(AV17638) From Gilbert Grape to The Heights: Peter Hedges on Writing and Directing

(AV17638) From Gilbert Grape to The Heights: Peter Hedges on Writing and Directing


welcome my name is Benjamin Percy I’m an
assistant professor in the English department and it’s my pleasure tonight
to introduce Peter hedges special thanks to the Committee on lectures with
special someone yes enter the English department into 2 peter for coming out
here for free to talk with us thanks very much
there’s a moment in pieces of April when Bobby runs up the stairs of their
apartment complex to tell April that her parents have finally arrived for
Thanksgiving he’s been missing for hours he’s been beaten and bloodied but his
love for her is so strong that it shines through his expression and melts away
all of April’s worries and frustration this is the quintessential Peter Hedges
moment when his characters smiled us through a bloodied lip they are all so
beautifully injured from Arnie the mentally challenged boy and What’s
Eating Gilbert Grape who has a habit of climbing water towers and forgetting how
to get back down to Dan the widowed advice columnist who lusts after his
brother’s girlfriend the characters who inhabit the work of Peter hedges are so
real because of their faults all of them misfits speaking to us from the margins
of life hurt and hopeful and deeply human no matter if we love or despise
them we can look to them as models of possibility as what we hope to become or
avoid becoming in this way hedges is as much an artist as he is a scientist of
human behavior of everyday life carefully observed hedges
accomplishments are legion as a novelist playwright and filmmaker his first novel
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape was the basis for the 1993 film which he also
wrote he starred Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio in his breakout role
who was nominated then for an Academy Award
his other novels include an ocean in Iowa and the heights published this
March hedges was co-writer for the screenplay adaptation of Jane Hamilton’s
a map of the world starring Sigourney Weaver and Julianne Moore and for his
work on Nick Hornby’s about a boy he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best
Adapted Screenplay he made his feature film directorial debut with pieces of
April starring Katie Holmes and Patricia
Clarkson and in 2007 he directed and co-wrote Dan in real life starring Steve
Carell and Juliette Binoche hedges has taught at Yale Bennington College and
the North Carolina School of the Arts he has served as a creative advisor to the
Sundance screenwriters lab and been awarded residency’s a yato
the McDowell call me and the Malay Colony and though he now lives in
Brooklyn he still calls himself and will still claim him as an Iowan as he grew
up in West Des Moines but what’s most important about Peter hedges is not the
long list of accolades it’s the way he masterfully tells a
story so that as we grow to know the people in his books and films we find
out something more about ourselves welcome I’m afraid the evenings gonna go way
downhill from that would you speak at my funeral
honestly that was great I believe it’s true that um the Gettysburg Address the
the guy who spoke I read that Garry wills book but after Abraham Lincoln’s
Gettysburg Address was more of an introduction to the afternoon and then
this man spoke for two hours and of course Lincoln read the Gettysburg
Address and the guy just went all no you know two hours of nothing and what we
were that that maybe the best part of the night anyway thank you so much I’m
very appreciative of those kind words I’m thrilled to be here to talk with you
tonight you know when you ever you do something like this you just hope it’s
helpful and useful it’s useful at a time like this if nothing that is uttered
tonight illuminates anything for you you just just get a nice nap and and and you
know carry on honestly my intention is to be helpful to be I loved the phrase
model of possibility it is it’s one of my favorite notions this that you know
to be a model of possibility the other opportunity here for me is to be a model
of what not to be so so you could also you know take some of what I tell you
and go okay I’m not doing that and and and so in a sense I realized I
can be useful to you by disappointing you in every conceivable way
and because that’s the case I feel absolutely liberated anyway that this is
to be a lecture it’s a difficult thing because I don’t lecture i i i just i
it’s not in my lexicon of things i do but i do think i could tell you a bit of
my story i so many of you are from i how many of you grew up I were born in Iowa
that are here I’ll see this is rock in my world okay I know there’s a fine
young man here from Nebraska that would be Andy with the fine name
anyone where anybody from Nebraska okay cup lovely lovely to have you in
our states anyway so so I come from we have you come from or where some of you
wish you had come from and I when I when I was in college I never thought I would
write novels I never I I wasn’t conscious of dreaming of being a
filmmaker but but I knew I wanted to be in the theater I wanted to be an actor I
wanted to be Johnny Depp you can see how well that worked out for me but I didn’t
know Johnny Depp at the time I just wanted to have Johnny Depp’s career
which I think is the perfect film career that any actor could ever have but
anyway that didn’t work out so well but when I was younger when I when I was
your age I wanted to be how old are you may I ask
okay you rock my world you’re my favorite person here I just want to say
that right now you’re adorable 9 years old do you know I can’t read
half of what I was going to read now because you’re here
I’m kidding I’m kidding I’m kidding why are you here okay
now this is this is why we live okay here’s the deal
don’t be a movie director for about 20 years I think I’ve got 20 good years
left don’t take any jobs from me all right when I retire which may be soon
you’re welcome to go at it but until then and do you know something else I’m
gonna tell you something this is the truest thing I know and I learned this
from Sanford Meisner he was my acting teacher he was a brilliant teacher this
this is gonna freak you out okay cuz I said I’m gonna direct 20 more years but
you and I we’re gonna get it down tonight we’re happening okay in a way
that is just I’m so excited right now in fact no one else is here it’s you and me
okay for now then I’m gonna open it up but right now it’s us anyway he he and
this is what I was gonna build to so this is a real problem like what I Drive
to my to mine on lecture lecture cuz actually this is all scripted everything
every word I’ve said you are an actor I hired did you know that I do need you to
speak a little louder like we did in rehearsal earlier you know we all have
that feeling what if everything is a movie in our head what if we are the
galaxy and that’s kind of cool to think you’re in my movie because I really I
didn’t imagine all of you but it worked out good
anyway okay but here’s the truth anything this teacher said to me he said
Peter do you want to be a good actor I said no no I want to be a writer okay do
you want to be a good writer yes do you want to be an artist of life do you want
to learn how to love all good things right doesn’t that sound good maybe
learn how to love isn’t really high in your list right now
believe me in about five or six years you’re gonna want to learn how to love
okay trust me that’s how God worked it out and it’s brilliant okay
but anyway so are we with it do you want to be an artist want to be a writer
whatever is whatever it is you want to do well
whatever that is 20 years I said I’m sorry
he said no anything worth doing well we’ll take you 20 years to learn and
then he said in your case Peter may be 21 and I’ve actually found that to be
true I’ve been a writer for 25 years and it turned out I actually felt it about
my 21st year I was beginning to get a little kind of getting a hang of it
and that didn’t doesn’t mean you won’t necessarily have a little success or get
some attention you may not have that but and you also may be you know people may
go wow you’re really good but this great man said to me anything worth doing well
will take you 20 years to learn maybe 21 and when I was your age and I heard that
