Michael Cunningham, the brilliant mind behind the Pulitzer Prize winning novel “The Hours,” interviewed with The Commonwealth Times and other college journalists about its adaptation to film. He revealed what it was like to work with amazing actresses such as Meryl Streep, how he felt to see his work on screen, what the Golden Globes are really like and why the after parties are much better.
The Commonwealth Times: Why do you write?
Michael Cunningham: I just do. I find that my conviction as to whether or not I’m very good at it comes and goes. Ever since I was 18, I’ve never lost my interest in it. It’s the one thing that is like creating life on paper.
CT: What was your inspiration to write such an excellent novel dealing with the lives of three women who were all dramatically affected by Virginia Woolf’s famous work, “Mrs. Dalloway?”:
MC: My inspiration for this novel started in high school. I was not a very precocious student. I was a stoner skateboard kid. When I was 15, I was talking to a girl I was madly in love with and she said, “Have you ever thought of being less stupid?” She was into Woolf, so I went to the library and read “Mrs. Dalloway.” I could see the beauty and complexity of Woolf’s language, which was a revelation to me. I had not understood that you could do with language what Jimi Hendrix did with a guitar. [Later in life] I got to thinking that there are so many things you’re expected to write a book about, but to write a novel about the profound formation of writing a novel, your not supposed to write about. If no one else was going to write one, I will.
CT: Can you explain the feministic quality of the work?
MC: I absolutely consider myself a feminist to whatever extent a man can be a feminist.
CT: What reservations did you have undertaking such a subject as Virginia Woolf?
MC: I was naturally nervous about it. It was hugely daunting, not only because I was trying to write about someone who had lived, but she was a feminist icon. But why would you not want to write a book when you know you can write? If you’re going to go down in flames, why not big flames?
CT: How did you deal having allowed screenwriter David Hare taking your work and making it as his own to work on?
MC: I don’t have that thing about the sacred text, as if a book of mine was some holy relic. Any book of mine is more or less the best I could do at that point in my life. So if somebody as gifted as David Hare wants to do something else with it my reaction is great. The movie really has a life of its own; it’s a work of art unto itself. David managed that transition beautifully and managed to preserve this sense of a certain hope, optimism that can survive the worst that can happen to people.
CT: What was the most important to you as the movie was in production?
MC: Clear image of characters. How they move, speak, look. Before the movie deal was made and people asked who I imagined playing the characters. I’d always say, “The characters would have to play themselves!” That is enormously important to me. If you know the people your writing about, they will create the story. If you don’t know the characters they won’t come to life. I imagine a person and see what that person does.
CT: When all is said and done, the characters are cast, the screenplay is written and the movie is made, what did it feel like?
MC: For one thing, any successful work of art is important by definition. It’s so difficult to produce anything very good. The money issue always makes it that much harder to get a decent movie made. I’m enormously proud of all the people who insisted the movie be the quirky thing it is. This story is about three brilliant, complicated women. The fact that this is a hit suggest to me that the American moving-going public is not as stupid as they are made out to be. If this hot asteroid is about to collide with the earth no one will see it. Good news for all of us crackpots that can produce something that isn’t your usual movie and sell tickets.
CT: The movie is proclaimed a hit and wins the award for best drama in the Golden Globes Awards, an tremedous honor. Did you attend the Golden Globes Awards and how was it like hobbling with stars?
MC: I went to the Golden Globes. [It’s] fun because everyone is a movie star. But it’s not that much fun because everyone is nervous. It’s a party at which no one is going to lose control and that, in mind is not party at all. I ended up at a strip club dancing with Nicole Kidman and Jude Law. That’s a party.
CT: How do you top a Pulitzer Prize and a Golden Globe winning adaptation?
MC: I’ve learned that there is no point in thinking of it that way. It’s a wonderful thing to get something like that but it can only go down hill. It would be a big mistake to consciously write a book people will love. You want to do what is most interesting to you and hope that others will find it interesting too.”