Movie News & Reviews

'Gone Girl' author Gillian Flynn on adapting it for film

You’ve already seen some aspects of “Gone Girl.” Director David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s runaway 2012 best-seller, out Friday, contains scenarios familiar to watchers of cable news channels.

Like shots of a husband (Ben Affleck) who does not know what face to give the camera after his wife (Rosamund Pike) vanishes. And the hellbent-for-justice cable host’s (Missi Pyle) subsequent body-language autopsy of the husband.

But the film goes darker, deeper and sleeker, merging Flynn’s doozy of an imagination (she also wrote the screenplay) with Fincher’s (“Zodiac,” “The Social Network”) cooler approach.

Fincher uses careful lighting and composition to tease out the psychologies of Nick and Amy Dunne, a good-looking, seemingly well-matched pair of magazine writers. Fancying themselves the New York City urbane ideal, Nick and Amy stay in the honeymoon pocket longer than most couples, until the loss of both their jobs and a move to Nick’s small Missouri hometown, rip them from it.

Fincher and Flynn – a graceful writer with mordant and morbid tendencies – are a better match. The pair are collaborating again on the forthcoming HBO drama-thriller series “Utopia,” an adaptation of a British show.

A longtime Entertainment Weekly writer, Flynn was the magazine’s TV critic when she was laid off in 2008. Not to give anything away, but her post-journalism-downsizing career has worked out better than Nick’s or Amy’s do in the film.

“Girl” and the two novels Flynn wrote before it, “Dark Places” ( a film adaptation, starring Charlize Theron, is forthcoming) and “Sharp Objects” (a TV show is in the works) share with their author an element of surprise. Flynn’s writing for EW, which was smart and witty yet still existed within the magazine’s pop-bright sensibility, offered no hints of the soul-blackness of her books.

Reached by phone in Chicago, where she lives with her attorney husband, Brett Nolan, and two young children, the personable Flynn discussed her love of film, her being simpatico with Fincher, and the tricky business of spoiler culture.

How did you end up writing the screenplay for “Gone Girl”?

My dad was a film professor. I wrote about movies for a long time for EW, and I love film, and to be able to translate this novel into a screenplay was something I really wanted a shot at. That was part of the original deal when I sold (the book) ... I would get first crack at a first draft. Then it was all up to David Fincher whether he kept me on or not. We ended up getting along like gangbusters.

And you are working together again, on “Utopia.”

Yes, I am literally on Episode 2 right now.

When you were at EW, you probably saw more movies and TV shows than the average person does. Was that helpful in writing a screenplay?

Oh, I am sure it must have been. (And because) my dad was a film professor, from a very young age, I was watching movies and talking about movies and dissecting movies. I was the weird kid, in the age before the Internet, who was sending away for mail-order screenplays and studying them. So it felt pretty organic to me.

My books, the way they are written, you can tell they were written by someone who likes movies. The way certain scenes end and begin are very filmic, I think. That said, I felt nowhere near the comfort zone that I do with my novels, where as I am writing, I can say, “This just isn’t working – let’s get rid of this.” That’s why I felt very lucky to have David Fincher to bounce ideas off. If I am feeling uncomfortable, and he tells me I shouldn’t feel uncomfortable, I am not going to feel uncomfortable. There is a great gift of working with a director who is kind of at the height of his game, and has been for 20 years.

Were you very familiar with Fincher’s style, and did you write the script to suit it?

I knew his style. I love his movies. He was the first person I said when someone asked me who I thought should direct the film. There were certain scenes I wrote in the book sort of for David Fincher.

Which ones?

The scene in the (closed, vagrant-occupied) mall. I’ll be honest, the scene in which (the police) go into the mall to look for Amy or look for clues, that has no business being in the book. It doesn’t do necessarily anything. I just really wanted to write a scene in an abandoned mall. As I was writing it, I was seeing it through his lens, and I was thinking, “David Fincher would kill this scene.”

