Elmore Leonard Week: Elmore on Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis, and William Friedkin

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ON CLINT EASTWOOD, BRUCE WILLIS, AND WILLIAM FRIEDKIN

from ‘Doing What I Do: An Interview With Elmore Leonard’ by Anthony May (Contrappasso #2, December 2012)

Dates: 1st-3rd July, 1991
Location: Elmore Leonard’s home in Birmingham, Michigan. The interview took place in Leonard’s study across his writing desk.

MAY: When you made that move from westerns to crime fiction, there’s a series of books that you do, Big Bounce [1969], Moonshine War [1969], before you move into that City Primeval world. Mr. Majestyk is also around that period isn’t it?

LEONARD: Yeah, early ‘70’s, original screenplay.

MAY: I was just reading the other day about that, actually. I was reading the Barry Gifford collection, The Devil Thumbs A Ride. He describes Mr. Majestyk as a ‘melon western’, as opposed to a spaghetti western, but does so quite affectionately, I think.

LEONARD: I took Mr. Majestyk from The Big Bounce and named the character, it’s a different guy completely, y’know. But I figured, I need a title, and I know Mr. Majestyk is a good title, and I figured, well, nobody’s read The Big Bounce. I’ll just use that name. Originally, this story was meant for Clint Eastwood. He had called up and said he wanted something new. I had written Joe Kidd, an original, for him. It was shot but not yet released. And he called up and said, Dirty Harry is making a lot of money everywhere, but he only had a few points in it, I gathered. Now he wanted to own his next property. What he wanted really was another Dirty Harry but different. And so I thought of Mr. Majestyk and I called him the next day and told him about a melon grower, just basically the situation, I’d just thought of it that minute. And he called back that night or rather just a little later that night and said he wasn’t seeing him as a melon grower, rather an artichoke farmer because artichokes were grown not far from where he lived.

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LEONARD: The trouble with…Bruce Willis’s screenplay that he gave me of Bandits—I read it and I spoke to him and I said, ‘This guy doesn’t understand, if you want to play yourself that’s one thing, with all this smart aleck stuff. If you wanna do that then it’s quite a different character.’ He said, ‘Yes, yes, I understand.’ I said, ‘Well, look at this line for example, when Delaney’s in the bar and he’s talking to this woman who’s got bruises on her, a go-go dancer. She walks away and he says to his friend, the ex-cop, “y’know every sixteen seconds in the United States a woman is physically abused?” And the bartender says, “you wouldn’t think so many women would get outta line.”’ Now, in the script he delivers the line and then, direction, grins and winks. I said, ‘No, he doesn’t grin, this is the guy’s mentality. Don’t tell the audience anything. If the audience thinks that’s fine, let ‘em laugh. Don’t tell ‘em anything.’ It’s like television, holding up applause cards.

MAY: So Willis is actually going to do the screenplay himself?

LEONARD: Oh, no. He had it done by the guy who rewrote Stick.

MAY: Oh, no!

LEONARD: Well, I haven’t seen it apart from those couple of scenes. It’s also the same guy who did Sudden Impact and City Heat, Joseph Stinson.

MAY: If I remember right, with Stick, they change the dialogue around. They take some lines from Barry Stamm, the millionaire character [George Segal], and give them to Burt Reynolds [as Stick] so the lead gets all the good lines. Reynolds gets to say the funny lines.

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from ‘In Australia: An Interview With Elmore Leonard’ by Anthony May (Contrappasso #2, December 2012)

Date: 21st February, 1994
Location: 3rd floor lobby, Ritz-Carlton Hotel, 93 Macquarie Street, Sydney.

