Nick Hornby offers 'An Education' on writing books and screenplays
An interview with writer Nick Hornby, whose film "An Education" opens Saturday.
Seattle Times movie critic
Opens Friday in Seattle-area theaters. For a review, pick up a copy of Friday's MovieTimes or go Thursday to seattletimes.com/movies.
British novelist Nick Hornby has a long relationship with the movies: His books "About a Boy," "High Fidelity" and "Fever Pitch" have all made it to the big screen. But if you ask him to adapt his own work, he'll probably say no, thank you.
"I get sick of everything," he said in an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. "You spend three years putting things in, you don't want to spend another five years taking it all out again.
Instead, he'd rather dive into something new. The coming-of-age drama "An Education" hits local theaters this weekend, directed by Lone Scherfig and written by Hornby.
It's based on a memoir by British journalist Lynn Barber, about her experiences as a 16-year-old involved with an older man in the early '60s London. Hornby read the memoir — "just a 10-page story" — in the journal Granta, and immediately told his wife, independent producer Amanda Posey, that he'd found something.
"I said, I think you should look at this, I think there's a movie here," Hornby remembered.
Posey agreed, bringing the material to her producing partner Finola Dwyer, and "when they started talking about writers, I felt very possessive of the material in a way. So I wrote a script on spec," he said.
Hornby, whose only previous screenwriting experience was a 1997 British version of his memoir "Fever Pitch," found Barber's memoir "a joy to adapt, because I wasn't having to leave out 300 pages worth of material. I could use a fictional imagination."
Because of the essay's brevity, he wasn't cutting things out as much as "finding a kind of consistency of tone and characters, dialogue, that sort of thing."
The film's main character is 16-year-old Jenny, a bright girl whose middle-class parents are obsessed with her getting into Oxford. She dreams of sophistication and of going to college to "look at paintings and watch French films and talk to people who know lots about lots."
Walking home from school one day, she meets David, a man in his 30s who takes an interest in her — and she in him.
Though Hornby, who's charmingly self-deprecating, said he wasn't particularly involved with casting ("I'm not clever enough; whenever anyone asks me, I can really only remember the film I saw the previous day, so I'd probably be suggesting, oh, Jeff Bridges for the part of Jenny"), he knew that finding the right Jenny was crucial — and that, because of the character's youth, it would need to be an unknown actress.
He'd noticed Carey Mulligan before, in the BBC series "Bleak House" ("It's really brilliant; the best box set you can buy."), but was surprised when he heard she had been cast for "An Education."
"When they told me they'd cast a 22-year-old, I wasn't sure," he said. "And then I saw her in that school uniform, and I said, 'Oh my God, she's not even 16.' "
He praised her performance as "sensationally good" among a strong supporting cast that includes Peter Sarsgaard as David, Alfred Molina as Jenny's father, and Rosamund Pike as one of David's sophisticated friends.
In Toronto, cheerily smoking and recommending good books to read (recent favorites: Curtis Sittenfeld's "American Wife" and Jess Walter's "The Financial Life of the Poets"), Hornby said he'd enjoyed his foray into the uncertain world of moviemaking.
"We're here now, and everyone seems to love [the film]. But I can't tell you what a longshot it always felt like, to get it made and to get anyone to see it."
By contrast, the world of publishing is always happy to see a new Hornby book. His latest, "Juliet, Naked" made The New York Times best-seller list last month.
Will we see another Hornby book on the screen soon? Probably not, said the author. His 2001 novel "How To Be Good" came "really close" to a film deal earlier this year, but it all fell apart. "A Long Way Down," a 2005 novel, "got optioned [for the movies] and got very stuck."
Though he doesn't want to adapt his books himself, he's happy to see them brought to the screen.
"I think I have quite a healthy attitude to being adapted," Hornby said, "I don't feel precious about the books. I understand that to make movies you have to externalize things that were internal in the book."
"I've been really lucky with the talent of the people involved. I've just trusted them. I loved Chris and Paul Weitz [who made "About a Boy"], I loved Stephen Frears ["High Fidelity"].
"Of course, when it goes through somebody else's head, it's something else. But the books are still there in the bookshops. I was thinking even the language is wrong — 'turning books into films.' Books are still books. Someone else has made the film. There is no transformation."
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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