Working with Genius

Writer John Logan on the challenges of his latest film.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

A Scott Berg, Michael Grandage, Nicole Kidman, Laura Linney, John Logan and Jude Law
A Scott Berg, Michael Grandage, Nicole Kidman, Laura Linney, John Logan and Jude Law Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions hosted a Museum of Modern Art premiere for Michael Grandage's Genius with Colin Firth, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Laura Linney, written by John Logan (Martin Scorsese's The Aviator, Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday, Sam Mendes' Spectre and Skyfall), based on Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, by A Scott Berg. Dominic West as Ernest Hemingway, Guy Pearce as F Scott Fitzgerald and Vanessa Kirby as Zelda Fitzgerald round out their literary world.

John Logan on Scott Berg's Katharine Hepburn for Cate Blanchett: 'He absolutely offered some insight'
John Logan on Scott Berg's Katharine Hepburn for Cate Blanchett: 'He absolutely offered some insight' Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Angela Ashton, Joel Grey, Martha Plimpton, Oren Moverman, Kathleen Turner, Keith Urban, Spotlight screenwriter Josh Singer, Tom Wolfe, Zach Grenier, Elena Kampouris, Lilly Englert, Elena Rusconi, Laura Michelle Kelly, Tommy Tonge, Nan and Gay Talese, Domenico Vacca, Rachel Roy, Max von Essen, Jason Mann, Colby Minifie, Leanne Cope, Alan Cox, Stephanie LaCava, Max Rudin, Aontoine Verglas, Joy and Regis Philbin celebrated at the Monkey Bar after party.

Genius explores the friendship and collaboration between Charles Scribner’s Sons editor Maxwell Perkins (Firth) and writer Thomas Wolfe (Law), his discovery. Wolfe is hyper and over the top as if he had been shot by an energiser dart.

The two men struggle to edit down Wolfe's manuscript for Of Time And The River, arriving in three packed crates - at least 300 pages have to go - as their private lives over time go to hell.

"Are we making books better or only different?" Perkins phrases the editor's dilemma. He also knows how to get to the author, when he becomes unbearable: "All of your words will be worth five of Scott's."

"Her eyes a blue beyond blue," has to go too.

Anne-Katrin Titze: In 1937, Thomas Wolfe sent a letter to F Scott Fitzgerald where he said - Scott, a great writer is not only a leaver-outer but also a putter-inner! What are you?

John Logan: [laughing] I’m a leaver-outer! I’m a leaver-outer! That’s a wonderful quote and exactly right. Because Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe had a very interesting, combative, affectionate relationship. Two respectful writers. At the end of the day, I always think it’s good to write long, then come in short - to tear away what you don’t need.

Jude Law at the Museum of Modern Art
Jude Law at the Museum of Modern Art Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
AKT: In the same letter, there is a mention of The Garden of Allah [the apartment hotel at 8152 Sunset Boulevard]. Does the scene near the end with Fitzgerald take place there?

JL: That’s the idea. It’s our version of the Garden of Allah, yes. It’s not the actual building because that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s our representation of that era of Fitzgerald’s life.

AKT: For the very beginning of Genius, were you writing about the shoes? Was that your way into the script?

JL: That came about in discussion with Michael Grandage, in terms of what the first image was. Do we start with Thomas Wolfe on the street? Do we start with Max Perkins in the office? We debated it back and forth and that just emerged as an interesting, arresting image.

AKT: You have been working on this project for quite a while.

JL: Oh, yes. All of my life.

AKT: How many years with Scott Berg?

JL: Fifteen. Actually, 16 years now. Since I first talked to Scott about it.

AKT: The two of you have been in touch?

Colin Firth and Jude Law as Maxwell Perkins and Thomas Wolfe in Genius
Colin Firth and Jude Law as Maxwell Perkins and Thomas Wolfe in Genius Photo: Courtesy Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions
JL: Oh, we’re very close. We’re very close friends. And when I would do a draft, I would always discuss it with him and get his notes, because he’s got an incredible critical eye for material, Scott. He was just my touchstone all the way through.

AKT: Did he help you with Katharine Hepburn for The Aviator? [Scott Berg wrote Kate Remembered]

JL: [laughing mischievously] He offered some insight, yeah. He absolutely offered some insight.

AKT: For example?

JL: I couldn’t even tell you, it’s so private. But he offered me some insight about writing Kate, for sure.

Coming up - A Scott Berg, Michael Grandage, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Laura Linney at the Genius premiere in New York.

Genius opens in the US on June 10.

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