Off the Record with James Ellroy By Mike White. I interviewed James Ellroy while on tour for his book The Cold Six-Thousand on a beautiful spring day in Ann Arbor, Michigan...

I interviewed James Ellroy while on tour for his book The Cold Six-Thousand on a beautiful spring day in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The author frequently had me turn off my cassette recorder to make comments about his rocky relationship with Hollywood. I’ve left the breaks in place.

Cashiers du Cinemart: I just downloaded your eNovel, Breakneck Pace. In it you talk a bit about your younger years—
James Ellroy: So, you know the story.

CdC: I’ve read My Dark Places
JE: Then you know the story.

CdC: So, what’s in Breakneck Pace is a continuation of what’s in My Dark Places?
JE: No. Listen, I don’t give a shit about ePublishing. Somebody gave me five thousand bucks to compile these things for that, but that will not prevent me from collecting [the stories] into a regular book. ePublishing will go bust. People want to go into a bookstore and pick up a book.

What it is: I wrote a piece and I elaborated on My Dark Places about breaking into houses to sniff women’s undergarments. That’s it. It’s called "My Life as a Creep" and it’s just a memoir piece. That’s one of the four (sic). And I think there’s a Danny Getchell short story in there, the third Danny Getchell short story, "The Trouble I Cause." There’s a piece I wrote about the "scandal magazines" in the fifties called "I’ve Got the Goods" and [two others—"Blood Sport" and "Grave Doubt"].

CdC: How did you get into writing?
JE: I just started. Summer of ’76 I was caddying at a country club and I had a story that started building in my head for growing up around Western Avenue like I did, my love of classical music, obsession with the Black Dahlia murder case, an alcoholic buddy of mine, my relationship with him, and it co-opted a famous L.A. crime. Or, you might want to call it "semi-famous"—the Club Mecca firebombing of April, 1957. Some lowlifes got ejected from a bar for rude behavior. Came back and torched it; Molotov cocktailed it.

I put it all into an outline in the fall of ’78 and I didn’t start the writing of the text because I was afraid that I’d fail. The following January, just a few months later, I started writing the book and never looked back.

CdC: You’ve had no formal writing training?
JE: No.

CdC: Just wrote from the hip?
JE: Yeah.

CdC: That book ended up being Brown’s Requiem. What did you think of the movie version of that?
JE: I don’t... Turn it off.



JE:Brown’s Requiem was the autobiographical first novel and Clandestine is the autobiographical second novel, because it’s a fictional reconstruction of my mother’s murder.

CdC: From there you went onto the Lloyd Hopkins books and then returned to the Dudley Smith character.
JE: He does not appear in The Black Dahlia. He returns in The Big Nowhere.

CdC: James Woods has been in two adaptations of your work; Cop and the "Since I Don’t Have You" episode of "Fallen Angels." Have you talked with Woods much?
JE: I met him once for two seconds on the set of Cop.

CdC: What did you think of the adaptation of that, Cop?



CdC: Can you tell me about "L.A. Sheriff’s Homicide?"
JE: They filmed two versions of it; two pilots. They’re shelved somewhere. I do this kind of film work between books for money. I hope they never get made because if they do get made they’re made imperfectly under the best circumstances, and they’ll be completely fucked-up otherwise.

CdC: Any movement on The Night Watchman at all?
JE: No. And 77—the thing I’m writing for Paramount—is never going to get made.

CdC: And Plague Season?
JE:Plague Season was written out from underneath me. They’re filming it right now [as Dark Blue]. I retained a story credit but gave up the screenplay credit.

CdC: I’ve read the screenplay for that and it seems to be more of your writing than someone else’s.
JE: Not one line of my dialog is in there. I created the characters and it was largely extrapolated by [David Ayer].

CdC: I’ve read screenplays for The Big Nowhere and Black Dahlia. Any hope for those?
JE: Look, here’s the take any sane person has. There’ll never be another good movie made from one of my books. I got lucky; lightning in a bottle. I got lucky on L.A. Confidential; it’ll never happen again. Anybody who gets involved in this whole thing is crazy. I would never criticize a bad adaptation of one of my books because nobody forced me to take the money.

CdC: How about My Dark Places?
JE: It’s in development and it’ll never get made. If it happens, it happens.

CdC: Is there anyone in particular you’d like to see playing you?
JE: No.

CdC: Sorry to keep harping on these movies but it’s kind of my "thing," you know?
JE: No problem. It’s a standard answer.

CdC: There’s an early draft of Blood Moon floating around—
JE:L.A. Deathtrip.

CdC: How and why were changes made to that?
JE: In the end L.A. blows—I mean, it was a completely uncontrolled work on my part and I needed to get back to basics and relearn how to write a book. It was just an indulgent bullshit manuscript.

CdC: You’ve never gotten into any hot water with using real life people as characters?
JE: If somebody’s dead you can say whatever you want to about them in any capacity, fictionally. Everybody’s dead. They’re all dead.

CdC: How much research do you have to do?
JE: I make most of it up. I hired researchers for American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand. They created fact sheets and chronologies for me so that I could just extrapolate off of established fact.

CdC: When you sit down to write something like American Tabloid do you think, "This is going to be the first of three books or four books?"
JE: I decided that American Tabloid would be the first book in a trilogy two-thirds of the way through writing the text.

CdC: You’ve been synonymous with Los Angeles for years but now you’re living in Kansas City.
JE: I made a conscious decision after I finished the four "L.A. Quartet" books that I would write no more books set in L.A. Noir would I write any more books that could be categorized as mysteries, thrillers, or policiers. It’s all historical novels from here on out.

CdC: I notice that a lot of the killers in your novels have homosexual tendencies. Is there anything to that?
JE: Just for the pure shock value.

CdC: That I know of, you’ve had two documentaries made about you.
JE: Five.

CdC: Five?
JE:Demon Dog, an Austrian documentary; a British documentary called White Jazz; a French documentary directed by Benoit Cohen for the "Great Writers of the Twentieth Century" TV series in France [also known as L.A. Confidences—Ed.]; an "E! True Hollywood Story"; and then this recent one.

CdC: How does that feel to be scrutinized so much?
JE: It’s wonderful. The best of them all is the new one, James Ellroy’s Feast of Death, which is directed by Vikram Jayanti, who co-produced When We Were Kings (Leon Gast, 1996).

CdC:Feast showed on the BBC and you’re also touring with it?
JE: It won’t be here tonight at Angell Hall but at some of the book gigs, yeah.

Back to Issue 15