August 2, 2014
Ithaca, NY 61°F | Clouds

Accent

Professor’s debut novel converted into motion picture

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Courtesy of Eleanor Henderson
Eleanor Henderson, assistant professor of writing, signs first-edition copies of her book “Ten Thousand Saints” in June of 2011 at the Harvard Book Store’s Signed First Edition Club. Henderson’s book is currently being turned into a film.

Eleanor Henderson, assistant professor of writing, published her novel “Ten Thousand Saints” in 2011. After receiving universal acclaim, it has been adapted into a movie starring Academy Award nominees Ethan Hawke as Les, main character Johnny’s deadbeat dad, and Hailee Steinfeld as Eliza, Johnny’s privileged and mysterious love interest. Academy-Award nominated duo Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini will write and direct the film. Shooting for the film began at the end of January.

Staff Writer Austin Gold sat down with Henderson to discuss adapting her book to film, character casting and being approached by producers.

Austin Gold: When were you first approached about adapting your book for a film?

Eleanor Henderson: I was approached a couple of times shortly after the book was published by a couple of different producers, and those opportunities didn’t pan out. And then in 2012 I was approached again by a producer [and] Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, who are a director/screenwriter couple. So they approached me, sent me an email, and I said, “Sounds great.” I didn’t get my hopes up yet because I knew that these other options didn’t pan out and in Hollywood, things can take a long time. So I met with those folks in November of 2012 in New York [City] and had a really nice lunch, and we daydreamed about actors and that kind of thing, and then I didn’t really hear any news for almost a year.

AG: You have said in interviews that when you are developing the characters you would draw what they looked like out on paper. Do you think that the actors cast match what you imagined?

EH: Yeah, in many ways they really do adhere to the vision I had for them. Just getting to look at the pictures that have come out of the actors on set, there are definitely things that a reader would point out and say, “Well, Jude doesn’t have red hair in the movie and he has red hair in the book,” or “Liza has long hair instead of short hair.” So there are certainly things that are a little bit different in terms of the look of the actor. I’ve had to let go of my vision of the character’s physicality a little bit. But I think more important is the aesthetic presence the actors bring.

AG: Were any of the actors you daydreamed about eventually cast?

EH: They really were. Ethan Hawke was one of the actors that we sort of jokingly referred to as being a really appropriate actor for the role of Les, who’s this pot-selling, sort of deadbeat dad in New York, and we sort of laughed thinking he would be a great, sort of scruffy-faced version of that character. And he happened to be an acquaintance of my agent who was there with us at the time, and so we thought that would be really cool, and the fact that he ended up getting cast in that role is pretty amazing.

AG: Adapting a book into a movie is often tricky. How close were you to the screenwriting process?

EH: I wasn’t close at all. I happen to teach here at Ithaca a course on adaptation. I think that actually teaching that class gave me some perspective, and I’ve come to appreciate the distinction between the genre of film and the novel, and so I was kind of prepared to let go. But I really did need to let go and had almost no contact with the producer, writer-director group. So I knew that Bob and Shari were writing the script, and I had to sort of not think about it. Then after I found out that all of this was going to happen, I asked the producers if I could finally read the script. They emailed it to me, and I read it all in one sitting and sort of prepared myself to be disappointed even though I really liked and trusted their work.

AG: Were you ever approached to write the screenplay?

EH: I wasn’t. There was another screenwriter who was involved in an earlier project, who wanted to write the screenplay when another producer was interested early on. But no one ever asked me to. Even though I kind of conceived the book as a script, I actually started writing it as a script early on in the process. And while I’m really interested in scriptwriting, I’m not a trained scriptwriter and having seen the script now I know that I couldn’t have done what they did.