that was really to my surprise it was really liberating concept because it
meant well particularly now in this culture where everything’s fast and and
information travels quickly and and and we want things
everything’s microwaved and you you know it happens quickly here came along a
great man with a brilliant teacher who’s one of the great acting teachers of all
time who said you can want it now you can’t have it now it’s gonna take you 20
years and and it wasn’t just you know he wasn’t saying stay alive for 20 years he
was saying work every day for 20 years and it turned out I talked to him more I
said where did you come up with this concept and he said you know that as a
kid he trained to be a classical pianist and anyone who you know works so hard at
something that takes so much time and skill knows that it’s practice it’s
hours and hours of practice so anyway now that you’re all thinking I’ve got 20
years and you’re saying well if I’ve got 20 years can we go out for pizza or do
something you know maybe that’s a good idea
but just stay with me I’m gonna go back a bit and tell you some of my story and
then I’d really love get the questions I may read a little
fact you know what I’m gonna just this is this is kind of an impressionistic
jazz kind of evening I I’m gonna I’m gonna read a little little piece from
the book just a little bit and then then I’m gonna start and tell you a bit of my
story which I hope is helpful and anyway this novel which I’ve written I worked
on for 12 years and it’s a story of a marriage set in Brooklyn Heights where I
live or lived I lived nearby now and the interesting thing about Brooklyn Heights
which you wouldn’t know if you don’t know New York City many people in New
York don’t even know this it’s actually a small town and it’s the first it’s
considered America’s first suburb it’s in a beautiful beautiful area in
Brooklyn in fact not that I’m at this caliber but at in their prime Norman
Mailer Truman Capote Arthur Miller Henry Miller Carson McCullers the list goes on
Nat akov the list of writers who lived in the heights is astonishing and it’s
just it’s a really beautiful beautiful area and and if you’re a parent of a
small child as the two narrators in my book are you know everybody who has kids
and so in a weird way even though this is my third novel and the first one not
set in Iowa it I think I was drawn to writing about the Heights because of
that small-town feel where your actions have consequences and I tend to like a
write to write about communities where if you mess up and and I do and I
thought you said it better than I can I do
attempt to write stories about well-intended people who just they they
they’re doing the best they can and sometimes they don’t necessarily do what
they should we were joking today my sisters in town and I’m staying with my
drama teachers from high school and they’re joking about what a story would
be like if people only did the right thing and I kind of tried to narrate the
story about the good person who wakes up and does everything right and it’s
pretty boring you know you you really do not want to read the book about somebody
who does everything right in fact I think I’m gonna try to write
it and then sell it as a sleep aid so that you read it it was just an idea I
just had actually I think but unfortunately I told you then someone’s
gonna do it and make a lot of money and I won’t have done it and I’ll be bitter
next time I’m back here anyway this is just a short section tim is a history
teacher and this is probably all I’ll read from the book but we’ll see how it
goes um Tim whenever I give say my annual lecture on the Gettysburg Address
when I dress up like Lincoln or recount the Cuban Missile Crisis from Castro’s
point of view and whenever my students clap and cheer as I exit the classroom
and after I climb the school stairs to my cork lined faculty office / cubby
where I sit in my broken oak swivel chair my heart racing exhausted but
elated from my brief dance with brilliance and just as I’m about to
announce to myself I am the God of all teachers I usually have the good sense
to do the following I pull up in my desk drawer rummaged through the assorted
chewed on pens and pencils the packages of post-its the pair of green handled
lefties scissors the loose change in the leftover Halloween candy pilfered from
one of the boys orange plastic pumpkins until the aging envelope is found ahh i
sigh as I take out the single piece of crinkled now yellowed paper and reread
what a former student wrote a few years back
mr. Welch you’re misspelled y ou re my favorite misspelled F AV ER ite teacher
ever I don’t care what anybody else misspelled Els says the writer of this
note who for obvious legal reasons will remain nameless was not learning
disabled dyslexic or a product of the often maligned New York City public
school system he was one of Montague’s own he is at present in his junior year
at a swanky private Northeastern College his major elementary education soon
he’ll be teaching chilled maybe yours that day the above note
failed to bring me back to earth I was flying high and for good reason each
class had gone better than the class before culminating with sixth-grade
American history where I somehow pulled off a dazzling deconstruction of Francis
Scott Key’s lyrics for the star-spangled banner managing vividly to set the scene
shaped the context and in 44 minutes turn 18 sullen sixth graders into
Patriots I’d lost all sense of time since that class my last of the day and
now I sat in my office what now what next I snatched up my office phone hit
nine for an outside line and punched the numbers that connected me home there the
phone rang and Kate answered on the third ring and I started to tell of my
triumph only to be interrupted by Kate’s squeal it’s daddy
she said she handed the phone to Sam who said something indecipherable but by his
tone it was clear something big had happened something worth celebrating so
I said good that’s so good Sammy and Sam got more
excited babbling at a higher pitch and I was cheering now for what exactly I
didn’t know but it was good life was yes whee-ha and then I said let me talk to
mommy Kate came on the other line and so what if my good news was aborted soon to
be topped by Kate who had quite a story to tell so what if I’d left my guts on
the classroom floor so what did you get any of that Kate asked Jesus no I said
tell me and she did history had been made moments earlier when Sam woke up
from some form of group family nap in the living room wandered down our narrow
hallway stripped off pants and diaper climbed up the helper step sat on the
toilet and produced all by himself a single perfectly proportioned poop Kate
was ecstatic recounting every step along the way telling how Sam had told her as
he pointed to the toilet mommy look what I made I had to laugh
yes I was calling because I’d had a triumph too and while it wasn’t
literally poop it was a kind of metaphorical poop all the same are you
crying honey Kate asked she can always tell by the way my voice gets softer the
long odd pauses between words you know I am hurry home okay
we won’t flush until you get here so I’m gonna have a little confession I’ve only
told once I told this last night that the whenever you write a book about a
marriage and you’re married and it’s set in the neighborhood where you live and
you live in the neighborhood where you live people because they I believe
suffer from a lack of imagination sometimes imagine that what you’ve
written is in fiction you call it a novel but they’re convinced that it
actually happened and I don’t know if it’s something in our culture that’s
very obsessed with it being real and if it happened then then it somehow has
more imports but the I I did write a fictional book I didn’t want to write a
memoir about my marriage because I thought it would be nice if I stayed
married and also fiction and this isn’t a knock on anyone who writes memoir
memoirs a wonderful form and important but for me fiction is a gas I I think
what could happen is often so much more interesting than what did and so I wrote
a book that was something I could imagine happening to someone like me or
someone like you you know good people doing their best maybe getting a little
lost but the truth be told the this moment of the poop and the look
