The debut novel from Tennessee native Kevin Wilson, The Famliy Fang (Ecco), is a dysfunctional family saga about a pair of performance artists and the terrible things they put their children through for the sake of art. Just two months after its release, the production company of Nicole Kidman and Per Saari, Olympus Films, had acquired the screen rights, with Kidman herself expected to fill the role of clan matriarch Camille Fang. Tip Sheet caught up with Wilson for a phone interview about movie adaptations, Nicole Kidman’s strangest roles, and why happy endings make no sense.
How did Hollywood discover the Fangs?
When the book came out in August, my agent was sending it around to different producers, and there was interest from a few places. When I was on book tour I was also talking to these people about the possibility of turning it into a movie, which was really strange. I’d be in this hotel room in Charlotte, N.C., and I’d be talking to these movie people. It came down to three places that really wanted to make it. I really like movies, but I don’t pretend to know what all this means. I know people who sold the movie options to their books, and then nothing ever happened with them, so I wasn’t really taking it too seriously.
How did Kidman’s company approach you?
I started talking to [Kidman’s partner] Per Saari and we got along really well, we liked the same movies and everything. I wrote some with Nicole over email, and I could tell she had read the book really closely, she had these very specific things she wanted to do. She was really smart and the thing she said was that they would do everything could to try to get it made. They envision it as a low-budget art movie, which is fine with me.
Did Kidman herself play a part in your decision to go with Olympus?
Well the other thing that’s kind of weird is that I love Nicole Kidman, and I have for a long time, so it was hard to think rationally about it. And more than that, she chooses really strange stuff that big stars wouldn’t normally choose to do. She chooses big movies and then she chooses strange, small movies. And even in the big movie, there’s something weird about them—looking at The Others and Eyes Wide Shut, those are really difficult, weird movies. Birth (about a woman who becomes convinced that a 10-year-old is the reincarnation of her dead husband—ed.) is one of the weirdest movies I’ve ever seen—the premise is so insane, yet she does this really concrete performance. And Fur, the Diane Arbus movie: these are not things that immediately suggest themselves as movies.
The way that the Fang narrative shifts around and the characters age, it seemed to me it wouldn’t make such a great movie, but I think if anyone could do it it’s her and this company. They’re not at all what I would have expected from Hollywood people, I expected they would want to make it a love story about Annie (the Fang daughter—ed.), shave off what’s weird and make it into a traditional story. If they have this kind of sensibility where they’re willing to make difficult things and just see where they work or not. That’s a good place to be.
So I assume you’re getting some A-list money for this?
No, it was not very much at all. In fact, the audiobook rights went for more. But money was never a concern, it’s really more of a chance to work with cool people.
What kind of movie do you see the novel becoming? Who would you like to see star?
I have a kind of unhealthy obsession with movies. They could probably say any actor and I would say “Great choice, that is the perfect person.” The thing I shy away from, because people mention it—it’s on the book jacket,a ctually—is The Royal Tannenbaums. So many people got upset over that, they read the book and said either “this isn’t like Tennenbaums at all,” or “this is just a shitty Tennenbaums.” I hope it’s different enough but at the same time I can’t pretend that a movie I didn’t love and something I could take pointers from as far as narrative goes.
I grew up not reading fiction, I watched movies and read comic books and one of the ways I taught myself to think about narrative was through film. I bought scripts, I would read the Coen brothers scripts because I really like the dialogue, wha the strangeness of a line can tell you about a character. But also I thought about staging a scene in terms of cinematics. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but when I first started writing I imitated the narrative thrust of a movie. And as I worked, I leraned what you can do in fiction that you can’t do in movies, and vice-versa.
What’s your favorite book-to-movie adaptation?
Probably Iron Man. I think that’s about as good as you can do. The other one is probably Adaptation, it’s an incredible thing to see [scriptwriter Charlie Kaufman] go through all the possibilities of what an adaptation can really be.
Oh shit, wait, Wonder Boys, that one is pretty great too.
Do you think they’ll find a way to give the Fangs a happy Hollywood ending?
People tell me I completely ruined the book at the end. So I don’t know what to say to that. I wanted it to be a kind of complicated, unpleasant ending that offered some possibility of hope, but I couldn’t end it happy, I mean look at those people [his characters]. There’s a way you could twist it to make it seem happy, but everything that comes before it doesn’t suggest that. Happy endings don’t feel real to me, because people don’t die at the end of a book—they have to keep on living, and they’re going to find a way to fuck it up sooner or later.