It's simultaneously thrilling and slightly jokey. Beaks: It's very much a character in the film. Harris: Yes,. Also, the other thing Polanski does brilliantly is make the manuscript a character in the film. It undergoes its own character arc. (Laughs) it starts off as this pristine thing in a box, and goes and gets more scrawled upon and dog-eared and handled around - and by the end, it's completely tattered. It ends up disintegrating and dying in the street.
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That the characters are aware, perhaps in a pirandellan sense, that they're caught in a play? Harris: I think i did, actually. Because the movie comes from a first-person novel, there's a knowingness about the narration, a cynicism about it - and that is transferred to the screen. I've always liked those Graham Greene entertainments, where there is a certain knowing quality. Everybody - the audience, the characters, the writer, the director - knows what the form requires, and the value of writing what you produce lies in pushing those walls. It's rather like formal poetry. It's making it scan and rhyme - and the tension between that and the content gives you the feel. That's the great argument, i think, for genre and fiction movies: it's playing with the expectations and pushing the barriers of the genre you're working. It's something mers like that that Polanski's managed to pull off. I think the score is very witty; it helps with that.
Beaks: Hope is extinguished. (Laughs i tend to like those endings. Harris: It's a bit like chinatown. It's like the ending he fought for with Robert Towne, that the character has to die in the end. Beaks: John Huston pulling the girl away from the car has the same effect as the pages fluttering away. Beaks: you mentioned that it was important that the film have a sense of humor. I like that the characters are sort of aware that they're caught in the gears of a political thriller of some sort, and they're almost resigned to playing their roles. Did you think on that meta level as you were writing?
Beaks: That punch to the gut which you're not entirely prepared for. One might say, "you want noir, you get noir.". Beaks: i actually laughed out loud when the ending hit - and then later realized that it might've been an homage to kubrick's the killing, harris: I don't think. Roman might've thought that, but he never mentioned that. The feasibility novel ends with the ghost writer dead, but there is some hope in the novel; the mere fact that you're holding the novel means that he told his story. The end of the film is therefore bleaker: not only do we assume that the ghost writer is killed, but the actual message is dispersed in the manuscript. It's a very bleak ending.
It's small things like that, just to give the fabric of life to the movie, to give it that texture. Otherwise, he stuck very close to the script; I didn't have to rewrite anything. The one thing which was in doubt, even when filming started; we couldn't ever quite decide how to end. Actually, the ending was never written down. Only just before Christmas, he rang me and said, "Summit needs the screenplay." so i had to quickly write the end scene. At one time, the Ghost was going to disappear, just merge into the crowd outside - but we agreed it needed to have a more emphatic ending than that. So we came up with what you see.
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It is like a young man's film, actually; he's got all the wisdom and tricks of his prime. I think that gives it a certain quality. And working with him was just marvelous. He's very clever and quick. It was like having this supercharged rocket strapped to you.
Beaks: How locked in was the screenplay? Did you have much license to rewrite on set? Harris: There was very, very little rewriting, and he is very reluctant to change lines once they are on the page. He might occasionally put in a bit of business on set. He likes to complicate things, actually: if a character crosses a room, they generally have to step around something.
In the original version of the script, we did go to new York, as the novel does, but budgetary constraints made that impossible in the end - and I think that worked in our favor. The project we had been working on, pompeii, collapsed; it was a hugely expensive film. So i sent him the ghost, and we decided to do this instead. And when I sent it to him, we thought we might just specifically go with everyone involved in pompeii to some remote house and just film something on location, just do it in one place like cul-de-sac. And when I saw the ghost writer a few weeks ago with Roman at his house in Switzerland, and he saw Ewan McGregor wobbling off on his bicycle across the island, he turned to me and said, "you wanted cul-de-sac? You got." (Laughs beaks: (Laughing that's very true.
