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Are You Looking At Me?: Noah Hawley in Conversation with Himself

Posted on 11th April 2017 by Noah Hawley
A conversation about bestselling thriller Before the Fall with its author, Noah Hawley.
In which the author interviews himself.

Q: Welcome, Noah. Thanks for doing this.

A: Of course. I was just thinking how we don’t really talk anymore.

Q: That’s probably my fault. I have to say, you look tired.

A: Do I? Well, I'm pretty busy.

Q: I’ll say. Your second show, Legion, just wrapped up. You're currently filming the third

instalment of Fargo, with another season of Legion to go, not to mention several movie projects that have been reported, and during all this you’ve launched this book, Before the Fall.

A: When you list it like that it stresses me out.

Q: Sorry. But where do you find the time?

A: I discovered a rift in the space/time continuum and I go there for years at a time to write, and when I come back only seconds have passed on Earth.

Q: Is that true?

A: I wish. No, I do it just like everyone else, one page at a time, one day at a time. I also think it’s important for my wife and children to recognize and like me, so that means being present and involved every day as well. It’s not impossible. It’s just harder.

Q: Can you tell me about this book? When you wrote it were you trying to be topical?

A: No, in fact I resisted opening the book up to explore the media circus. What was interesting to me was the tragedy of the crash, and the loss of all those lives – who they were and how understanding the victims would ultimately solve the mystery of their deaths. I also tried to look at the ways in which a simple heroic act could be twisted into something darker. How is a man who rescues a small boy anything other than a hero? What difference does anything else make? And yet our modern world is complicated. Privacy has become a privilege, not a right. Rather than uniting us, our ability to communicate with others around the globe seems to divide us. But again, it’s a novel, not a lecture – and ultimately the only goal is to tell a compelling story about people.

Q: The book also looks at the impact of wealth, both on the people who have it and those who don't.

A: My interest is exploring the human impact. We all know that being able to pay the gas bill is better than having your gas turned off, and that saving money for your kids’ college means your kids get to go to college, but what happens when the amount of money you have is in complete disproportion to your needs? What happens when you have so much money that the only people you have to interact with are also rich, or are employed to serve the needs of the rich? In other words, when your wealth detaches you from the planet the rest of us are living on?

Q: Scott, your hero, is one of the have-nots, it seems.

A: Yes, he’s a Midwestern boy who failed to become a great painter in New York and has retreated to Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts. He lives frugally, focused on staying sober, on getting back to work. And finally, his talent arrives. He paints a series with the potential to launch his career. So he plans a trip to New York. His plan is to take the ferry, but by chance he runs into a woman he knows slightly at the farmer’s market. She invites him to fly back with her family. They have a private plane. Scott almost misses the flight, running up as the doors are closing. Eighteen minutes later the plane is in the water.

Q: And he and the boy, JJ, are the only survivors.

A: Yes, and Scott has to swim to shore – across 10 miles of angry ocean – in the middle of the night, towing a small child.

Q: And that’s just the beginning of the story.

A: Scott is a man who has retreated from the world, who has decided in his late forties to restart his life. On the day he ventures back out, he is in a plane crash. What is the universe trying to tell him? Does the universe even do that? Was the crash just random fate? And what is Scott’s obligation to the boy, now that he has saved him. JJ is an orphan, but an orphan worth 100 million dollars. He has a young aunt with a deadbeat husband.

Q: Complicating factors is a news anchor at a conservative news network who is grieving for the boy’s father, who ran the network.

A: Yes. There are events as we experience them, and the story that gets told about those events. Facts, as it were, versus perception. Bill Milligan, the anchor, isn’t a big believer in accidents or chance. In his mind, every disaster has a root cause and that root cause is usually nefarious. A conspiracy of shadow figures. So, for him, that’s the truth. A plane doesn’t just crash. A stranger doesn’t just save a boy. If we dig deep enough there is always dirt.

Q: You sold the book to Sony Pictures. How is the film coming along?

A: I have a script. The next step would be casting. I’ll know more in a few months.

Q: Can’t wait. Now get back to work.

A: Do I have to?

Q: Yes. Yes, you do.

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