Natchez author readies for release of new thriller, upcoming movie

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 24, 2001

Greg Iles smiles like a man who knows a big secret.

He looks up from his easy chair perch, flips his moppish hair away from his eyes and takes a pull from a can of Tab. The proverbial Cheshire cat never grinned any wider.

&uot;Here we are in the hub of craziness,&uot; says the best-selling author and Natchez native son. &uot;And it’s fixing to get bigger.&uot;

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And when he says &uot;craziness&uot; he’s not merely referring to his office, which is peppered with promotional pieces, guitars and enough electronic gadgets – telephones, camera and computer gear – to make most Radio Shack store managers jealous. The craziness Iles speaks about is his own life, work and new love – Hollywood.

With his latest novel, &uot;Dead Sleep&uot; ($19.95, Putnam) set to release in two weeks, the 41-year-old is fascinated by the world he’s just left – or is it, just entering.


Filming of a movie based on Iles’ last book, &uot;24 Hours,&uot; ended two weeks ago. During the weeks of filming, Iles became immersed in a culture and experience unlike anything he’d previously seen.

One plane ride to the set in Vancouver and Iles was rubbing elbows with some pretty heavy Hollywood folks.

&uot;In one minute people said &uot;Oh, you’re going to meet (’24 Hours’ stars) Charlize Theron and Kevin Bacon,&uot; Iles says. &uot;Then the next day I was in the room working with them.&uot;

The film was shot on location in Vancouver and is expected to be released in January 2002 by Sony Pictures.

&uot;The pressure on set is just phenomenal ,&uot; Iles says. &uot;It’s a $30 million budget – the crew costs $120,000 a day. Anything that slows down the process costs bigtime.&uot;

Perhaps it was fitting the film was being rushing into production since the book itself was a frenzied thriller set in the course of one 24-hour period .

&uot;This movie was rushed into production because of the impending writers strike (which has since been resolved),&uot; Iles says. &uot;Therefore, all of the things like the meetings and discussions on the script didn’t happen.

&uot;I started rewriting every scene of my own script the day before it was shot.&uot;

The &uot;24 Hours&uot; trip to the silver screen also had another Natchez connection.

&uot;I actually wrote the screenplay before I wrote the book,&uot; Iles said, adding that he was urged by Glen Ballard, also a Natchez native, to write the story.

Ballard, the award-winner producer of several albums by Alanis Morrisette, Dave Matthews Band and others, served as executive producer of the film.

&uot;What he did was bring together the elements – the stars, the director, Luis Mandoki and the producer, Mimi Gitlin,&uot; Iles said. &uot;He got us together in L.A.&uot;

The team clicked quickly.

&uot;When I met Luis, I knew this was something I wanted to do,&uot; Ballard said. &uot;When I met him he was coming from editing ‘Angel Eyes.’

&uot;We talked and he said he wanted my involvement in the movie. I didn’t believe him, but as it turned out, he wanted more than I could give sometimes.&uot;

Iles spent about five weeks in Vancouver during the filming, returning often to Natchez in search of a better focus on things.

&uot;When you’re in the eye of the hurricane you can’t see the whole thing,&uot; he says. &uot;If you get all the way back to Natchez, and the script is piled in front of you, it’s much easier to figure out what the story is all about.&uot;

Just another voice

With six novels under his belt, Iles is fairly comfortable with how his writing process works, but filmmaking is a different beast entirely.

&uot;It’s very different from writing a novel,&uot; he says. &uot;From the very start it’s about compromise and collaboration – everybody’s got a different idea of what the story is.

&uot;As a novelist you’re all powerful all the time, but on that movie set you’re just one more voice. It’s a funny feeling, but it’s a good feeling, because you realize what good hands this thing is in.&uot;

Iles said the relationship he built with Mandoki was key.

&uot;Luis is so generous and open. We’d go line by line through the script,&uot; Iles says. &uot; The guy’s a genius. It was like getting a degree in film school. And I think he and I will end up doing another movie.&uot;

Not exactly the book

Although Iles says he was given unprecedented access and say in some aspects of the film, some changes had to be made.

&uot;The movie isn’t based in the South anymore,&uot; Iles says. &uot;They were filming in Vancouver so it’s hard to make it look like Mississippi.&uot; So it’s based in Portland and Seattle.

