How much of Thomas Wolfe’s work did you read?
Michael Grandage: Oh, all of it! But it’s only two novels, remember. It’s two novels, but it’s like fifty novels because it’s huge! I read both his huge novels and he wrote some short stories, but I felt I couldn’t really do it without reading the lot.
How much of that material did you pull on to make the film?
Grandage: Logan hasn’t pulled any specifically in there from either of the books because he’s created his own Wolfe work in the books. But what is in – the letters, which is the best bit of reference for us. The way the personalities write to each other and how much is available for understanding them. So actually it was the letters in the end that helped me and the actors create the roles.
I heard you talk about the process of dramatizing book editing, a very non-dramatic process. Can you talk more about how you and John Logan did that?
Grandage: Well he does something on the page for us, but we have to make editing a book exciting somehow. Or at least watchable and believable. And I think there is something in there that Logan does help with, which is he does it through the personalities. So from that point of view it’s about getting to know the men first rather than the action.
How close do you think these characters in the film are to the actual historic Max Perkins and Thomas Wolfe?
Grandage: God knows, ‘cause I never met them! We’ve got plenty of photographic evidence and they look a bit like them, but I’ve no idea how close they are. Although interestingly enough, some of the grandchildren of Perkins are around. They didn’t know him either because he was dead before they grew up. I’ve no idea, but we’ve tried hard to be true to what we know of them through print.
What was it like directing your first film?
Grandage: Scary at times. Awesome. Also very, very exciting because I was very out of my comfort zone, and I think that’s a wonderful thing to be. I say to everybody, ‘you should get out of your comfort zone a little more often, it’s a really interesting place to be!’
Was it a different experience to direct some of these same actors in a film?
Grandage: No, getting the performance out is roughly the same. That’s the same skill, I think, between actor and director.
I heard you talking about how you enjoyed dipping into a literary world. Do you have particular American authors whom you admire?
Laura Linney: Steinbeck. I love John Steinbeck. And Thomas Wolfe, and Fitzgerald, and all the writers Maxwell Perkins represented actually.
Is that a love that you had before coming to this film?
Linney: It is. My father is a playwright so I grew up in a literary household, and I was in school for a very long time, so I do enjoy reading.
Did that help you with your character?
Linney: Oh I’m sure it did. And also, the character that I played reminded me a great deal of my grandmother. A typical woman of the time who had great talent but wasn’t able to, you know, because of mores of the time, wasn’t allowed to explore them.
Was it difficult trying to put your mindset back into a time period that was more conservative for women?
Linney: No, because I’m old enough to remember it. Someone from my generation had role models who lived through all of that. We’re right in the middle. My age group is kind of right in the middle now.
How closely did you work with the historical material? How much were you able to find?
Linney: Well the whole movie is based on an autobiography by Scott Berg, who’s here actually, about Maxwell Perkins. So that was our primary reference and resource.
And how much was in there about his wife?
Linney: A little bit. And then you try and find whatever you can. There’s not an enormous amount on her, but there’s some things.
I bet there’s not as much, maybe, as you would have liked.
Linney: No, probably not. And then you just take your cue. I mean, it is a movie, so you have to fulfill the obligations that the script is sort of laying out for you, so there’s always also that.
Do you have anything else that you’re working on right now?
Linney: Nocturnal Animals is coming out soon, Sully is coming out soon. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came out this weekend! And then there are a few other things, but I’m not quite at the point that I can talk about them.
Photo credits: Variety.