As the creator of HBO series Bored To Death, Jonathan Ames combined comedy with a nod to detective fiction. Venturing into thriller territory for his novella You Were Never Really Here, he discusses his damaged hero and the movie adaptation directed by Ly
The Bored To Death creator reveals his crime fiction obsession.
What drew you to write a relentless thriller with no obvious humour?
I specifically wanted to write something that wasn’t funny. So much of what I’ve done has been entirely comedic, so I wanted to see if I could do something with a different tonality.
How do you find writing violence compared to writing comedy?
I had some misgivings about adding violence to the world, but justified it, I guess, by thinking that I’ve enjoyed genre books and violence is a staple of such writing. Not sure which one is easier. The challenge was the same – to write in such a way that the reader is not bored, that you provide enough description for the reader to create pictures in their mind.
Do you read thriller authors? Lee Child?
Yes, I’m a fan of Lee Child. Sometimes I get frustrated with the Reacher novels – the plotting, Reacher’s utter infallibility, certain repeated tropes – but I rapidly consume them nevertheless. You Were Never Really Here was very much inspired by the Reacher books and also by Richard Stark’s Parker books. I primarily only read genre fiction. I love page-turners. I love series about a single protagonist. I love the efficiency of the prose, the storytelling… the fantasy of being a capable man.
So is Joe a classic hero or a broken man?
How about we merge the two – he’s a classic and broken hero.
Where did you get the idea of making a hammer his weapon of choice?
I don’t recall where this idea came from. Perhaps I’ve always been scared by hammers.
How involved are you with the movie adaptation?
Lynne Ramsay and I have corresponded for two years and I read many drafts of her scripts and would tell her my thoughts. Recently we met in person and we talked more about the script and the original story, some of my motivations. So my involvement is kind of like a sounding board. I’ve loved all her movies. She’s a great filmmaker, a great artist, and she’ll make Joe’s story her own.
How do you feel about the casting of Joaquin Phoenix?
I’m thrilled – what an extraordinary actor. I’ve been mesmerised by him in every movie of his that I’ve seen.
Readers will want more of Joe – are you writing another book?
Yes, I’d like to write more about Joe, maybe another novella. I’d also like to write more crime/thriller fiction.
Bored To Death also had a detective element. Are you inspired by the genre?
It was very much inspired by my love of Raymond Chandler (and also Dashiell Hammett). Every few years, I reread all or most of Chandler’s books. I’ve probably done this five times over the last 25 years. So it was kind of a Don Quixote story – it’s about someone reading too much detective fiction and as a result sort of losing their mind and coming to think that they are a private detective, in much the same way that Don Quixote read too many books of chivalry and came to think he was a knight.
“I SPECIFICALLY WANTED TO WRITE SOMETHING THAT WAS NOT FUNNY”
Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice.
You Were Never Really Here (Pushkin Press) is out now.
Bored To Death focused on frustrated writer “Jonathan Ames”.