&uot;You have to change to fit certain things,&uot; Iles explained. &uot;The guy in the book keeping the girl is mentally challenged. In the film, he’s just a little slow.&uot;

And things such as the young victim’s disease were changed, Iles says. As production of the film began, the filmmakers realized another film already being shot involved a child with diabetes; so now asthma is the child’s disease.

Despite the changes, Iles says the film is in some ways better than the book.

&uot;We thought more about the film than I did with the book,&uot; he says. &uot;Many times scenes that are static in the book can’t work that way in the movie. If I want to spend 20 pages describing 10 minutes of time, I can. But it doesn’t work in the film.&uot;

Iles also was charmed by the acting expertise of stars Theron and Bacon.

&uot;They’re so professional,&uot; Iles says. &uot;It’s just a question of how many times you want them to do a scene – because they’d get it right every time. It’s unbelievable.&uot;

&uot;Dead Sleep&uot;

Each of Iles’ previous novels has been critically acclaimed and – so far – &uot;Dead Sleep&uot; is no exception. Publisher’s Weekly gave the book its first glowing review.

Like each novel Iles has penned, &uot;Dead Sleep&uot; isn’t merely a rewrite of his last book.

&uot;I don’t want to fall into the trap that 99 percent of novelists go through which is rewriting their last book,&uot; Iles says. &uot;I knew two books ago that if I rewrote the same book or started a continuing character, I’d be more successful.

&uot;(But) when you have a continuing character, the arc is limited,&uot; he explains. &uot;You can’t have a character that has a life-changing arc every year – unless you’re writing ‘Murder She Wrote.’&uot;

But that isn’t to say that &uot;Dead Sleep&uot; isn’t a thriller through and through.

The novel’s main character is Jordan Glass, a female photojournalist who discovers a series of paintings featuring the &uot;Sleeping Women&uot; – women who some people believe to be dead. As Glass unravels the mystery of the &uot;Sleeping Women&uot; and their anonymous artist, she begins to unravel secrets about her past and about her missing father, also a renown photojournalist.

As usual, Iles manages to spin believable characters and toss in a few plot twists to keep things interesting.

For Iles fans, one of the first things readers of &uot;Dead Sleep&uot; will notice is Iles has returned to his use of the first person as he used in &uot;The Quiet Game&uot; and &uot;Mortal Fear.&uot; The only difference is this character is female.

&uot;It was the challenge of the book,&uot; Iles says.

In the works

While the new book is coming out, Iles is working on his next book – which is due in six months.

&uot;Jump out of one and into another,&uot; he says. &uot;You’re burned out on one, and you have to start another.&uot;

However, the book under way holds special interest to Iles.

&uot;It involves things that I’m hugely interested in like quantum physics, the origin of the universe but now that I’m actually in the place that I’ve got to write it I don’t want to look at it.&uot;

It’s a book he’s tried to write previously, but due to time constraints has postponed it and written other books to meet his one-book-per-year contract.

&uot;(My publishing house) has already asked if I’m actually going to write it,&uot; Iles says, letting the weight of the question hang in the air, before moving on without actually committing.

Future is now

With the paperback version of &uot;24 Hours&uot; coming out July 2, the film in post-production and &uot;Dead Sleep&uot; on the verge of being released, Iles says he’s thrilled with his success, but realizes it may not last forever.

&uot;It’s just like being an athlete,&uot; he says. &uot;You have a certain number of years when you’re in your prime. You can be success, then that’s it – you’ve come and gone.&uot;

But taking his career to the next level depends on the success of both the film, and the two books.

&uot;Instead of the old way when one comes out and I think ‘I hope it goes well,’&uot; Iles says. &uot;This has to go well.&uot;

&uot;’The Quiet Game’ (paperback) went to No. 9 on The New York Times Bestseller List,&uot; Iles says. &uot;I want ’24 Hours’ to get to the top five, and I want ‘Dead Sleep’ to go high, too.

&uot;It’s like saying you want to win the NBA Championship. It’s not easy, but I think it can happen.&uot;

With the recent success, Iles’ life has become more hectic and busier with each passing day.

&uot;Life has just gotten crazy,&uot; he says.

&uot;Things you dreamed about when you’re a kid – suddenly they’re happening to me … &uot;

&uot;I’m just in a weird place in my life,&uot; he says. &uot; I’ve just got to stay focused on what got me here – writing novels and take the opportunities as they come on the film side …

&uot;In a weird way I sort of feel paralyzed,&uot; he says.

&uot;I mean my dreams are coming true. While I’m writing books, I’ve got to find out what I was brought here to do.&uot;