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Does Hollywood 'get' Elmore Leonard?

Author not always fond of the movies based on his books
/ Source: The Associated Press

Elmore Leonard’s best-selling crime novels are famous for cool characters and plots that feature twists and turns.

Even though Leonard’s characters have to deal with an ever-changing landscape, the author himself is remarkably consistent.

Half a century after he began publishing books and 20 years since he hit it big, Leonard continues to churn out best sellers. And the 78-year-old author still writes everything longhand, then types it out on his typewriter before his daughter enters it into a computer.

Leonard doesn’t own one.

“It doesn’t occur to me to have a computer,” Leonard said. “There’s no reason for me to have a computer. I’ve been writing in longhand for 50 years. It’s more a question of what pen do I use than it is anything else.”

His latest effort, a crime caper called “Mr. Paradise,” was released this month and is the first of his novels set in his hometown of Detroit for some time.

From the page to the screenAnd on Friday, yet another of Leonard’s books hits the big screen.

“The Big Bounce” — starring Owen Wilson, Morgan Freeman, Charlie Sheen and Gary Sinise — is based on the Michigan-set novel of the same name.

This version is set in Hawaii. The book also was made into a 1969 Ryan O’Neal film that Leonard didn’t particularly like.

While early efforts to translate Leonard’s books to film were failures, recent efforts have been more successful, particularly a string of three 1990s flicks — “Get Shorty,” “Jackie Brown” and “Out of Sight.”

One of the main characters in “Out of Sight” — Florida-based U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco (portrayed by Jennifer Lopez) — is on the small screen in an eponymous ABC series that stars Carla Gugino and is scheduled to return in March.

Back on the big screen, John Travolta will reprise the role of Chili Palmer from “Get Shorty” in Leonard’s “Be Cool,” which will begin filming in February.

Don Cheadle, who appeared in “Out of Sight,” is in talks to direct a film version of Leonard’s 2002 novel “Tishomingo Blues,” and Kathy Bates visited Leonard in Detroit last year to talk about making a film version of “Pagan Babies.”

Getting the gritty details right
AP: Why did you choose to return to Detroit for “Mr. Paradise”?

Leonard: Because it had been so long. It has been about 20 years since I did anything with the emphasis on the cops. And I thought, ‘Why don’t I do that?”’

AP: When you spent time with homicide investigators and medical examiner’s office personnel, what did you learn about them and their professions that you didn’t know before?

Leonard: Well, I learned that they used long-handled pruners to open up the body to snip open the rib cage.

AP: Did you actually see that happen?

Leonard: Yeah. ... You stand back behind a glass wall to watch it. Because if you go in the autopsy room, then you’ve got to put on all the stuff.

Leonard not always a fan of the films
For a long time, the films that were made from your books were not your favorites. You said it took them a long time to “get you.” Does this TV series “get it” and does the new “The Big Bounce” movie “get it”?

Leonard: “The Big Bounce” movie is so different from my attitude — the attitude of the book. I don’t think you can really compare them. It’s a different story. It has a much different setting. The book was set up in the Thumb area of Michigan.

AP: Were you consulted on this movie?

Leonard: Yes, but it didn’t do much good.

AP: Did you like the original “Big Bounce” movie?

Leonard: No. That was probably the second-worst movie ever made.

AP: What was the worst?

Leonard: I don’t know, but there must be one that was worse.

AP: What was the problem with it?

Leonard: They miss the attitude of the book. They try to be funny or they try to be sexy. (”Get Shorty” director) Barry Sonnenfeld realized that you shoot it straight. You don’t get reactions from other actors when someone delivers a line that’s funny. You’ve got to wait to see if the audience likes it, because all these people are serious. That’s the main thing.

AP: The characters you write straddle the line between good and evil. Is that intentional?

Leonard: Sure. They’re not criminals all the time. You wouldn’t necessarily know that the guy is a criminal unless he’s committing a crime. I try to show the human side of all of them. Especially with a cop. I like to see him cutting corners. He sees different situations as a gray area.