those Hollywood actors who's difficult to get your head around. The guy has always been seen as a major talent ever since he burst onto the scene in Dazed and Confused and A Time to Kill. But so often he seems disengaged, like he's sleepwalking through the majority of his roles, cast time and time again in dismal romantic comedies with the likes of a Kate Hudson or a Sarah Jessica Parker as if that's the only part Hollywood thinks he's capable of.
'It's a question of whether or not they (as in Hollywood) want him to do that, or whether he wants to do that,' muses Connelly. 'I don't know. I was around him a lot when they were making this movie and all I know he was totally on top of it. He was on top of me long before they even started filming, e-mailing me questions about the character, and just on the set & he was really focused and on everything, working with the
director and taking it to that extra degree. This was his film, he's the star of it, and I was very impressed with that.'
The praise for The Lincoln Lawyer after its publication was effusive. USA Today called it 'one of the best novels Connelly has ever written.' His first foray into the legal thriller realm garnered him comparisons to other writers like Scott Turow - comparisons the author does not take for granted.
'It means a lot,' he states sincerely. 'I think of myself still as a journalist at heart, so it means I've done a good job as a journalist in being able to go out, do the research, and report accurate information, and then come back and write a solid story people respond to, one that is believable. It means I've done my job as a journalist correctly, that I've used these skills in a way that readers connect with.'
'The book has a blurb from Scott Turow, and the day my editor told me [he] was endorsing my book was a great day for me, because I was on semi pins and needles wondering how it was going to be received in this era of heavyweight-lawyers-turned-novelists. To have maybe the best of the bunch say I did a great job meant a lot, and is something I'm definitely proud of.'
As for Connelly's legions of fans, I was curious what he would tell them before going into a screening of The Lincoln Lawyer. So many readers become obsessed with every bit of minutia in a book that when a feature film doesn't do the same, they tend to become bitter and angry. How would Connelly respond to them? How would he calm their fears that damage had been done to one of their cherished literary properties?
'I always say to people, 'Don't worry, just relax,' he says with enthusiasm. 'It can get very intense when you love a book. I've had this experience myself. I remember I called in sick from work and went to see Silence of the Lambs the first showing the Friday it came out, and I remember I was full of all kinds of nervousness that the translation would go well. I was shaking right to my core, I was that nervous.'
'I know from experience that many of my readers won't see a movie based on a book that they love, and to me that's a shame as it's just another way of telling the same story - and hopefully telling it well. In this case, I would have no hesitation to tell people to go see this movie because I think they've done an excellent job of capturing the spirit of the novel. More than that, they've captured the essence of Mickey Haller, and [director] Brad Furman captured the milieu of the story to a T. I'm really happy with it, and I'm the guy who wrote the book. If I'm happy with it, then I think you can definitely go see the movie.'
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