As you probably know, I’m a huge fan of Chuck Palahniuk, best known as the author of Fight Club. I’ve attended, god knows how many of his public events over the years, and got the chance to sit down with Palahniuk in Park City Utah at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival to talk about the big screen adaptation of his novel Choke. The photo above was taken at the Choke premiere, the night before this interview. Palahniuk leaned his head across mine right before the flash. “Congratulations, now you have syphilis.” he added. Fans of the author will surely recognize his patented sense of humor.
Palahniuk chats with me about the big screen adaptation of Choke, Heath Ledger – who had died hours earlier and had been at one time attached to the project, the progress of future big screen adaptions including Survivor, Invisible Monsters, Diary and Lullaby, some of the stuff he loved from the film, an idea he wish they had used, and his upcoming book Snuff. Enjoy!
Peter Sciretta: I loved the movie, could you talk a little bit about the process of getting it made. I know it was a really long strugle.
Chuck Palahniuk: Yeah. They had the option for a long time. I talked to Gregg Clark on and off about what he might put into the screenplay, what he might cut. And having a screenplay is like having another draft. So all the sort of spirit of the stairway things that you wanted to put in, but you didn’t think of them until a month after the manuscript went to press…
Peter: Well you said that about the ending of Fight Club, didn’t you?
Palahniuk: You know, I had the back and fourth but the ending was entirely David’s. But I knew that David had to bring up the romance at the end so I could understand why he did. In the same way I can remember why Clark left the stone house stoning scene out. Because there is only so much that can go in a movie before it becomes overload.
Peter: So you were talking with him for a long time… How involved were you in the drafting process?
Palahniuk: You know, just giving him the ideas for things I wish I could have included. Very early on I had an idea for a social contract that Victor’s mother should ask him to kill her, so that when he does subsequently kill her, it is kind of an appropriate thing. BecauseÂ euthanasia is so accepted now…
Palahniuk: But I don’t think Clark was ready to go there.
Peter: What else did you suggest for the movie that wasn’t in the book?
Palahniuk: That’s the main thing that sort of comes to the forefront in my mind.
Peter: Last night I mentioned to you that my only complaint about the film was the voice over. I loved your voiceover, and they removed it from the last two acts.
Palahniuk: You know, I like the way it works. At first I was nervous because I thought it would be too much like Fight Club. Because Fight Club had a lot of voice over establishing things in the first act. But in a way you are moving from the abstract of language to the very litteralness of movement. Because language is what books do very well and movement is what movies does very well. So in a way having voice over in the begining almost works as a missing link between books and movies, and helps become what it is in the end – a movie. I think it works better that way. Actually, I kind of cringe in the third act of Fight Club when the voice over comes back, and I wish it hadn’t done that.
Peter: Yeah, it seemed kind of unnatural.
Palahniuk: Just unneccessary.
Peter: Was anybody attached to the project before Clark Gregg got involved.
Palahniuk: Ummmm No. Not in terms of actors. Early on there was a lot of talk about Ryan Gossling as Victor. And there was even talk about Heath Ledger, which is kind of a shock today.
Peter: It’s very sad. [Editors Note: This interview was recorded one hour after the announced death of Heath Ledger]
Palahniuk: Have you heard anything?
Peter: I heard it was pills, that he was found in a room by his housekeeper, and someone told me that Perez was reporting that he was with one of the Olsen twins, although I’m not sure if that is true. It’s very sad. I just came from a screening. I learned about it in the middle of the screening. Actually, it was almost like something from one of your books. Everyone in the screening were trying to watch this movie and slowly you see all the cell phone screens, and people start to leave.
Palahniuk: And its funny how the instantaneous nature of information now, everyone knows everything at the same time.
Peter: The most ironic thing about this is… We were at the Osama Bin Laden screening, which is one of the three big films of the festival. I think Choke Osama and Wackness are the three big ones. And most of the major movie journalists are in this room unable to leave but also unable to pay attention to the film.
Don’t you think the cult success of Fight Club would have propelled more of your books onto the big screen quicker?
Palahniuk: If it hadn’t been for 911, yeah. 911 just made the idea of any kind of dark thing hard for people to be with for the time. I think that really was the reason.
Peter: My favorite book of yours is Survivor and…
Palahniuk: Knock on wood, because the folks who just made I Am Legend are making Survivor.
Peter: Is there any forward movement on that?