The film does allow him to work these muscles that. I mean, we didn't know if they'd atrophied or what. But he's so spry for a filmmaker who's as far along in life as. Were you on set much, and was he as vigorous in the directing of this film as it plays? Harris: Oh, he was a real live wire. The first day on set. I was talking to pierce Brosnan earlier today, and his first day, he said they shot for twenty-two hours. Roman's energy level was phenomenal.
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But it was pointless; it never advanced the story. I think voiceover can work on occasions; it's obviously very short good on years elapsed and that sort of thing. But this is set over a writing very tight timeframe of a few days, so it was silly to have a voiceover. We discarded that and pared down the novel to make it go as quickly as possible. Our aim was that, within about six or seven minutes of the opening of the movie, you're already in the house where it's all set - which I think we bring off. Beaks: you pared down the story, but did you scale back the scope of it? Harris: no, not at all.
I mean, polanski loved the whole chinatown ambience of Chandler, and he liked the gumshoe-ish hero of the novel - who gradually discovers more and more. I also think, for me, hitchcock and north by northwest, the guy who picks up the wrong suitcase and is plunged into this strange world. It's a thriller and quite scary, but, at the same time, quite urbane and witty; we wanted to try to keep the humor going as well. I think he was just very anxious after the pianist and oliver twist to do something along these lines, to go back and do a piece of entertainment. Beaks: It starts off at such a fast clip, and dives right into the narrative. I'm actually pleased that you did away with the narration. I think there's something more exciting about being plunged into a story instead of being given the parameters via narration; you're gathering information and figuring out the story for yourself. Harris: Because we started with this notion of sunset blvd., we did look at having a voiceover.
at it when we first started because it's narrated by a dead man, and the novel is narrated by the dead ghost writer. We wanted to try to get that into the movie. That was what Roman was thinking. I think he wanted to do a noir-ish thriller rather than a straight political thriller. The political elements are, i think, slightly incidental to him to the sheer drive of the narrative. Beaks: I read in the notes that Chandler was also referenced.
This is your last chance to turn away. It is impossible to adequately discuss the elegance of Harris's screenplay without acknowledging its two jarring twists, both of which feasibility call to mind "He has his father's eyes" from rosemary's baby and the brutal, life-is-shit final minutes of chinatown. The difference here is the playful tone, which is partially in keeping with Harris's page-turner panache, but is also attributable to polanski's delight in toying with the conventions of the thriller genre for the first time in over a decade. Harris's book might've been fueled by outrage over the (potentially) unlawful policies of Tony Blair, but Polanski finds these misdeeds rather amusing: this is what comes of politics; if you're not corruptible, you're dead. And when the wicked triumph, what's there to do but laugh? I was fascinated by the idea of Polanski working within the political thriller genre for the first time, but, as Harris quickly pointed out, the ghost writer is as firmly embedded in the noir tradition as chinatown. When you realize that, it's easy to fall in love with the ghost writer even more. This is an exhilarating return to form, and it wouldn't have been possible without Harris's natural gifts as a storyteller. Beaks: the ghost writer feels so much like a '70s paranoid thriller at times.
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With Roman Polanski's the ghost writer entering its third weekend of release (and hitting hundreds of more theaters across the country i've decided it's now safe to release this spoiler-laden interview with novelist-screenwriter Robert Harris. My recommendation: see the movie first, then read this. As i've already said, the ghost writer is my favorite polanski paperwork thriller since the tenant. If it's playing anywhere near you, do not miss. Harris is probably best known for fatherland, a speculative historical fiction which imagines what might've occurred had the nazis won World War ii, but it was his series of novels set in ancient Rome that caught Polanski's eye. In 2007, polanski and Harris were close to embarking on an epic, 100 million-plus production of the author's pompeii, but that project got scotched due to the threat of the actors' strike. It was then that Polanski decided he'd like to take a crack at Harris's just-published the ghost, a political thriller in which a run-of-the-mill writer is hired to "ghost" the memoirs of a disgraced British Prime minister after the previous writer turns up dead (under.