what I made I am gonna confess that there are three overt autobiographical
moments in this book and I just read one of them but I want to tell you the
moment because many of you write or dream of writing and one of the thrills
when you write is that moment when you first hold the book when it’s all
typeset and it’s bound and it arrives and I’ve had that experience three times
I’ve been writing for 25 years and in that time I’ve written three not three
novels and my second novel was called an ocean in Iowa and when it arrived after
seven years of work I was at my office and it was a very it’s it’s it’s still
even even with the heights it’s it’s just a wonderful moment when you hold it
I mean then you immediately go is anyone gonna read it and and is this just going
to be a paperweight in someone’s home but but there’s that moment where you go
oh my gosh I did it and every time I’ve received a
book that I wrote the three times I was always alone and so it’s this quiet
moment and then you immediately go whoo-hoo-hoo can I share this with I
mean this and Gilbert Grape I wasn’t even married but and my might
when I got it my fiance was away so I went to FedEx and sent it to her
but in this instance with Ocean Iowa now I had a book and I had a family I have
at the time my son was four and my younger son was two and the book came
and my office is a little apartment a few blocks from where I live so I walk
to work go to work and I had the book I went this is
amazing I got to go share it I’m gonna go share it so I took it out
you know clutched it and I didn’t want anyone to see it till my family saw it
and I’m going out nothing everybody was like the people waiting outside you know
huh don’t don’t ask me what I have so top secret but I went outside and it had
started to rain which I thought was perfect
okaaaay we are we are down together it’s raining I had a sweatshirt on so I
tucked it up and I’m running through Brooklyn Heights
full back with my book I can’t believe it and I’m running and I get home and I
unlocked the door of our apartment open the door and my wife is running down the
hall oh my you can’t believe it you can’t
believe it and I go running down the hall you know holding my book and I go
down and my my younger son is standing in the bathroom you know diaperless
he’ll just love that I’m telling you this but we all wore diapers once and we
all may wear them again sorry I’ve really I’ve got a whole new jag of
depends humour that is I know karmically I’m gonna be struck by something very
soon and just be wearing a diaper all the time and that’ll be beautiful it’s a
time saver anyway sorry anyway so I go I go running in and there is my my son and
of course he’s pointing at the toilet and he says daddy look what I made and
of course the first thing we make is poop I mean that’s what we did we do
that really well we all do we’re all experts were artists of poop dinah you
probably never thought of that but we that’s something we all have in common
within the last 24 hours unless some of yous got some problem that you need to
address we’ve all made some poop so anyway sorry I’m really going
scatological something about aims made me feel I could go there tomorrow night
Iowa City I will never know they wouldn’t get this
it’s the agriculture part of this you know anyway I’m sorry but anyway you
know he said look what I made night I didn’t know what did I was like that’s
fantastic it’s fantastic but you know I’m my wife’s like what what’s wrong
with you you know cuz I’m holding and I and I just went um well look what I made
so so I the wonderful thing about writing is I was you know in this
instance I was able to take a story and and and I think actually in some ways
improve it but but you know kind of turn it but but I’m a fiction writer and I’m
a big advocate for the imagination I think it’s it’s really wonderful – it’s
crazy to say but I go to a sweet little apartment in Brooklyn every day and I
make stuff up that’s what I do and friend of mine here from high school
good buddy he’s a doctor doctors are very important people I love doctors
my brother-in-law is a doctor they change lives you know I hope my stories
are useful I definitely not trying to waste your time but I make stuff up it’s
kind of crazy but I want to talk a little bit about how I got where I got
because while everybody’s journey is unique there are some things that may be
helpful to you in my story because basically my story in a nutshell is a
series of repeated failures and be basically failure upon failure and and
if I tell it well and I’ll try to tell it quickly so we can get to questions
hopefully I will be a model of possibility and you will be able to go
when you find yourself in a situation where everything feels to be in flames
you’ll say ah I knew a guy who everything collapsed and and look what
happened because sometimes the best thing that can happen to you is the
thing that you don’t want to have happen so basically when I was your age I
wanted to be this actor and I did everything I could to be an actor I
studied I was in every play I took dance classes singing classes everything but I
went off to a drama school because I I knew so much that I wanted to do theater
that I didn’t even want to get a liberal arts education I went to a trade school
basically for acting and for the Arts and there I was at the school
and the joke is the harder I worked the better everyone else got it I mean I
just tried so hard and it in a way I was I was hurting myself I just I wanted it
so much and I tried so hard and I heard once from an actor Oliver Platt when we
were on tour four pieces of April they Washington Post was doing an interview
of us and said to Oliver what’s the truest thing about acting that you know
and he said oh it’s the only thing I know and he said that if I’m working too
hard I’m doing something wrong and I was doing something wrong I was trying so
hard I mean I I’m telling you no kid ever wanted to be an actor more than me
so I’m in the middle of my junior year and I realize I’ve made a terrible
mistake I’m at this school I you know how they say don’t put all your eggs in
a basket I every egg imaginable I’d put in this
basket and so I called up my father and I was in really a mess and I’m weeping
on the phone and I said you need to come get me you need to take me away from
college please come get me and he said what’s wrong and I said they’re killer
it’s horrible I made a big mistake bring me home and he actually gave me the
advice he gives people who were suicidal basically because he’s a minister and he
gets a lot of calls at night somebody might call and say I want to kill myself
and and he would say to them who you know that that may be a good idea maybe
he doesn’t say it like that but but the spirit of it was not he’s not gonna say
don’t do that he was gonna say why don’t you take some time I need to step back
you know and take take up so what he basically said was look I’ll come get
you I’m happy to come get you but before I
come get you I want you to try to do something positive to change your
situation so I kind of calmed down and went all right all right something
positive and and he said if you do that something positive thing and it doesn’t
work I’m in the car right away but you have to do that positive thing to change
your situation the life-changing moment did know it because what happened
was hung up the phone and I looked around and I had a classmate who was in
more pain than I was a girl in my class was really suffering but I thought she
was a brilliant actress and I thought no one knew it and I decided oh this was
another thing actually this is my mother who was a drug and alcohol counselor she
had this advice when somebody was about to use again how interesting parents are
big tonight it’s funny how smart they get when you
get older you know that you may not think they’re very smart enough they get
brought to get more brilliant every year for me but my mom used to say to her
clients who were really down in blue they call up and I learned this at her
funeral actually someone said to me that he that he called her once and he was so
blue and so blue and she said okay here’s what you’re gonna do you’re gonna
go out right now and you’re gonna find somebody in worse shape than you and
you’re gonna help them so she didn’t spend any time she didn’t had no
interest in how he was suffering she said you go find somebody else who’s