Palahniuk: Yes, they have a screenplay. Last I heard they ordered one more revision on the screenplay before they are ready to cast it. Fingers crossed.
Peter: Any update on Lullaby?
Palahniuk: Lullaby is with a man named Rolf Johansson, a Swedish director. I met with him a year ago in England. And his goal was to get it into production in two years. So he has one more year.
Peter: So he has an option?
Palahniuk: Yeah. Diary they have a screenplay. Last I heard they were going to start casting.
Peter: Who is making Diary?
Palahniuk: A man named Yanni who was the director for Harrison Ford’s… uhhh I can’t remember if it’s the airplane movie or the one before that, the sub marine movie… He was a director of Michelle Pfeiffer in The Portrait of a Lady. [Editors Note: I am unable to figure out what director Palahniuk is referring to]. So he’s been around for a long time.
Peter: What about Invisible Mosters.
Palahniuk: Invisible Monsters has been optioned by a man named Jesse Peyronel from Great Brittan for a long long time. Everytime he gets it cast, fiancing falls apart. He;s been working on it for a long.
Peter: I’ve been waiting for that one, it would make an interesting movie. Wasn’t Jessica Biel attached to that?
Palahniuk: She was… Milla Jovovich was attached to it for a little bit. I’ve heard so many names that I’ve stopped paying attention. That’s kind of the miracle of Choke. I’ve been hearing these little dispatches, little updates, and then suddenly BOOM everything aligned within this tiny tiny window. And it all happened very quickly. And to hear that it sold so quickly last night.
Peter: You must be ecstatic.
Palahniuk: I am ecstatic. But the idea of something we’ve worked on for years happened so quickly. It seems a little traumatic, like the opposite of a car accident.
Peter: What did you think of the film?
Palahniuk: I really loved it. I really thought it was sweet and my two favorite parts were things Clark invented, like Cherry’s speech in the Kitchen. It completely caught me off gaurd. Were she talks about Revelations in the bible. I felt like completely put back. Paige Marshall’s speech by Kelly [Macdonald] which was not something in the book.
Peter: That was at the end, right?
Peter: I actually kind of teared up at that moment. It was very well done and I didn’t remember it being from the book.
Palahniuk: Well it wasn’t. And thats the sort of shocking thing where someone really calls you on the carpet and you see yourself sort of dissected in this really public way. Maybe it’s just me but I have a lot of trouble expressing those kind of feelings so more often it’s easier to be sarcastic, to be ironic, or to be absurdest rather than express sentiment. That’s why I feel personally reprimanded at those moments.
Peter: II thought the film was perfect. I wish they had used your opening chapter from the book, which I love. You know “Don’t see this movie, walk out right now…” That whole thing.
Palahniuk: I wished it opened with a flashback showing Victor’s mother before we saw her in decrepitude. But I thought it still worked. And it’s so weird in retrospect. I hadn’t seen Fight Club for a couple years after the buildings had fallen down after 911, and I was really dumbfounded. And last night when she was opening the cages and letting the lions out… I was thinking…
Peter: I know… I was thinking the same thing.
Peter: It’s funny how you create something and something like that happens and brings a whole new meaning to what you created.
Palahniuk: And you find yourself shocked by your own thing.
Peter: One last question, what’s the next book your working on?
Palahniuk: Oh, the one that comes out this Spring is called Snuff and the biggest selling adult film of all time was The World Largest Gangbang, by this feminist graduate student from UCLA. So what about the idea of a woman who is retiring from porn, and wants to set the world record, and she wants to do it in a way where she will more than likely die in the process so this will be the last such movie ever allowed, and her record will stand for all time. And she conceived an illegitament child during the making of her first porn movie, gave it up for adoption, and has never seen it. And she wants the income from this record breaking movie to go to that child after her death. So the book Snuff, is basically about three men who meet in the green room among the 600 guys all wiating their turn to fuck her. One of them is the man who got her into her into porn. Some kind of old, like Ron Jeremy, a middle guy and a young guy, who is most likely the son she gave for adoption 20 years before. And he’s been writing to her for years trying to establish contact, and she has never written him back. So this is the last desperate way to meet his mother and say “I love you”.
Peter: Are you sure you’re not just trying to create a book that can’t be made into a movie, with this large gang bang? [laughs]
Palahniuk: It actually started as a play, and I really just wanted to flesh it out as a book. But the goal is to try to do something that movies can’t do, and i love that!
Peter: Totally! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me.
Palahniuk: Thank you.