LEONARD: I did a script, did I tell you, last year with Billy Friedkin. Paramount had asked me to rewrite a script they had that was not unlike Basic Instinct, which had, that week, made $155 million gross. They had one kinda like it where a cop falls in love with a woman who’s involved in crime. And I said, no I don’t want to do it. But Friedkin was involved and he called and said, ‘Why don’t we do our own?’ So we talked it out over the phone and I wrote one set in Florida. He liked the idea, but he said, ‘I don’t like all these Cubans. Get rid of the Cubans. And the money laundering, and cocaine.’ Well, there was no cocaine in it but the money came from cocaine. There’s a guy who was laundering money for the Cubans and he has money sitting in his house at a particular time and by morning it won’t be there. There’s two and a half million dollars or something that he will send somewhere and by the time it comes back and gets into some land development it’s been cleaned and pressed. So he didn’t like that. He said, ‘Get rid of the Cubans and the money laundering.’ So I got rid of that. No, I didn’t get rid of the Cubans. Oh, and he said, ‘Play down the cop.’ Even though the cop was supposed to be falling in love with the woman. So I added a burglar. A burglar was in the house the night when these guys were with the woman, it’s an inside job, she opens the door for the guys to come in and pick up the money. But there happens to be a burglar in the house that night who we have met just before, posed as a carpet cleaner going through the house to see what he wanted and to unlock a window or something, a French door. So that he’s in the house when all this happens. Friedkin likes the burglar, he likes the girl, he likes the bad guy that comes in to get the money, but he doesn’t like the Cubans. ‘Get rid of the Cubans and the money laundering.’

So I went up to see him but in the meantime he’s married Sherry Lansing. Right in the middle of this deal [Brandon] Tartikoff leaves as Head of Production and Friedkin’s wife comes in as Head of Production. I said, ‘What happens to our deal now?’ They said, ‘Are you kidding, his wife’s running the studio!’ So I said, ‘Here’s the problem, here’s this guy, who’s kind of a wealthy guy, but if he’s not laundering money, what’s he doing with two or three million bucks sitting there in his house, cash?’ And Friedkin said, ‘Let’s think about it.’ I said, ‘My least favourite thing to do is to sit with someone and plot, why don’t I call you?’ So I left and my agent, Michael Siegel said, ‘Why don’t you just forget about it? You’ve gotten paid up to date, you’ve made enough money on this thing. Go write your book.’ I said, ‘I’m gonna give it three hours and see if I could think of why the money would be sitting there.’ So, back to the hotel. The next morning I woke up at five o’clock and I was gonna give it three hours. I was gonna read but I decided to just think instead. And it came in five minutes. Then I had to wait three hours to call Friedkin. So I called him up and I said, ‘There’s a televangelist who uses ESP powers. Open with him. He’s healing this little girl who stutters and he’s trying to get this little girl to say, “Praise Jesus”. And she can’t say it. So he lays his hands on her and does all this stuff. And she says, “Praise Jesus”. And there’s a collection. And the camera watches where the money goes. Some of it goes out to his limo. And the limo goes home and then you see the bag of money go in. There’s the money.’ He says, ‘I love it! Write it!’ It took about three weeks and I sent it to him. In the meantime he has started production on Blue Chips, a basketball picture. So I haven’t heard from him since then.

MAY: And what was that going to be called?

LEONARD: I had a good title for it too, Stinger. The guy who engineers this scam, the heist, is a fishing guy out on Lake Okeechobee and he designs fishing lures. And one of his lures is a stinger. And there’s some reference to the girl as a stinger. She’s the lure. He’s finished with Blue Chips which opened last week in the States but now I hear that he’s doing something with Peter Blatty, the Exorcist guy. So it’s OK with me. There’s so much of that done. They pay a lot of money for a script that just never gets off the shelf. But this is different. I used to write scripts like that for fifty thousand, a hundred thousand. This is six hundred thousand bucks and it’s just sitting there. They don’t care.

More extracts from Anthony May’s Elmore Leonard interviews will appear all week. The complete 65-page interview is available in Contrappasso issue #2, available in Paperback, Kindle Ebook, or other Ebook formats @ Smashwords.

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