suffering more so how that ties in to this was in my own way I went and wrote
a play never written a play I wrote a play for my friend to be in and the only
goal in my play was that it showed the faculty how great she was I didn’t think
about being a good writer I just wrote a play for her and that went pretty well
and then I got a grant to produce the works of student plays of a student
student playwrights and dancers and musicians got this grant and I asked
people to create work and nobody was creating work and I went oh my gosh I’ve
got to create plays for this grant because we were lucky to get this tiny
grant and I wrote a play for three friends to show off how good they were
and when that play was done at my college my senior year there was
actually almost a riot on campus when the play was done and and I didn’t even
know the play was funny I had no idea we were just putting it up and we put it up
and started to play people started laughing and laughing and I’m it was
surreal I was like an out-of-body experience I went oh my gosh
this play is having more of an impact than any play I’ve ever been in as an
actor so it was just clear that I was maybe I was supposed to be in theater
but I was supposed to be a writer so so then I became a playwright and I moved
to New York and I started writing plays for my friends and it would be as if you
know in my college I went to school with some wonderful actors one you may know
who mary-louise Parker is if you ever heard of her she’s on weeds on
television and she was in fried green tomatoes and that another guy in my
class was named Joe Mantello he directed wicked on Broadway
he’s now kind of the biggest theater director in America but they were my
clay it was like Gunn going to school with you you know we’re going here and
they were just in class with me and they they didn’t have any job when they got
out of school so I wrote plays for them and we were all poor and they I was just
writing plays for them in fact I’d call them up and say what are you doing in
April and they’d go why and I go I just rented a theater do you want to be in a
play and they go yeah what’s a call thanks ed I don’t know I got to figure
out who’s gonna be in it and then I’ll write it so I would write the play but
it was crazy it didn’t make any sense except we had each other so I so anyway
so I did this for a number of years completely poor did all sorts of odd
jobs I’m trying to tell this quickly because then I had my next big setback
but it was preceded by kind of a big success that I wrote this one play for
two women I wrote it very quickly after a year of
not really writing it I had a title for a year and I’d walk around say I’m
writing a play called imagining Brad but I it was might have been well have been
calling imagining a play because I had no idea what it was about and and then a
play came to me and that’s its own interesting story but I’m gonna skip it
to say then Joe at that point was so tired of only acting in my plays and not
making any money that he said I think I would like to direct do you have
anything and I said oh I just wrote a play for two women and since you’re in
all my plays maybe you should look at that one he said yeah I’ll do it
I said you haven’t even read it no I just I got a direct so he directed a
little workshop at this play for a brief moment it became all the
rage in my little world and a lot of my hero playwrights came to see it and it
looked like this was the big moment and of course it it premiered off-broadway
and I the New York Times called me the Phil Donahue of playwrights he was the
guy before Oprah so it was not really a compliment to be the Phil Donahue
playwrights and the New Yorker I’ll never yo you remember reviews like this
the critic said she wanted to revoke all funding for the Arts after seeing my
play she wanted to burn the theater down yes so I was a little sad after that I
was a little blue but interestingly enough and this is how I came to write
fiction so here you go I’m teaching around that time I’m teaching at
Northwestern University in a summer theater program I walk into a
playwriting class my first and at this point the only plays I’ve done are the
plays with my friends and nobody knows who mary-louise Parker’s yet so I can’t
say this girl who’s gonna be a big star it was in my plays I can’t say that but
I can say when I walk into this class I go hi I’m really nervous I’m gonna teach
him your playwriting teacher and somebody almost and this is not to point
you out because you’re a lovely man but literally with your body language
I’m talking about the man and the fifth the fifth person in this row you serve
with a nice red collar literally sitting like that like that and he looks at me
and he says mr. hedges first of all I’m 23 so he’s calling me mr. hedges it’s
like please really I’m I’m not gray yet just back off you can call me Peter
so mr. hedges what if anything have you written the words if anything changed my
life because I went if anything hmm this kid is pissing me off so I says what I
said to him I said oh well let me tell you what I’m gonna do tonight I’m gonna
go back to the dorm room and I’m gonna write a monologue then I’m gonna
memorize tomorrow night and I’m gonna perform it Sunday at the
faculty recital and I’m gonna dedicate it to you so the next Monday when I walk
into this class you won’t be able to say mr. hedges what if anything have you
written the rest of the class was like whoa that’s so cool
and I was like yes I’m a stud and the guy the guy kind of went like oh oh no
no no and and then of course I had to do it and I went back to the dorm room and
I was so angry because you know and what I found early on in my career this was a
pattern I would say I’ve rented a theatre do you want to be in the show
and they’d say I’m in the show and then I’d have to write the show so I created
when I was younger situations where I had to produce and and I learned a lot
and the shows were sometimes good sometimes it were Tara I wrote one play
all about penguins this was before march of the Penguins and it was all about the
melting of the ozone and my company they did everything they did every play I
wrote and we did a reading I’m so proud as singing penguins and the melting ice
was we read the play laughs like what did you guys think and they literally
said no I said I’m sorry Joe never get me Joe Mantello going I’m
not gonna play a penguin I may look like a penguin
I will never be a penguin anyway the point is that in and I think this is
useful that I am where was I so I did the monologue I wrote it I had to write
it I wrote it I did it it went quite well and then I thought oh I’m gonna
turn this into a play for my theatre company in fact the problem with my
theatre company was we were all young so I thought I had one actress in my
company who had a big head and I said this is a great idea I’m gonna create a
mother who’s really heavy and I’m gonna have a window and I’m gonna put a great
wig on her because she’s young and this is so embarrassing she’s gonna stick her
head out in the window go Arnie Gilbert and they’re gonna describe how
big she is but you’ll never see her you’ll just see her head I don’t know
what I was thinking but this was my eye this is how I came up with Mama grape
because I thought I need an adult but this is how I’ll do it so I wrote a
hundred and twenty pages in a notebook in purple ink because oh it was called
the piece was called going places with Gary Gilbert but at the last minute I
had to rename it because I didn’t like the name Gary Gilbert I came up with the
name Gary grape but I was talking to a kid and he said now I like grape but not
Gary and I said what about Gilbert Grape so I do this monologue then I try to
turn it into a play then I realized that I I don’t really like it as a play I
don’t want it to be a play what I love what I love is I love Gilbert’s voice I
love how he talks he had a great I just he was so much fun to let him talk and
I’d stay up late at night and I was doing every temp job and living on
people’s floors moving all that moved 20 times in these years all the time and I
had no money no health insurance but I had this story and I’ve just kept
talking and talking with Gilbert and I did this for about four years and it
eventually turned into a novel but when really got me to finish it as a novel I
