'Tom Was Lestat For Me': Authors Who Loved the Film Versions of Their Books

Authors are notorious for hating the movie adaptations of their work, but Philip K. Dick, Dennis Lehane, Anne Rice and others found themselves pleasantly surprised.
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Warner Bros.

Last week, Flavorwire had a good laugh at the recently uncovered notes from the producers of Blade Runner, who seemed united in their hatred for the "deadly dull" sci-fi noir that would prove one of the most influential movies of the '80s. But it's important to remember that some of those casually involved in the production actually liked it quite a bit—particularly Philip K. Dick, whose book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was the basis of Ridley Scott's film. And while there's a long (and enjoyable) history of authors loathing what Hollywood does to their books, there are a few examples of writers who are utterly delighted with their page-to-film adaptations.

Philip K. Dick, Blade Runner

In a lovely letter written to the Ladd Company shortly before he died (and before Blade Runner hit theaters), author Dick expressed his enthusiasm for what he had seen of the film, and boldly predicted its response. "The impact of BLADE RUNNER is simply going to be overwhelming, both on the public and on creative people," Dick wrote, "and, I believe, on science fiction as a field... Nothing that we have done, individually or collectively, matches BLADE RUNNER. This is not escapism; it is super realism, so gritty and detailed and authentic and goddam convincing that, well, after the segment I found my normal present-day 'reality' pallid by comparison. What I am saying is that all of you collectively may have created a unique new form of graphic, artistic expression, never before seen. And, I think, BLADE RUNNER is going to revolutionize our conceptions of what science fiction is and, more, can be." In conclusion, he tells producer Jeff Walker, "My life and creative work are justified and completed by BLADE RUNNER." Not exactly faint praise, that.

Elmore Leonard, Jackie Brown

Quentin Tarantino took a few liberties with Elmore Leonard's book Rum Punch, changing the race and last name of its leading character to accommodate Pam Grier and the title to reflect her importance. But Leonard was still thrilled with Tarantino's film, which he says is his favorite dramatization of one of his books. "I've had some good ones," he said of his film adaptations. "Get Shorty and Out of Sight, and the one Tarantino did, Jackie Brown, those are good movies. And Tarantino's especially stayed close to the book. I was surprised that he stayed closer than anyone. And there have been other adaptations that have varied widely for the worse. That's the way it is with making movies. Most of them are not that good, so you kind of expect that. Hopefully it won't happen with yours."

James Ellroy, L.A. Confidential

"I think that if a writer options a novel to a studio or to filmmakers in general," novelist James Ellroy said in 1997, "then he has an obligation to keep his mouth shut if the movie gets made and it's all fucked up." But Ellroy helped promote Curtis Hanson's Oscar-winning adaptation of L.A. Confidential, telling reporters, "I am in the wonderful position of actually wanting to open my mouth and extol L.A. Confidential the film." Of the script, Ellroy said, "I saw that they had done a good job of compressing my story while maintaining the overall dramatic thrust of it, and I saw that they had contained the narrative structure of the three men. Of course when I saw the film it was very, very taken with it." Asked to compare his work and the movie, he shrugged, "The book is black type on white paper and the film is visual. That's it. It's a brilliantly compatible visual form of the novel."

Dennis Lehane, Mystic River

"I didn't want to sell Mystic River," Lehane told The Atlantic in 2004. "I didn't think anyone could film it, since the vast majority of it happens inside the characters' minds. It was only because I talked to Clint [Eastwood] and knew he got it that I said all right, I'll let him do this. And then of course they did it so beautifully."

John Grisham, The Rainmaker

The frequently adapted lawyer-turned-author gave a memorable interview to Entertainment Weekly in 2004, in which he candidly accessed all of his works to date, and films made from them—from good (A Time to Kill) to bad (The Chamber). He had the highest praise for Francis Ford Coppola's 1997 film, starring a still up-and-coming Matt Damon: "To me it's the best adaptation of any of 'em. Coppola really wanted my involvement, for whatever it's worth. And I love the movie. It's so well done."

P.D. James, Children of Men

Director Alfronso Cuarón took plenty of liberties with The Children of Men, the novel by P.D. James that he loosely adapted in 2006. But she gave her blessing to the film—according to the filmmaker, anyway. "She's a big endorser of the movie," he said after its release. "She made a statement in which she says, 'It's obvious that this film departed from the book, but I'm so proud to be associated with this film.' She really understood that in a way we took an elaboration of her own premise. So the core of everything is her book."

J.G. Ballard, Empire of the Sun

Ballard reflected on Steven Spielberg's 1987 adaptation of his book Empire of the Sun nearly 20 years after its release. In The Guardian, he wrote, "I was deeply moved by the film but, like every novelist, couldn't help feeling that my memories had been hijacked by someone else's." However, he was careful to note that Christian Bale, his avatar in the film, was "a brilliant child actor," and summed up the experience thus: "Spielberg's film seems more truthful as the years pass. Christian Bale and John Malkovich join hands by the footlights with my real parents and my younger self, with the Japanese soldiers and American pilots, as a boy runs forever across a peaceful lawn towards the coming war. But perhaps, in the end, it's all only a movie."

David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

When his novel Cloud Atlas, which many considered un-filmable, was made into a feature film by the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, author David Mitchell penned a guide of "habits of successful adaptations"—which he considered Cloud Atlas to be. "Adaptation is a form of translation," he wrote, "and all acts of translation have to deal with untranslatable spots. Sometimes late at night I'll get an email from a translator asking for permission to change a pun in one of my novels or to substitute an idiomatic phrase with something plainer. My response is usually the same: You are the one with knowledge of the 'into' language, so do what works. When asked whether I mind the changes made during the adaptation of Cloud Atlas, my response is similar: The filmmakers speak fluent film language, and they've done what works."

Anne Rice, Interview With the Vampire

When Tom Cruise was attached to the film version of Rice's smash novel in the role of the vampire Lestat, the author was livid. "The Tom Cruise casting is so bizarre, it's almost impossible to imagine how it's going to work," she told Movieline. "I do think Tom Cruise is a fine actor. [But] you have to know what you can do and what you can't do." When she saw the finished product, however, Rice changed her tune. Of Cruise, she wrote, "From the moment he appeared, Tom was Lestat for me." She later penned a lengthy "personal statement," in which she declared, "What fuels this statement is a passionate love of the film, a marvelous relief that it exists now in a form that can be preserved; that it was what I dreamed it could be, and that I got through the whole experience without being destroyed. A mediocre film would have destroyed me just as much as a bad one. I thought IWTV was exceptional."

Susan Orlean, Adaptation

Charlie Kaufman's screenplay adaptation of Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief was, to put it mildly, unorthodox—particularly in his decision to not only write himself (and a fictional twin brother) into the tale, but Orlean as well. When she first read the script, she was understandably surprised. "It was a complete shock," she told GQ last year. "My first reaction was 'Absolutely not!' They had to get my permission and I just said: 'No! Are you kidding? This is going to ruin my career!' Very wisely, they didn't really pressure me. They told me that everybody else had agreed and I somehow got emboldened. It was certainly scary to see the movie for the first time. It took a while for me to get over the idea that I had been insane to agree to it, but I love the movie now. What I admire the most is that it's very true to the book's themes of life and obsession, and there are also insights into things which are much more subtle in the book about longing, and about disappointment."

This post also appears on Flavorpill, an Atlantic partner site.

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Jason Bailey is the film editor at Flavorwire, and has also written for Slate, Salon, and the Village Voice.

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