From Mystic River to Live by Night: Dennis Lehane comments on the adaptations of his novels

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Dennis Lehane commented
Warner Bros/Shutter Island

Meeting full of anecdotes with the Hollywood star writer.

On the occasion of the rebroadcast of Mystic Riverthis evening on Arte, we share our interview with Dennis Lehane, whom we met when the release of Live By Night, by Ben Affleck (2017). Genius of the contemporary thriller, he has above all become in a few years a totem of Hollywood film noir. Walk in the company of the writer between the most striking adaptations of his books and his work as a screenwriter.

Zoe Saldana and Sienna Miller tell all about Live by Night

Clint Eastwood- Mystic River

Mystic River
Warner Bros.

“First real job in Hollywood and it was a phenomenal opportunity…It’s clean to work with Clint. No procrastination. No hesitation. He goes to do a job and he does it. I remember talking to Sean Penn a month before shooting. He had said to me: “this kind of film, on the ground, with this budget and these stars? In 42 days? It’s never going to happen. Never “. Clint shot Mystic River in 39 days. Malpaso style (laughs). And the result is a success! Laura Linney! I did not understand what he saw in her but when I discovered the film, I knew. He had captured the “normality” of her face. She has a reassuring beauty, something that gives confidence. It’s perfect for Annabeth. Her final look is shocking, necessary, and we realize, suddenly, by the sheer power of this image, that she has always been there. »

Martin Scorsese – Shutter Island

Shutter Island

“I think what interested Scorsese in the book was the idea of ​​repression and the crazy character. Besides, that’s what Hollywood is looking for: certainly not the originality of the stories – apart from Shutter Island, I haven’t written anything very original – but actor traps. The actors want to play the characters that I create in which they can slip, give a little depth and complexity… And Marty’s strength is precisely his relationship with the actors. It builds a wall between them and the rest of the world. They are in another world. It’s wonderful to see. And this is what founds his cinema. Suddenly, as everything is organized around this privileged link, we never have the impression that the filming is gargantuan or “Hollywood”… In fact, I was less present, because I had just left Mystic River and , honestly, there’s no place more boring than a shoot if you’re not involved. The author just feels like he’s useless, which isn’t very nice. Léo, the very B atmosphere, the radicalism and the strangeness: I like the film for all these reasons. »

Boardwalk Empire

Boardwalk Empire

“I was a consulting producer on Boardwalk. I wrote some scripts. A great experience. When you work with the right people for a good network, it’s always rewarding. And Terrence Winter is a good guy. The mafia, the era, the characters… the links between Live By Night and Boardwalk are obvious. Besides, the first season came out when I was starting to think about Live By Night. I quickly freaked out because I couldn’t decently write about East Coast bootleggers anymore because of the show. How do I tell my story when Scorsese and HBO arrive with a series on the same period and the same subject? The solution was very quickly obvious: no one was interested in Rum. South. Cuba, Jamaica… That’s how my book took shape, so just for that: Thank you Boardwalk. Afterwards, HBO offered me to work on a season. For the anecdote, a somewhat zealous scriptwriter had proposed a sub-plot in which a private person went to investigate rum trafficking in Florida. It was an obvious “homage” to Live By Night that I had just finished. I explained that this was the subject of my book and that it was better to drop it. They didn’t listen to me. »

Ben Affleck – Gone Baby Gone

Gone baby Gone
Walt Disney Pictures

“Well, it’s Boston. Even in Live By Night which could symbolize our exile, our departure from the city – we both went to the West Coast. Of all my adaptations, Gone Baby Gone is my favorite because it understands Boston from the inside. It’s made by someone who comes from there. The others are made by people who immerse themselves in the city but always stay a little aside – there is always an “anthropological” aspect. They look inside the house, but through the window. Well, he is an insider…”

Michael Roskam – The Drop (When the night comesin VF)

The Drop
20th Century Fox

“It’s a long story, I had a good subject but I couldn’t find the format to exploit it well… new? novel ? So I made a script of it. As always, it was happening in Boston, but the producers came to see me saying “it’s nice, but Boston is starting to do well. You are a victim of your own success. And it wasn’t completely untrue: Boston’s white trash crime was starting to be a film noir cliché – it ranged from Gone Baby Gone to the Departed… I wondered where I could set the narrative and someone said Brooklyn . I inquired, I looked right and left; it stuck. And that’s how I made my first New York thriller…”

Ben Affleck – Live By Night

Live by Night
Warner Bros.

“For Live By Night, Ben eliminated a lot of things from the novel – the part about the Cuban revolution, the whole scene where the heroes steal the military boat… two passages which were very “cinematic” for me and which could have had their place. . On the other hand, that Ben and his screenwriters removed the passage in prison, I find that normal. If I had written the script, I would have removed it as dryly! It only makes sense if it is a coming of age story, which is no longer the case. From the start, Ben made jokes about playing the hero. Before Ben, it had to be Leo DiCaprio. And Leo or Ben, as soon as one of the two became the main character, we inevitably lost the idea of ​​the initiatory journey, we could no longer watch him grow. But I love that Ben kept all my dialogue to the comma. He understood that it was not just words: it was also my tribute to the way people spoke at the time and in RKO films. They work like design production. I’m glad he kept that because that’s what I’ve done best. I wanted this novel to sound “romantic”. The dialogues had to reflect that: not be realistic, but rich, excessive, dramatic. When I first saw the movie, I saw the dinner scene with Brendan Gleeson and thought to myself that was exactly how I heard certain phrases while writing them. I’m a bit of a shopaholic… Some actors… if they didn’t exist I would have liked to invent them and Brendan is one of them. I know I was born to write sentences for him to say. Chris Cooper, the same! The scene “never call me by my Christian name again!” It comes out of nowhere. It’s so natural. There is so much pain! It’s pride, behind which we detect the feeling of loss…

David Simon- On Listening / The Wire


“David Simon was a friend. At the time of The Corner, he told me: “HBO ordered me a series of cops; I don’t think they know what to expect…”. He was convinced that TV scriptwriters weren’t good. Or rather that they were writing shit. He didn’t want TV writers on his team. When he launched Sur Ecoute, he turned to writers. He imposed George Pelecanos on season 1, Richard Price on season 2, etc. But it is to George that we owe the legitimization of this approach. It all exploded with episode 4 of the first season, the episode in the apartment. With that, with this masterpiece of writing, David was immediately able to show that his idea was the right one. There was no ego. No fuss. We were doing a show that didn’t work and HBO was sending signals that said, “If we find a better replacement for your show, we won’t mind. In the meantime continue with your thing on Baltimore”. We really thought that season 4 would be the last and that’s probably why it’s the best. It was straightforward. Obvious. Quick. Like at Malpaso. Moreover, on David’s series as with Clint, there are rules. We don’t run. We don’t shout. We follow these rules. We are going forward. »

Trailer of Mystic River :

Clint Eastwood’s movies ranked from worst to best

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