Hollywood bio-pic about Asheville native author Thomas Wolfe picks up buzz

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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jude_law_2014The Hollywood bio-pic Genius about the relationship between Asheville native son and famous author Thomas Wolfe and his editor, Max Perkins, is picking up early buzz. The movie isn’t schedule for release until just before Christmas, but actor Jude Law, who plays Wolfe, is already getting mentioned as a likely Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actor. The film also starts Colin Firth as Perkins and Nicole Kidman.

The movie was not filmed in Asheville, but Law visited our mountain town last summer to learn more about Wolfe. Law checked out some of Wolfe’s writings at Pack Memorial Library, visited Wolfe’s gravesite in Riverside Cemetery and ate at a couple of downtown restaurants with old ties to the Wolfe family.

The Evening Standard, in a recent interview with Genius director Michael Grandage, reports that Grandage has high hopes for awards potential of the movie:

The film is a story of American literary giants but — when will the Yanks wise up to this? — played by a predominantly British and Australian cast (Jude Law as Wolfe, Kidman as his lover Aline Bernstein, Dominic West as Hemingway and Guy Pearce as F Scott Fitzgerald) and filmed mostly in Manchester. Lionsgate is deciding its release schedule. Does Grandage think his stellar cast might pick up more gongs with it? “It’s a very delicate little film about a massive subject, but certainly the performances here are as good as ones these actors have won awards for.”

In related news, a recent interview between Marie Arana, co-director of the Library of Congress National Book Festival, and biographer A. Scott Berg, was posted to the Library of Congress blog about the book fest. Berg wrote Maxwell Perkins: Editor of Genius, which won a National Book Award. It is the book that the movie is based upon. From the Q&A:

Q: You published a prize-winning biography of Maxwell Perkins in 1978. Thirty-eight years later, in 2016, that book will be released as a movie. How does it feel to have a work so firmly in your past brought forward in another era and another medium?

A: It feels great–something of a relief–because the book has always been in my “present.” Not only have I continued to give talks about Perkins over the decades, but the book has almost always been in development as a film since 1978. The first actor to express an interest in the lead role back then was Paul Newman. Now we have a magnificent cast, headed by Colin Firth, who is, in my opinion, the most ideal man for the role ever, somebody born to play the part. And he gives a stunning performance. Even with my book still out there, I believe Perkins remains the least known important figure in American literature. The movie–called “Genius”–should bring his story to a wider public; and that should give people a better sense of his great contributions.

Q: Tell us about the complicated process of transforming the life of a book editor (in which so much happens at a desk, writing, thinking) into a visual story.

A: Actually, the process of transforming a book into a movie–even one about a sedentary book editor–isn’t necessarily complicated. The key is to look for the basic drama of the story, that which is inherent in the relationships of the primary characters. Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Logan–who won the Tony Award for his play “Red,” about painter Mark Rothko–recognized that Max Perkins editing books should be secondary in the film. The central story of the movie is the friendship between Perkins and novelist Thomas Wolfe and the intense feelings these two men had for each other while producing some of the mightiest literature of the day, and how their work together threatened Perkins’s marriage and Wolfe’s relationship with the celebrated theatrical designer Aline Bernstein. Actually, the hardest part of bringing a serious book to the screen–especially about a literary subject–is in convincing financiers that the public would be interested in such a story.

The Editors’ Weekly in a post earlier this month marveled that a big-budget Hollywood movie was being made about the relationship between an editor and a writer.

In Genius, Jude Law plays Thomas Wolfe and Nicole Kidman plays Aline Bernstein, Wolfe’s mistress, a married woman twice his age. The film deals with Perkins’s personal relationship with the couple and his professional one with Wolfe, which started out as mutual admiration, morphed into an almost father-son relationship and then ended so very, very badly.

Was it a personal quarrel? A professional one? Did Wolfe feel that Perkins had overstepped his bounds, no longer letting the work belong to the writer? Or did Perkins realize the darling writer he’d talked Scribner’s into publishing wasn’t the writer he thought he was?

It will be interesting to see what Genius, the movie, comes up with. If nothing else, it will be amazing to see a film about an editor.

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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1 Comment

  1. Cathy Huffman June 8, 2016

    Why do studios make movies set in N.C. and film elsewhere? When they made Cold Mountain, they filmed that one in Eastern Europe. Where did they film this one?


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