I came across an interesting interview with The Hours author Michael Cunningham the other day, and he talks a bit about the film adaptation of his book. Read the bits specifically about the book and film below, and read the full interview (which is really interesting) at the link at the bottom of this post.
RFE/RL: Such as is done so brilliantly in “Mrs Dalloway.” And here I come to the question that you have been asked a million times before, I’m sure, and I apologize for this. “The Hours” – how did you come up with the idea to write such a novel, and why “Mrs Dalloway”?
Cunningham: It came in stages. “Mrs Dalloway” was one of the first great books I read. And it changed my life. I had not imagined that it was possible to do with language what I saw Virginia Woolf doing in “Mrs Dalloway.” Virginia Woolf was my first love. It could have been Stendhal, it could have been Tolstoy. Somebody put a copy of Woolf into my 15-year-old hands and so it was love forever. I was doomed from the get-go.
“The Hours,” actually, started out to be just a rewrite of “Mrs Dalloway.” I wondered what “Mrs Dalloway” would be like set in contemporary America. And that felt like a conceit after a while – that felt like a rather thin idea for a novel.
RFE/RL: So just one story.
Cunningham: Just one story. And then it grew the second story involving Virginia Woolf. And that still didn’t feel like quite enough. And then as I wrote, I developed this third story – about a woman named Laura Brown who is reading “Mrs Dalloway.” And then it felt like something I could imagine writing – we had Virginia Woolf, the writer, Clarissa Dalloway, the character, and Laura Brown, the reader. We had a perfect triumvirate, and there I went.
RFE/RL: And what did you think about the film adaptation?
Cunningham: I loved the film. This makes me one of the handful of writers who ever had anything good to say about the film adaptations of their novels, but I thought they did a beautiful job.
RFE/RL: And yet I read somewhere that the characters were nothing like you had visualized them when you were writing the novel.
Cunningham: Oh, no, they can’t be – they wouldn’t be. I’m not picturing Nicole Kidman when I write Virginia Woolf, or Meryl Streep when I write Clarissa Dalloway. But it is a remarkable thing to see actors of that caliber play characters you invented. I still can’t quite believe it, it’s been years…
RFE/RL: When we read a novel, we all visualize the characters – and all of us do it differently.
Cunningham: Yes, absolutely.
RFE/RL: But then a film comes out – especially successful film, Hollywood production – and these images kind of get cemented. Now we have Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, and Meryl Streep. Do you think that can be a little bit negative, [that it] limits the perception of the book?
Cunningham: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think it is one of the problems of a film adaptation. Once you have seen Meryl as Clarissa Dalloway, you are not really going to imagine your own Clarissa. It’s why if I go to a movie that’s adapted from a novel, I always try to read the novel first. And I recommend that, if people can do it. If you can’t – there are worse things than having Meryl Streep in your mind. I can think of much worse fates.
RFE/RL: Do you think it is possible to comment on a great work of art simply by relocating it into a different time period? Did “Mrs Dalloway” become more relevant because of “The Hours,” in our day and age?
Cunningham: It certainly became more widely read. Once the movie of “The Hours” came out, “Mrs Dalloway” started appearing on bestseller lists. People were buying it all over the place. And that was enormously satisfying. So even if my book didn’t do anything to reexamine “Mrs Dalloway,” the fact that it brought “Mrs Dalloway” back into public awareness was enormously satisfying, and I felt like that was an unambiguously good result of writing that book.