The movie version of The Beach has it all — a hit novel,
filmed by the team behind Trainspotting, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The List got author ALEX GARLAND and screenwriter JOHN HODGE together to chart the road from words to pictures. Interview: Hannah McGill
ALEX GARLAND IS LIVING EVERY BEDROOM scribbler’s dream. His debut novel was a runaway bestseller; he punted the ﬁlm rights to the coolest production team in the country; they signed up the most famous young actor of his generation. Still, he’s not fazed. Nor is he precious about his work.
Scriptwriter John Hodge has taken as many liberties with The Beach as he did with Trainspotting. But just as Irvine Welsh accepted Hodge’s ‘remix‘ of his novel. Garland has given the big screen version of The Beach his blessing.
John Updike probably never exchanged a civil word with the writer who butchered The Witches 0f Eastwick. and Nathaniel Hawthorne can‘t have slept easy in his grave since Hollywood got its hands on The Scarlet Letter. But Hodge and Garland display nothing but mutual respect as they discuss the genesis of the movie.
John Hodge: I would imagine it’s more attractive to an author to sign over the rights to a team. rather than just a producer who has four or five different novels on the slate.
Alex Garland: Yeah. One of the ways in which Figment [the production company set up by Hodge, director Danny Boyle and producer Andrew MacDonald] was attractive was that you didn‘t have ten projects on the go . . .
.IH: Andrew only ever does one project at a time.
AG: Exactly. Also. I had some very strange conversations with film industry people about what they might do with the film. I had a
6 TIIE LIS'I’ 20 Jan—3 Feb 2000
strong sense that. as a team. you would protect yourselves from the excesses of a certain kind of studio inﬂuence.
JH: Sometimes you do think 'Why are you wasting your money buying a novel?‘ It’s like they get a body and transplant the kidneys. then the brain, then the heart . . .
AG: There are some cliche’s about industries that you pick up, and one is that film studios fuck up novels. I’d probably heard a version of that aged twelve, so I was reasonably savvy about it. When I handed it over, what I felt was — this isn’t bullshit — that I'd handed it over to the best people I could. When I got the script, I wasn’t nervous. I was actively looking forward to it.
III: We had more discussion about the casting than the script. I remember you saying that what mattered most was that Richard was young.
AG: You see so many high school movies where the people are clearly about 30!
III: Leonardo DiCaprio in that respect was perfect. Having seen his films — This Boy's Life, What ’3 Eating Gilbert Grape. Romeo And Juliet — and having met him. we were certain. AG: There was a rumour ﬂoating around that it was him, and I heard from Andrew [MacDonald] that it was true. It wasn‘t like one day I just got a phone call and someone said ‘Guess what!‘. I had time to get used to it. It’s no stranger than selling the book to you. Danny and Andrew. Once you’ve had something as strange as that happen. there's a limit to how strange things can get.
I”: It’s like Irvine Welsh used to say: it‘s one surprise at a time. He wrote these little individual stories. and he didn’t even think they’d be published individually. still less be collected in a book, still less become a film. It’s not like you’re sitting in your room