You are from Kansas City, and much of the novel is set in fictional North Carthage, Mo., a town on the Mississippi River. Fincher shot on location in Cape Girardeau. Was it important to you that the film be shot in Missouri?

It was so important to me. I feel like so many films are shot in Canada. “Oh, there is Toronto pretending to be New York – I see you, Toronto.” Missouri to me is its own particular place, part Midwest, part South. Especially those Mississippi River towns. They are just very hard to replicate.

You wrote two books before “Gone Girl.” Why do you think it caught on more than the others?

I am sure that it is the relationship at the center of it. Because everyone that has been in a long-term relationship – not everyone can identify with someone going missing, or a murder, but everyone can identify with the certain power plays, and the resentments. (And) the course of a relationship from the beginning, early, blooming parts to where you figure out how it’s actually going to work and feel. And then all the gender differences. I feel like it gave (readers) a lot to talk about.

When Amy first meets Nick in the film, she jokes that he has a “villain’s chin.” They have a running joke in which he covers his chin dimple with two fingers when he addresses her. I don’t recall this from the book. Is it in the movie because of Ben Affleck’s chin?

(Laughs). I say it was written for the screenplay. I think (Affleck) thinks it is in the book. Because he has a fantastic chin that has inspired many, including myself. I had to use the chin.

Do you do a lot of research into real crimes?

No, I don’t do too much research, just because I am not interested in writing a procedural. I am always worried that the journalist in me, if I get too involved in how things actually work, is going to feel beholden to that. I really want to come from a novelist sort of place.

I am using the procedural to pull the story along, but I am not interested in exactly (how) it will work. When I do the research, I always ask people “ Could this possibly happen?” Not would it happen.

Then how are you able to go so dark in your novels?

From childhood, I was always a kid who liked to go to the dark place. I am a grand worst-case scenarist, in any situation. ... And it doesn’t come from a sense of anxiety. I sort of enjoy that, figuring out how awful something can possibly get.

I think it is partly because I came from a very comfortable, very normal, very safe kind of Midwestern, middle-class upbringing. So I could afford to go to those places and come back and be fine.

From a very young age I was always reading the unedited Brothers Grimm stories, where children got baked into the pie. (laughs). When my cousins and I played dress up, they grabbed the princess costumes, and I was always the witch. The witch has an interesting story to tell. I was always very interested in why people did bad things and became bad people.

As someone who once wrote reviews, how much would you give away about the film “Gone Girl”? Some reviews of the book almost coached readers to anticipate certain things.

There is a reason that there is a phrase “Don’t tell me the ending.” Because I think most people who read books, and watch movies, don’t want to know what is going to happen. I am one of those put-my-hands-over-my-ears, “no-no-no-no-no” people when someone starts telling me what’s going to happen.

I think the vast majority of people are like that, but there is this sort of spoiler culture where it has become kind of a game to suss out and tell people what is going to happen. And it’s really curdling storytelling. Because (viewers and readers) have to decide whether something is still worth seeing or worth reading if they know a certain amount about it.

To what degree did the Scott Peterson case influence “Gone Girl”? The novel evoked it, but the film does even more so, because Affleck looks like him.

He has got that vibe. (His character) is certainly not Scott Peterson specifically. (But) the idea (is) that we are consumers of tragedy now, that we cast our heroes and our villains and we become very invested in them. And certainly Scott Peterson was one of those cases.

How is life different now from when you were a magazine writer?

I would say the main difference, aside from having great creative opportunities, is my world feels a lot noisier than before. There are a lot more opportunities. Seeing myself discussed on the Internet is sort of interesting. There are a lot more voices in my life than there were before. That is something I am trying to be aware of, once I settle back down and start writing the next novel, is to clear those away and go back to being quiet and being a little introspective again, because I think that’s where I do my best work as a writer. To be able to go back into my little underground cave and be in my own brain for a while.