gave up on it as a novel until I read that The New Yorker wanted to revoke all
funding for the Arts and wanted to burn the theater down because I thought I was
going to be the next major American playwright and I thought I’m not gonna
ever let a critic do that to me again so I thought oh this is a good idea I’ll
write a novel and I’m gonna finish my novel so I sat down
and I finished my book and it took me many months but I finished it and then
there’s a whole story of how it got published was his own little story and
and then anyway and on it went and then it became a movie and I can tell that
story too there are so many stories but I’m trying to give you some sense that I
didn’t expect when I was you to be me and I’m not saying you want to be me but
I’m just saying that you you think you’re gonna be or to think you should
be you you should be may not be the you you become and the you you become maybe
a little more interesting than you could have ever imagined and that’s been my
experience and it’s been my experience with a lot of my friends that they
thought they were gonna be actors and they became doctors or lawyers mothers
fathers or in Joe’s case he became a major director and and sometimes the
success isn’t so much in the in how the world views you but it’s in your finding
your place in the world I was fortunate that my dad said to me try to do
something positive to change your situation and it was good that I threw
everything at what I thought I wanted to do because the people I know in my
experience who always had one foot in and always had something to fall back on
they fell back and I never had anything to fall back on so that when I was lost
I was really lost but something always has come along that has surprised me for
instance I vowed after a very bad date with an actress that I would never date
another actress a week later I met an actress and she’s
now my wife so I can literally just go and go and go and tell you story upon
story of that kind of experience where every time I set out to do something
something else happens I want to tell you one other story and it’s a bit of a
jump and I don’t know how many of you know my little movie called pieces of
April but I made it with Katie Holmes and Patricia Clarkson we shot that movie
for $300,000 we shot it with video cameras that are worse than any video
camera than any of you own you can get better picture quality with your iPhone
than with a movie we made and you live in a very unusual time
where you can self publish in ways you couldn’t self publish before there’s the
software to you know make films and your computer it’s it’s it’s you know it’s
astonishing what what you have that we didn’t have anyway when I do you want to hear the
story of whether that piece huh we could go to questions we can go to questions
because it’s a long story and then there won’t be any time for questions and I
really am here for you I mean I am free I’m very cheap and and and it it’s a
better night for me if I feel like I was helpful to you and I as you can see I’ll
talk until till I fall over but but one of you may have a question I may be able
to help you mning oh we kind of like to Jerry Springer it or Oprah it so we’ve
got Andy thank you Andy from Lincoln Nebraska I might add but you’re still
welcome here in Iowa with a microphone so you just raise your hand and he runs
to you so Andy’s a fine young man he’s a freshman
Agriculture’s his major and he’d like to know you so anybody question yes over
there run Andy run run we don’t want to miss a moment run yes yes no and I just
love answering questions before they’re asked no not at all
I was wondering when you started doing stuff did you ever have trouble getting
people to show up to events and like how do you deal with that how do you deal
with people not showing up at your event yeah yeah well yeah I can tell you some
stories with some pretty small crowds you know at one of the is what I tell my
kids one of the ways you are a friend I just explaining this to my son says I
don’t have any friends well one of the ways that you are a friend you you yeah
is to be a friend so so in in that respect I you know I I just went to a
lot of other people’s work and you know I
support encouraged and supported a lot of other people and you know because I
had these other people I was working with we you know we wouldn’t do many
performances but we would advertise we’d keep our ticket prices low and you know
we we’d stand out on the street we I remember we did one show at the quake
theater in New York and here’s Mary Louise Parker 21 years
of age it was a lunchtime show and the only people who came to the play were
homeless people and rats they were honestly rats running through the
theater and and we even performed on Thanksgiving Day we’re sent Mary Louise
out on the streets very pretty she’d be out on street come see my Play come see
my play and she you know boys would be like yeah I’ll go see your play and so
you know so get a cute girl and but I think the main thing is is that you know
you just I I have found in my life that I have uncommon strength when I I have a
great love so if you do work that you love and you’re proud of it may not be
perfect in fact particularly it’s not going to be everything made by a human
is imperfect you know that’s just how it works so if you have that great love for
it it there’s a that moment in pieces of April it’s probably an urban myth but I
love this notion that the car flips over and a mother’s child is under the car in
the mother of course you know would not be able to pick up a car but because her
child is under the car she can pick up the car and I have found that because
I’m not a guy who likes conflict I’m not a guy who likes to sell and go out and
go like hey come see my thing but I can do a lot of things you know short of
hideous crimes that I could be put in jail for I can do almost anything on
behalf of something I love and the fact of the matter is if you feel that about
what you’ve done it’s probably pretty good at least you had to make it it was
you know a real co-wrote all art is Ness Cerie you know and and and if it’s
necessary for you to make and you’ve done your work then you go out and you
go but you know look the world’s littered with late in his career Roy
Orbison played the Iowa State Fair I think two three hundred people
I mean Roy Orbison with a with a tape playing behind him
one of the greatest singers of all time I mean van Gogh didn’t sell a painting I
mean on and on it goes but he did have Gauguin and he had a circle of people
around and he had his brother and you know look it was a hideous end there but
if you read his letters you can you know so I would I would also look to the
people that weren’t understood in their time and takes some solace and that like
hey nobody came to my work well nobody bought a painting by Van Gogh that may
give you you know may help you feel good but I think it’s it’s your passion for
it your belief in it that will carry you that’s that’s the best I can do and was
that helpful like actors showing up though if you schedule it with an actor
oh actors showing up not here’s the thing here’s the thing I found about
actors so you’re talking about like writing a play getting actors to be in
it yeah well the thing I learned early on was that if I gave actors if I asked
them to be penguins in a musical they weren’t going to come but if I put
something on the page that they that gave them a chance to do something they
normally didn’t get to do you know Oliver Platt says acting’s free it’s the
waiting that you pay for you know cuz I’m movies you wait a lot but actors so
so really the real test for me is if I’ve written something and I can’t get
anybody to be in it it’s a pretty good sign that there’s something wrong with
what I’ve written I just spent four years on a script he’s really having
trouble attracting an actor this script I wrote they offer Jack Nicholson twenty
million dollars to be in it and he said no there’s a problem with my script okay
there’s twenty million dollars and I can’t get Jack Nicholson there’s
something wrong I don’t know what it is if you want to read it and figure it out
for me I’ll split my deal with you but but but anyway that doesn’t always mean
it you know sometimes it’s finding the right person
