The Everywhere MAN
From comics to movies to thrillers, writer Gregg Hurwitz is having a moment. He speaks to
Gregg Hurwitz’s novel The Nowhere Man is number one on the New Zealand bestseller lists when Your Weekend phones. It is 10am in Los Angeles and Hurwitz is in his office on the second floor of his house – “It’s the world’s shortest commute,” he dad-jokes. He puts in long hours with a break for working out. And writer’s block? That never happens.
There is always something to be done. Hurwitz writes a crime novel every year – The Nowhere Man is the second in his Evan Smoak series. He writes screenplays and comic books. And he is in the process of adapting a prize-winning book about Isis for an HBO series.
Being a professional writer, he says, is like being a professional athlete. It is about putting yourself through it even on the days when you don’t feel inspired. There is no sitting around waiting for the muse to strike.
Fourteen crime novels with terse, snappy titles such as Tell No Lies, Do No Harm, The Kill Clause and They’re Watching preceded his invention of Evan Smoak in last year’s Orphan X. Here is the first sentence of the first Smoak book: “After picking up a set of pistol suppressors from a nine-fingered armorer in Las Vegas, Evan Smoak headed for home in his Ford pickup, doing his best not to let the knife wound distract him.”
Hurwitz knows that he really struck something with Smoak, an orphan raised in a top-secret military programme who operates now as a pro bono assassin. What if you devised a talented killer who does not have a shattered moral compass, Hurwitz wondered.
The sense that Orphan X was an important new beginning for Hurwitz was expressed in a list of significant influences at the front of the book. These were Hurwitz’s “bad boys and girls, rulebreakers and vigilantes”, from Philip Marlowe to Mad Max to Beowulf and Gilgamesh. Lee Child’s creation Jack Reacher is “in there as the solitary badass antihero”.
Hurwitz confesses to being a big Lee Child fan: “Lee has that great, wry British sense of humour. He’s completely entertaining and readable.”
Like Child, Hurwitz is an intelligent writer working in what many still perceive to be a disreputable genre. He has a BA from Harvard and a master’s degree in Shakespearean tragedy from Trinity College, Oxford.
He argues that the tragedies were commercial rather than literary. They have a lot of darkness in them and are “in some ways, the first thrillers,” as he explained in an interview with The Big Thrill magazine.
You can never have too much darkness. He wrote Batman comics for Marvel and The Punisher for DC. Did he like Christopher Nolan’s moody trilogy of Batman films (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises)? “I love those, they were a big influence. I did a Penguin storyline, Pain and Prejudice, that was dark in its sensibility. I’m drawn to the darker elements. I reinvented the Penguin, the Scarecrow, Clayface and the Mad Hatter.”
The last four are villains in the Batman universe. Apologies for the clumsy segue, but when Hurwitz writes a script about Isis, is he moving from one set of antiheroes or assassins to another? “I wouldn’t think of it in that regard. It’s a very different outing.”
The Isis project is an adaptation of Black Flags: The Rise of Isis, for which journalist Joby Warrick the Pulitzer Prize. The challenge is getting the “huge tapestry” of geopolitical events and players onto the screen. “It’s important that it gets as close as possible to verisimilitude and the historical record.”
Hurwitz has also written a screenplay for a film adaptation of Orphan X, which has Bradley Cooper attached as Evan Smoak. That is likely to be less disappointing to his fans than the casting of Tom Cruise was to Jack Reacher’s. But don’t expect it any time soon. A film called The Book of Henry, written by Hurwitz and starring Naomi Watts, is out in June “and to give you a sense of how long things take in Hollywood, I wrote the first draft 18 years ago”.
The obligatory politics question is asked and Hurwitz tackles it politely. No, he is not a Donald Trump supporter and “for other countries watching, it’s important to note that Trump’s not speaking for all Americans”. A week in Australia and New Zealand, where Hurwitz will meet readers in Sydney, Auckland, Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington and Palmerston North, will take him away from the long hours at his desk and the long hours following improbable events on 24-hour news channels.
He may even get to turn off his phone and think about something else. Is there something else?
“It’s hard to do anything right now other than watch the news,” he says. “It’s hard to explain how all-consuming it is here.”