Sunday, May 6, 2007

Kevin Wignall's “People Die”

The publisher's description for Kevin Wignall's People Die reads:

JJ is a model employee. He does his work quietly and competently, and he keeps his nose clean. But JJ's job is murder for hire, and when the kind of company he works for undergoes restructuring, people don't get fired -- they get fired upon. So for the first time in his life, JJ is not just a predator; he's the prey, and he doesn't even know why. All he knows is that the people close to him are being killed, former allies are turning against him, and the only person offering help is the best friend of one of his victims.

It's one of the golden rules -- never become involved with a target's friends or family, with the people who loved him. But JJ's running out of options, and, despite himself, he's drawn by the lure of passing through that door, from his side of death to theirs.

Sounds like a story I'd pay to see adapted for the big screen. Of course, the success of the film adaptation might depend on who played "JJ"....

Wignall shares some thoughts on that critical matter here:

Both my last book, For the Dogs, and my forthcoming book, Who is Conrad Hirst?, have been optioned for film so I know better than to even dream of them actually becoming movies, let alone who I’d like to see cast in them.

People Die, my first novel, is actually the book that’s had the most film interest over the years but it’s the one that still hasn’t been optioned, in part because of plot problems. When the director Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break, Near Dark) wanted to adapt it, nearly all of the discussions we had were about how to remove the second half of the plot.

Subsequently, a producer from Marc Platt’s (Wicked) company wanted to concentrate on the second half of the plot and remove the first section. So it was always about plotting – at no point were there ever concerns about casting.

JJ, the central character, is a thirty year old government hitman – charming, intelligent, very aware of the impact of what he’s doing but completely capable of detaching himself in the crucial moment. When he becomes a target of his own organization he has to befriend the family of one of his victims to get to the bottom of why he’s wanted dead.

Lots of names were mentioned as a potential JJ – Jude Law, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt (this was five years ago). In talks with Kathryn Bigelow’s production executive I actually said I was open to any suggestion except Tom Cruise – with some irony, when our talks collapsed, Bigelow went on to sign a deal with … Tom Cruise.

I jokingly say on my website that I don’t care if the actor is English or even a man, and I suggest that Clare Danes could play the part – this encouraged a different producer to get in touch and suggest that Ashley Judd might be ideal in the role!

Of course, five years on, most of those actors are either now too old or their careers have moved in different directions. Now there are other actors I could see in the role – James McAvoy, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Gosling – and for all I know, there might be a talented twenty year old out there hoping he can option the book and wait a few years before playing it.

And the truth is, the best performances are always the least expected. Ideally, the person I’d want to play JJ is someone none of us have heard of, but who’ll be associated evermore with his role in the film of People Die. Either that, or someone who you really might not expect to play such a character … hmm, Ashley Judd suddenly doesn’t seem such a strange proposition.
Visit Kevin Wignall's website to learn about his books and stories, and check out his posts at the group blog "Contemporary Nomad."

--Marshal Zeringue