but that I think it’s giving an actor an opportunity to do something they don’t
normally get to do that’s why Katie Holmes came and worked
for nothing on pieces of April because she knew she was gonna get to do
something that people you’d see her in it maybe in a different way and so you
you you you play on people’s ambition and their desire to do good work and my
experience is most artists want to be in something that they believe in so I hope
that was helpful okay thank you for your brave question anyone else yes yes run
run run sorry he’s very good Oh No just pass the
mic pass it down kumbaya I’d like to hear you talk about the really
first-rate novelists whose work you’ve converted into screenplays Jane Hamilton
and Oh Nick Hornby and did you get to work with them right well Jane Hamilton
I know I’m losing them it’s all right it’s all right
that’s good there believe me you know what you need go get it
Jane Hamilton I spent a number of conversations with that was a book I
loved one of my happiest moments was I said boy you know your books really hard
to adapt and she said why I said because I felt like I could write four different
movies and she said that’s funny because I wrote four different books she said
when I was writing the book it was four different times she read the drafts and
gave you know and was very kind it’s you know the movie is nowhere near as good
as the book in that instance I’m afraid we did the best we could but the book is
really beautiful Nick Hornby I spent a lot of time with he took me all over
London he bought me a lot of music he introduced me to what’s that oh great
such a great band so many bands I mean he knows more about music than anybody
on earth and he’s just a lovely gentleman and and I would try to be very
true to his book I kept the Nirvana subplot which I think was so beautiful I
kept it in the time the only thing I did because the studio asked me was I made
Hugh Grant’s character an American at first that’s why they hired an American
and then we wanted to turn him back I you know why wouldn’t this be great for
Hugh Grant so I was getting ready to turn it back to a British character for
Hugh Grant when the director I was writing for said he was British said I
don’t want a Hugh Grant to be in the movie because the British don’t like
this particular brush man doesn’t like Hugh Grant the way we do you know it’s
just whatever so anyway so in true to form they fired the director
you know I kind of thought that that might happen and they did and then when
they fired that director they brought on the whites brothers who are rather
accomplished writers and it just seemed to me that if they’re gonna come on and
direct the movie if I were them I would want to write the script you know take
my script and write their script so they took what I’d written and made it really
their own so I actually met them at the academy awards luncheon you know I
didn’t which was fine I mean I they were very respectful they were kind they
always said nice things about me but it was theirs it’s their movie and I know
they couldn’t have done their work without my work but I really think if
you loved that movie you if you were to meet if all three of us were standing
here you should go up to them and thank them first you know but I loved Nick’s
writing and it’s you know I think it helped me become a better novelist to
get to work on books I also been adapting a novel by Jonathan Tropper
called everything changes which is a really beautiful novel that I spent a
lot of time on I was the first screen writer on Devil Wears Prada I never say
that but I was I did two and a half drafts and I actually was in line to
direct it and I was in that meeting with Oliver Platt that we were touring four
pieces of April and I was rewriting Devil Wears Prada I was on my third
draft which is a big deal when you get to the third draft because that means
they’re paying you more than they promised you would they’ve pay you and
Oliver Platt were in that meeting and they said what’s the truest thing you
know about acting and he said if you’re working too hard you’re doing something
wrong and I went in that Washington Post reporter said what is it and I said I I
need to leave for I’ll be back and I left and I called my agent and I said
you need to give me the words and he said what do you mean I said you
need to give me the words I have to leave Devil Wears Prada I’ve worked and
worked and worked in the movie I want to make is not in line with the movie they
want me to make and my agent we crafted a five sentence statement that I could
announce I could say and I read it over the phone
because I knew they would try to talk you did they talk and I’m weak enough
that I’d be like okay I’ll try again but I read it and when I read it to my
producer she said well there’s nothing I can say to that and basically I just
said I love this project so much and what I’m and I was trying to do
something a little different for me cuz you know I mean you don’t think to have
Peter hedges and Devil Wears product well first of all you probably don’t
think Peter hedges at all but if you were to think Peter hedges you certainly
don’t go Devil Wears Prada boom and when I signed on it was a title and an
outline it was just an idea so I was writing a script in the book I didn’t
have a book you know I kind of going off some outline but anyway so I walked you
know I walked off Devil Wears Prada they didn’t ask me to leave I left because I
was working too hard too hard and you know obviously he became just a huge
success and I would be wearing much nicer clothes if I’d stayed on Devil
Wears Prada I don’t think my version of the movie would have been as popular I
think it would have been kind of special but and that’s not a knock on what they
did I thought Meryl Streep was great and it’s really delightful and fun but so so
I’ve worked on I’ve done those things in all the while I was working on on the
heights because his writer I always have something I’m working on
that’s not for sale that nobody can have and because I looked around my world of
screenwriters and I see sometimes a lot of helplessness in novelists – we feel
like nobody’s reading what I’m doing nothing’s being sold and I feel like one
of our jobs is to keep bitterness at bay because you know nobody asks you to be a
writer you know and the fact is you know I if I stopped writing today there’d be
some few people who go like oh that’s really too bad but the world really
isn’t gonna like fall apart if Peter right again so it really means that I
have to have this deep need to tell a story and hopefully the stories I tell
will be useful hopefully the light in the world a bit or bring some kind of
meaning to somebody and anyway that I off onto a whole other topic since I
write novels and and yes and I’m also unaccomplished mine but go ahead was i
imagining it as a screenplay I know I wasn’t now that said I closed a deal
last week to make film of it that I’m writing and directing and producing but
I did not think of it as a film I truly thought of his novel the book a lot of
the best parts of the book are how they think and the fun part of writing a
novel and I mean when I mean fun it’s not like I’m sitting there at work on
woohoo but the pleasure of writing a novel and working in these different
forms is to understand what each form like to exploit in the best sense what
each form offers you a play is that ability to have people have a kind of
conversation which we increasingly have less and less of because people are on
Facebook and texting and calling and you know when do you really sit and talk
jury duty stuck in an elevator you know there
aren’t a lot of places where we actually have sustained conversation anymore you
know a family holiday so that’s what you do in a play but in a novel it was the
thought and because I wanted to write about a marriage and explore the two
points of view the husband and the wife and what each of them know and what
happens when one of them stops telling the other everything or trying to tell
each other everything that how they think a lot of the tension
in the book is what’s thought about so while there is a kind of a good story to
it and they’re about halfway through something happens which kind of gets you
turning the pages so people go oh he’s a movie guy so it must be a movie it’s
gonna be a very hard much harder adaptation if you write screenplays
