Thanks to his chart-topping successes Liar’s Poker and Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, Michael Lewis has made a name for himself as one of America’s preeminent non-fiction authors. Hollywood has been sniffing around his properties for the better part of the last twenty years, but it wasn’t until writer-director John Lee Hancock adapted and championed The Blind Side that one actually made it through development hell and onto the big screen. At the New York premiere of the film last night, Vulture caught up with Lewis and asked him about his somewhat uneasy relationship with movie studios, why this movie makes everyone from New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez to former White House special prosecutor Ken Starr cry, and what’s the latest and greatest word on the cinematic adaptation of Moneyball.
Did you see this book being made into a movie?
Yes. Because it was so scenic. Look, you don’t know, because the machine that can screw it up, and the first studio that bought it didn’t make it, but it just seemed like such obvious movie material. But I’ve never had one of these things made, so I didn’t have any sense of process. I’ve had books bought and scripts written, so I guess I didn’t think further beyond, “Oh, it’s going to be a movie.” Would it be a good movie? I didn’t think about that. And I really am pleased with how it turned out. When I met John Lee Hancock, I just thought, This is a good soul. You meet a lot of people in the movie business who say they’re writers who are not writers. And when I met him, I just thought he had the sensibility of a writer. And I think it’s a good thing when the writer is directing it, too, so it’s one vision. He didn’t have any interest at all in what I thought, except he’s polite, so he pretends to have an interest. He just does his own thing, and I thought that was a really good thing, too. He just saw what he wanted to do and he did it. So it’s fun to see it happen, but it really has very little to do with me. I mean, I sold it. That’s it. I don’t have anything to do with it.
Do your books just get optioned and never made into movies?
Yes! Bought, actually. If you option it, it’s a small sum of money and it expires. If you buy it, it’s a larger sum of money and they own it forever. So if they don’t make it, it’s gone. So, I mean, Warner Bros. owns Liars’ Poker and I think they’ve put something like $2 million into it already and it’s just vanished. All right, look, the Hollywood development process, someone some day is going to write something really good about it. It doesn’t, to my eyes, make a lot of sense. They waste a lot of money and it’s not clear if there’s any kind of logic to the process other than the enthusiasm of whoever happens to have bought it. What was weird about this case was it was different from every other experience that I’ve had, in that it almost didn’t matter who had bought it. Fox bought it in the beginning, but it felt like, well, if they weren’t going to do it, someone was going to do it. So it was going to be wrestled out of Fox and to somewhere else, and that’s what happened. Fox bought it and decided not to make it.
Why’d they decide not to make it?
I’m being honest when I tell you I have no idea. The best writer in Hollywood is a dead writer. I mean, it would be better if I was dead, as an author. I have no place in the process! None. I mean, I’ve written this book. Someone will need to come along, like John Lee did, and if it’s going to be any good, they’ve got to sort of break it and redo it, as they did. The last thing you want is some writer hovering over his material, moaning and groaning about what they do with it. And the last thing I want to be is that. So that’s kind of it.
All the athletes seemed to like the film.
I think athletes get it. They sort of get the transformative power of sports and these coachinglike relationships, which the Tuohys had with Michael [Oher, the person that the film was based on] in the beginning. It was life coaching. Also, I’m not a Christian, but a lot of them are, and God and football seem to go together, for whatever reason. So when there’s even a hint toward Christianity, you can kind of see football players nodding their heads. It’s interesting, in the testing of the movie. Apparently it made Ken Starr cry.
Ken Starr of Monica Lewinsky fame?
Yeah! So if you get Ken Starr and Mark Sanchez [crying], well, that should be in the ad.
What’s going on with the Moneyball movie?
You’d have to ask them, but I think it’s still happening. It seems very real. I mean, there’s never been any flagging of enthusiasm from either Brad Pitt or the studio, and they’re the ones that matter. They’re hiring a director. They’ve got a script.
Didn’t Steven Soderbergh do a script?
He did. They didn’t like it. Aaron Sorkin redid it. They like it. They’re ready to go.
And what of the Liars’ Poker movie?
Dead, I think. Completely dead.