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Bestselling Author Michael Koryta Making His Mark On Hollywood

Michael Koryta on his Hoosier roots, book, and new film.

Bloomington native Michael Koryta talks with Indiana Newsdesk's Joe Hren about his Hoosier roots, book, and new film. (Joe Hren, WFIU/WTIU News)

Bloomington native, IU alum, and New York Times bestselling author Michael Koryta is making his mark on Hollywood. His thriller novel "Those Who Wish Me Dead" starring Angelina Jolie premieres Friday in theaters nationwide and HBO Max.

Indiana Newsdesk's Joe Hren sat down with Koryta to talk about his Hoosier roots, the film, and what's next. Koryta says the experience of going from novel to film was "slow and painful."

Hren: How does a novel go from a book to the big screen?

Koryta: I think really the moment where everything achieved critical mass was when Angelina Jolie attached, it was sort of fascinating to grasp the theory of that, but to see how quickly a true "A" star moves the needle was something. So there were numerous times where I thought it was going to be made, and it wasn't. And then the year we went into production, I had given up hope. But my sense was, you know, wait, it could be another long year of waiting. And then all of a sudden, we were off and got to go out on set and see it come to life.

Hren: The book came out, though, in 2014. So when you write, are you thinking this could be a film?

Koryta: No, I think if I don't view them as completely separate mediums, it would be probably a disaster. And I don't personally think it's a great way to look at it. Anyhow, I know a lot of audience members say, well, I want to compare it to the book. And the one thing that they can never take away from me, if it's a great movie or a bad movie. My book is my book, so I look at the movie as a compliment. Not a competition, I guess.

Hren: You mentioned you were on set during the filming. How much were you involved in the production?

Koryta: I was involved to the extent that they kept me as far away as possible. I mean, I think the the last person anyone wants to see when the filming adaptation of a book is underway is the writer of the book. But actually Taylor Sheridan, the director, he was writer/director, he was very gracious. I felt like he kind of went out of his way to make me feel welcome. And it's just a very surreal feeling. Jolie is not just an Oscar winning talent, she has one of those uniquely famous faces. And to watch her become the character that I had been imagining was a really, really special thing.

Hren: Reading paints a picture in your mind that can be powerful enough that some say the book is better than the movie, how does the film represent your work?

Koryta: I think very well in terms of it's a different medium, and you have to hand it over to the directors and the actors, so obviously, it's going to be different. I would look at it and say, does it have the spirit of the book there? Is the special thing required that's at the core of the book, is it present in the film? And to me, absolutely. The wilderness is a character, the themes of survival are present... I feel the essence is there, and they made it into their own thing and that's what needs to happen and it was really special to watch it.

Hren: I learned, if the Internet is correct, at the age of eight, you were writing authors. You've been doing this for a long time. What was your interest back then?

Koryta: As soon as I started reading, as soon as I had that moment of understanding that someone did that as a day job, it just seemed like the world's greatest occupation. And that goes back to my parents, they were both big readers. And they read for pleasure, which I think that can be easily overlooked. It wasn't something that I was encouraged to do or coerced to do. It was just like going to a movie. It was something you did for fun. And I loved the idea of creating that world of story.

Hren: You speak about Bloomington and IU? How much has Indiana had an impact on you?

Koryta: Well, that would be hard to quantify, but I know that it's huge. I mean, when I think back to mentors and teachers and friends, everyone who has ultimately shaped my career or gave me an opportunity that ended up being really good luck. That's, all here in town. Don Johnson of Trace Investigations took me on as an intern in high school, which, when I look back on, he was really going out of his way. Bob Hammel was a huge influence, remains a huge influence. Michael Heffron, who was the general manager of the Herald-Times gave me my first job as a writer. So just an enormous outsized influence. It's a very literary community, it's a town that loves books.

Hren: Are there any hints of Bloomington or IU in any of your work?

Koryta: In the books? Absolutely. In this film, no. We're very fortunate. I finished filming So Cold The River which that was shot on location in West Baden and French Lick, so I'll get my Hoosier story out there. Hopefully sooner than later.

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