you’d know that but if you don’t you think oh yeah
that’s probably a movie so no I didn’t really think of it as a movie although
my experience of turning Gilbert Grape from a book into a movie was so good and
the book is so much its own thing in the movies its own thing that I’m clinging
to that hope that that will be the case here that the book will have its own
life you know truth is just many more people go to movies than go then then
read books but you know it’s not really a numbers business either because you
know sometimes just reaching a handful of people in a profound way is a lot
more interesting than reaching a bunch of people and they they forget what you
did because that sometimes happens – anyway yes sorry hello hi that’s really
loud I got a question like I mean like you hear a lot of producers and
directors say like the like the Hollywood industry is dead because you
have like technology you got clicks and Twitter and you got Netflix and like you
know we’re all sitting here in like this wooden box at Iowa and like what’s the
first step to getting out of here and like having someone listen to you like
sorta like what you’re talking about like nobody talks to anybody anymore
it’s like this is my click and this is who I’m staying with like how do I get
them to listen to me great question um I you know I here’s what I this may be the
most naive thing you’ll ever hear a 47 year old say but I really believe that
our elemental need for story is it’s so in our DNA and the only thing that’s
changing is how we experience story but we need stories and there are going to
be periods of time there always have been we’re you know if you study the
19th century where everybody went and saw the freak shows you know and that
was all big but but the freak shows didn’t last but Shakespeare lasted
Moliere lasted ittsan check-off lasted I think the best chance you got is to have
something to say that you have a story you need to tell that and here’s the
truth sometimes you need to tell it but nobody else needs to hear it and that’s
a hard moment eyesight once again my classic play penguin Lake you know I
needed to write penguin Lake it was so important to me I was ahead in march of
the Penguins I I literally envisioned March of the
pen friend of mine wrote rewrote rican sieved march of the Penguins you know
and he did it in ten days and before that he’d spent ten years writing a
movie that he wrote and directed that no one saw and he was eviscerated for and
in his grief somebody said look I need help would you rewrite this documentary
where penguins are talking in French singing and for something they’re
talking from their point of view would you and he spent ten days on it and that
you know became the highest-grossing documentary in history and what’s my
point my point is having that thing to say and the fact is you can look at and
go oh gosh we’re not going to experience movies the same way my I bought my son
my 13 year old genius of a son a wonderful kid just had to have an iPad
you know and there we got it the first day and he started it and within within
minutes he had a movie of mine playing on the iPad and he downloaded my new
novel on the iPad and he could go from the movie playing pause it and then read
a page of my book which he’s not allowed to read because it’s not appropriate for
you do you understand you’re not to read it
I know you want to I saw you looking at it but don’t anyway so but so really the
thing is is to don’t get too worried that it’s changed the way we distribute
story is changing you know a lot of you you know in future generations this
people are gonna look at actual books they’ll still exist but a lot of people
are gonna experience books through a Kindle or I actually I think it’s gonna
be an iPad iPads are gonna trump the Kindle it’s astonishing and you know
some people go that’s horrible well maybe not now I think watching
Lawrence of Arabia on and on and on a little I you know the screen that big
that’s pretty tragic I mean David Lynch would be spinning in his grave you know
you want to see that and I think movies are in a sense losing their prestige
because more and more people are experiencing them you know you can watch
I found out I can’t believe it you can go on youtube and watch pieces
of April and 10 pieces you know I don’t know why the lawyers aren’t shutting
that down I mean but then there’s another part of me that’s like well it’s
a least it’s a way to experience it but the thing is having the story having the
thing that you have to say and that is that takes 20 you know you’re gonna
you’re gonna write penguin Lake and no one’s gonna want to be in it and then
you’re gonna write that thing in a day and you know Dan in real life for me I
never wanted to make PN in real life and I’m not a victim it’s not like they held
a gun to my head I rewrote a script because III after Devil Wears Prada
happened and I walked away I thought I’m gonna work on my book I’m gonna finish
my book well I started work in my book and I panicked I went off the books not
working I gotta get a job and a buddy called me up and said I want you to
write a script about a con rewrite a script of mine about a con man so I said
I’ll do it so I started to rewrite the script about a con man I was gonna work
for four weeks get paid pretty well for weeks for four weeks I played video
games and I’m don’t even play video games I I went and did the skeet shoot
now I was doing everything but not writing eating eating a lot of good food
and at four weeks I said I know I had no idea what to do it I couldn’t even
understand the mind of economy it wasn’t in my wheelhouse I was like right in the
wrong movie so I called up Disney and I said you know what I have to give you
your money back I’ve made a terrible mistake and now you
know now I’m not on product which at least I had an idea for and I’m writing
about a conman made a terrible mistake so I’m gonna
give you your money back money I gotta be honest I didn’t really have but I
couldn’t in good conscience you know I needed to give them back what they paid
me and the headed he said no I’m not taking your money
back no I’ve wanted to work with you I’m sending you a box of scripts and you
pick one of these series of scripts we don’t know what to do with you pick one
of them and you work on it for four weeks and you turn it in so okay you
know all right they sent me a box of scripts there
eight or nine of them in the second script I read was called Dan in real
life it was pretty different from what you ultimately saw if you saw it but the
idea was there and I thought I could help this I can help this for four weeks
well I didn’t work on it for four weeks I worked on it for five months and the
only thing I did was I worked on it every morning until it was unpleasant so
some days I’d work on it for five minutes
some days I’d work on it for five hours in the minute it got unpleasant or
painful I stopped and then I worked on my book so my wife keeps saying I
thought you’re gonna work on this for four weeks say oh it’s coming it’s
coming and then now she’ll see this video and
go oh great now I know the truth but I would be working on my book but I worked
on a work done work on it then I turned it in after about five months it turned
to my assistant is ready she said yeah I think it’s ready so we turned it in and
next thing I knew the head of the studio called up and said I greenlit the movie
I said really really that’s great and you can cast whoever you want I said no
no no no I’m not I’m not directing this I’m not oh no no I’m gonna make a very
important movie for Focus Features I’ve great idea very ambitious
yeah well that’s great you can do that but but I think you should direct this
man oh no no no you can cast who you want I go yeah we’re right sure that’s
really true no no you can you can’t but I have a deal at Focus they’re gonna oh
no no I’ll call him up I’m gonna get let them do the Foreign of the movie so that
will split it you can make the movie with Disney and focus she did it she
call that focus ed that’s great yeah we’ll do that and I didn’t expect to
direct it but and I was stunned I was really stunned that they wanted to make
I I thought I’d improved it but I to me it wasn’t enough
to make a movie so then I kept rewriting rewriting and then I said can I cast
