In a highly successful literary career that has included novels about a boy stranded on a boat with a tiger and a Holocaust allegory centering on two stuffed animals, Yann Martel has gained a reputation for telling stories that are unlike anyone else’s.
So perhaps it should come as no surprise his first experience in the movie making process is another uncommon tale.
“You always hear horror stories about Hollywood, but in my case Hollywood was great,” Martel said in an interview in a café near his Saskatoon home. “The producer all along kept me in the loop.”
It was a long trip for The Life of Pi from the page to the big screen since the Man Booker prize-winning novel was published in 2001.
The rights were sold quickly, but the adaptation sat in limbo as some of the biggest names in the business came and went from the project.
At various times M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable) and Alfonso Cuaron (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men) were attached. But it is the Oscar-winning director of Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee, who has finally brought the epic story of Piscine Molitor Patel to cinematic life, a choice Martel is thrilled with.
“He’s a fabulous director. He’s very able and sensitive and unbelievably hard-working,” said Martel. “So I’m delighted.”
Martel downplays his role in the adaptation. He flew to New York City to meet with Lee and read the screenplay twice, offering his suggestions, which he says were taken into consideration. But he also didn’t want to interfere too much in the process.
“I’m a novelist, I’m not a screenwriter,” said Martel. “I said ‘it’s your movie, take liberties and make it a good movie.’”
Martel’s other contributions include writing a foreward for a book about the making of the movie and pictures of himself from his time in India. The character of the author in Life of Pi, also named Yann Martel in the film, will have his look modelled on the real Martel. And, oh yeah, he’s being played by Tobey Maguire.
Martel says he will be somewhat involved in promoting the film before it is released November 21. He is looking forward to the process, as long as it doesn’t take away too much from his day job. He’s currently working on a three-part novel set in Portugal.
“I’m hoping to help (with promotion), so that might distract me. I definitely want to finish part two by the end of this year and I’m hoping by next summer to have some sort of draft.”
The author has lived in Saskatoon since coming here as the Public Library’s Writer in Residence a decade ago.
Martel’s other recent high-profile project What’s Stephen Harper Reading? ended early last year.
• He sent the Prime Minister’s office a different book every two weeks after learning the PM doesn’t read a great deal.