In 1993, Columbia Pictures paid $1 million for the movie rights to Janet Evanovich’s One for the Money, the first crime novel in her Stephanie Plum series, even before it went to print. Vulture has exclusively learned that seventeen years and fifteen Plum novels later, Columbia and Lakeshore Entertainment are finally hiring a director and moving ahead with the project: Julie Ann Robinson (The Last Song) will be behind the camera, with Katherine Heigl playing Plum, and shooting starts in July.
Heigl is far from the first actress to be attached to the project; Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Lopez had both previously been set to play Plum, the unemployed lingerie saleswoman so desperate for work that she winds up at her cousin’s bail-bond business. In this first book in the series, she’s quickly tasked with collecting a $10,000 surety bond forfeited by a murder suspect to whom she’d lost her virginity in high school. (Apparently, the guy never called back in the old days, either.)
Since the book’s 1994 release, there have been fifteen full-length Plum novels, four holiday novellas, and a short story in a compilation of various authors’ works. So, Hollywood: One Stephanie Plum novel down, fifteen full-length novels, four holiday novellas, and a short story in a compilation of various authors’ works to go, right?
Not so fast, says Evanovich. Reached at her Naples, Florida, office, where she’s on frantic deadline churning out her sixteenth Plum book, Sizzling Sixteen, Evanovich says Stephanie Plum and her retinue of oddballs have changed so much over the last sixteen years that Sony ought to condense many of her novels into one. Otherwise, they risk confusing and alienating her many fans (the series has sold over 45 million copies in all; or, as Evanovich succinctly puts it, “a shitload”); these loyal readers have grown accustomed to how the series has evolved. In the decades since One for the Money was first published, the Plum novels have morphed into more of a Seinfeld-like series about a woman whose friends are always pulling her into trouble. “If you look at the first book, it’s definitely a coming-of-age story,” she says. “But it’s no longer that; it’s evolved into an adventure series. They’d have to work with that.”
The current version of One for the Money comes from screenwriters Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, who also wrote the script to Heigl’s most recent Sony comedy, The Ugly Truth. And while Evanovich insists she doesn’t know whether the studio or its screenwriters have taken her advice and smooshed years of character development into the new screenplay, she feels they ignore her counsel at their own peril.
“My fans are not passive people. I get letters like, ‘Does Ranger have chest hair?’ The answer is, ‘He does if you want him to!’” she says, adding, “when you have a fan base like this, these books … stay alive [for them]. There are expectations for this movie.”
But if her myriad fans have expectations after all these years, Evanovich says she herself has none. “The most important thing I would want anyone to know is that it’s [the studio’s] project. They bought the book. I only want this movie to be a success, but I’m not proprietary about the project. The deal is, if they make a movie and it’s fantastic, everyone will go out and buy the book. And if they make a movie and it sucks, everyone will say, ‘The book was really much better than the movie.’ So I don’t see how I could lose on this.”