this guy from a TV show that’s about to come out called the office and he’s in
this movie called the 40 year old virgin and they said really him that was after
we’d offered it to Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise I mean you know all the people
who you would offer a movie to that you think you have to have and they of
course said no and then I said what about this guy and they said yeah that’d
be great and we got him and then I said how about
you know after interviewing every actress in America that doesn’t make 10
million dollars how about Juliette Binoche they said
yeah that’s great really I want a 23 year old Norwegian singer songwriter
named Sandra lerka to score the movie how’s that sound yeah sounds good and
I’ll tell you this is the last story when I was a young man in high school I
wanted to go to prom with Brenda Jensen you’re wondering where this story’s
going but I so wanted to go to prom with Brenda Jensen and I did everything I
could to get Brenda Jensen to go to prom with me and she didn’t this I’m gonna
end with this story and then we’ll go to Nick but she didn’t go to prom with me I
asked her and she said Peter no I’d like you but not in that way
and I was pretty upset and she said but you know what
Katherine Idol wants to go to prom with you and I think you should ask her and I
really like Katherine Idol she was great she’s an alto Brenda was a soprano choir
but you know I just I what I couldn’t bear was the thought of being at prom
cuz brenda was jangle of course our class president I’m speaking to Jay
brown my classmate my buddy and and I said I can’t go to prom and then look
over and see Brenda laughing with Jay that’s that’s just gonna be too painful
for me so I didn’t go to prom and I went to my 10-year high school reunion and
they asked just what would you do if you could do high school over again I said
read more study harder go to prom I don’t know why I just think I really
missed out on something well I’m at this reunion I see Brenda and it’s lovely and
we say hi and I’m just talking and at this point I’ve just sold Gilbert grape
as a novel I’ve rented Mustang my hair’s kind of Kate Jackson
lengths she was the smart angel down to here I actually now have pubic hair I’ve
kind of grown up I’m feeling pretty good and I look over you know across the room
and I see in the light you know under the Mirrorball this woman and I go huh
and Wow and I look and I squint and I walk over and I go Catherine she goes
Peter and she’s beautiful and she’s happily married and she says how are you
and I say how are you she tells me about her life she has a wonderful life I’ve
just met the woman I’m gonna marry you know I wasn’t at that point but
that’s what ended up happening and we’re talking and I go oh wow this is hard and
and I kind of tear up and she says what’s the matter and I said well you
know you know that I wanted to go to prom with Brenda she says yeah I know
and did you know that Brenda told me to ask you she said yeah I know and I said
what I I just couldn’t go to prom with you and look over and see Brenda happy
with Jay Engle and she said oh I understand and I said but I gotta just
tell you that um I’m standing here right now tonight and you know I’m not a
person that wants to regret I mean I I have a great fear of regret I don’t want
to regret in fact my life has been fueled by not wanting to regret because
I don’t want to be the guy late in life going I wish I’d done this I mean figure
out what it is you wish you done and do it honestly because you you don’t know
you don’t know how we don’t know how much time we how I have too many friends
have died in very bad ways suddenly slowly and I you know I just know life
is precious and I’m sitting here and I’m saying you know I don’t have many
regrets I really don’t but I got to tell you
Katherine I feel like such an asshole because I wish more than anything
standing here right now tonight I had gone to prom with you I had asked
you to prom and she’s so sweet and she kind of teared up to and she
yeah we would have had fun and so Katherine idols why I directed an in
real life because I was waiting to go to prom with Brenda Jensen
and they kept coming back and saying it was Catherine coming back saying hey you
want to do this and I thought you know what okay
I’m gonna I’m gonna I’m gonna go with it and some of it
so what I’m telling you is I had the story I thought I had to make no one
wanted me to make it and I did everything I could to get it made
no it wasn’t to be or it’s not that time and then I wrote another thing that I
didn’t think so much of that other people responded to and it’s not that I
let other people dictate what I’m going to do but at a certain point if you’re
working too hard you’re doing something wrong I mean that it’s delicate because
if you also don’t work hard enough nothing happened so you have to kind of
figure out what’s too hard and that’s not hard enough I mean that’s life kind
of tells you I want to tell you one other story it’s a parent story it’s for
anybody here as a parent because when we’re on the set of Gilbert Grape my
father was in the movie he plays the Lutheran minister I don’t know if you’ve
ever seen the movie but there’s a funeral and the movie and there’s this
Lutheran minister well my dad’s an Episcopal priest and and I said to him
dad do you want to be in the movie but you got to play a loose you have to play
a Lutheran minister and he said yeah I can do Lutheran yeah I could do that and
I said he said I just won’t be as interesting thought that was good anyway
so we’re on the set we’re on the set of Gilbert Grape and we’re doing he’s there
doing makeup he’s actually in the makeup trailer this is hard to believe with
Leonardo DiCaprio who’s 17 18 at the time just turned 18 when we were filming
and they’re they’re in this Leonardo’s here and he was such just he’s kind of
like you just a little older just really fun you just loved him you just lit up
every room he’s such a great guy and there he is and my dad you know from
from Hedrick Iowa sitting there with soon to be one of the biggest movie
stars in the world and my dad says Peter can I say something to you and I go
yeah yeah this is for the parents or when you become a parent said yeah he
said do you remember years ago when you told me that you were writing a novel I
said yeah and he said um you know when you told me back then you were writing a
novel do you know what I thought I said no and he said I thought to myself it
was the stupidest idea you’ve ever had now consider when he decided to tell me
on the set of the movie of my book where he was playing a Lutheran minister in a
scene with Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio I believe I really believe that
if he had told me what he thought when I first had the idea I might never have
written the book I never would have had the money to marry my wife to have our
children to ultimately write this book and be standing here tonight that’s how
other people can affect us so don’t tell your kids their ideas are bad they may
be bad there may be terrible ideas don’t tell them life will tell them so in
answer to your question what life is gonna give you an idea of whether your
story but but what I would say to you this that if you write something and you
really believe in it and nobody thinks nobody wants it it doesn’t mean that
it’s not useful and it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value it just may not be
it’s time you know so don’t don’t let it’s this tough thing because you have
to believe in it but you also you know we’re not we don’t live in vacuums you
you ever see that great Twilight Zone episode about the guy who wrote read
books and he just loved books and he was so excited that everybody in the world
died and he had really thick glasses it’s just brilliant you know and he’s so
happy he’s just got books and he’s going along until he steps on his glasses and
now he can’t read books because he’s no one to fix his glasses I don’t know I
don’t know why Rod Serling came to me good good storyteller it’s time time out
cut it the night is over go and sin no more and we’d like to give another round
of applause really please and remind you that there is a reception after in a
book signing over here and please stop and buy a book and ask him that special
question okay thanks

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