'Gone Girl' writer Gillian Flynn talks NYFF, revisits Nick & Amy Dunne

Monday, July 27, 2015
(Merrick Morton)
Merrick Morton

NEW YORK -- Author Gillian Flynn is no stranger to the film and entertainment world. The writer of New York Film Festival opening-night film Gone Girl worked as a film journalist at Entertainment Weekly for 10 years, even as she wrote her debut novel, Sharp Objects, which came out in 2006. She followed that up in 2009 with Dark Places and her latest Gone Girl in 2012. All three books take place in the Midwest, with two, including Gone Girl, set in Missouri, where Flynn grew up.

Shortly after Gone Girl came out, a film deal was completed and Flynn soon delved into the story once again that centers on ill-fated couple Nick and Amy Dunne. Nick is the victim of downsizing and loses his job as a journalist. In a panic, he moves himself and his wife to his small hometown of North Carthage, Missouri, where he opens a bar using the last of his wife's trust fund, running the establishment with twin sister Margo. The three Dunnes prosper from the enterprise, though Nick and Amy's relationship becomes progressively dysfunctional. She misses her life in New York City and resents her new existence in what she views as the soulless "McMansion" that the couple are now living in.

On their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy is nowhere to be found and Nick is quickly suspected to be involved in her disappearance. In addition to using her money to start the bar, he had increased her life insurance, and his reaction to media attention during the case does not go over well. He appears unemotional on camera. The story blends intrigue, media hype, and other elements to create a suspenseful thriller that relies more on deceit and the role of the media in catapulting an emotional saga into the public sphere.

Flynn briefly spoke with FilmLinc prior to Thursday's announcement that Gone Girl will open the 52nd New York Film Festival on September 26. She talks about revisiting the characters and the challenges of adopting her novel to a screenplay, seeing her characters become personified via stars Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, and working with David Fincher when he came on board as director of the film.

FilmLinc: What was your reaction to hearing that the film version of your novel Gone Girl will open the NYFF?

Gillian Flynn: It's pretty ridiculously fantastic. I've had such an amazing year. Every writer probably has it in the back of their mind that their book could be made into a movie, but to see it as a reality and then to have it open the New York Film Festival-and I used to live in New York-it's just a really very cool homecoming.

FL: When did you start working on the screenplay adaptation?

GF: It all happened very quickly. The book came out in June 2012. We sold the rights at the end of August, I officially started writing the screenplay in October, and I had the first draft of the script by the middle of December. I met Fincher right after New Year's of 2013.

FL: Did you always want to do the adaptation? Sometimes there's trepidation about taking something like that on for people who must at times radically change a story they're so familiar with...

GF: It was something I had always wanted to do. I'm the daughter of a film professor, so I was one of these weird kids who before the Internet would send away for mail-order screenplays to read and then watch the movie and compare how it was done. The two big loves of my life are books and movies. So to be able to combine them was something I really, really wanted to try. I'm a famous re-writer. I won't turn in something until I have to, so to be able to go into Gone Girl and play with it more was really, fun.

FL: What were the particular challenges for Gone Girl?

GF: The structure of the book poses particular challenges for adaptation. It's a very interior novel and plays a lot with time and chronology. It isn't a book you necessarily read and then think you can just slap it onto a movie screen. I had to take a step back and disassemble the book and put it back together again. To me that was part of the fun. It took on a second life.

FL: What was it like working with David Fincher?

GF: I did the first draft before he signed on, but once he did sign on, I'd send him pages and we'd hop on the phone and have these incredible long conversations-not necessarily all about the screenplay. He was like a great editor. He didn't have to tell me what to do, but instead would ask me great questions and give me great feedback that would help me sharpen it more and more.

When I flew out out to L.A. to meet him, it was equal parts incredibly thrilling and very intimidating to finally meet someone whose work I've loved. Even when I was writing the book I'd think, 'Fincher should direct this.' It's a rather grand notion to have to think having a great filmmaker (like him) would direct your book. But there were so many scenes in Gone Girl that I'd see through his lens. I thought he'd understand the sense of tension and dread. There's also this dark humor that runs through his films, and Gone Girl has a lot of dark humor so I knew he wouldn't back away from that. We had some great meetings. I live in Chicago and he lives in L.A., so we mostly spoke by phone and I'd e-mail him scripts.

FL: When did you become interested in thrillers?

GF: I've always been. It's been one of my favorite go-to genres. I tend to be drawn to, again, this sense of dread more than this outright sense of being scared. I was a huge Hitchcock fan. My dad would constantly introduce me to films that were probably vastly age-inappropriate. He'd sit me down with the old VCR and say, "Gillian, today we're going to watch Psycho." So from an early age I had a huge respect for that genre and the outright emotion it could bring forth.

FL: Probably the most sensational story of our time about a wife disappearing is Scott and Laci Peterson, which was of course played out relentlessly in the media. Did stories such as that serve as the "backdrop" or foundation in developing Nick and Amy Dunne?

GF: The crimes and how the media covers those crimes is what I was interested in. As I was writing, I was interested in that sense of packaging of tragedy that true-crime shows do. There's this need for a heroine and a villain. Gone Girl deals with how we tell our stories and how others tell our stories for us. The media is a constant Greek chorus for both the novel and the film.

FL: I read in your interview with The Guardian that 'your goal is to make spouses look askance at each other...' Can I get you to maybe expand on that a bit? Will audiences feel that in the movie?

My fondest dream is that it will be the date movie that breaks up couples nationwide. Maybe people will walk out of there and think, "Maybe not. I don't know if I know you well enough..." The movie is about how well you can possibly know one another. We're so steeped in pop culture and so steeped in different roles. How can you possibly combine with another person and have that truth exist in a relationship. The (story) definitely plays off of that idea.

FL: You're not a stranger to the movie world having worked at Entertainment Weekly, what is it like circling back around and being on this end of it? Was it surreal at all or was it comfortable?

GF: It's totally different. It was thrilling but also incredibly odd. I was at EW for almost 10 years. This year when they had Gone Girl on the cover, it was a strange moment of familiarity but odd (to be on the other end of it). Going to set and being there and not having my notepad and camcorder was very strange, I felt naked. I was thinking, "What am I doing here? Oh yeah, I wrote this..." It was odd but thrilling art the same time.

FL: How was it going on set and seeing these characters come alive in the sense of seeing Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike personifying this couple in flesh and bone?

GF: I was lucky because the script was pretty much locked by the time filming began, so when I went on set it was purely for the fun of it. It took me a long time to write Gone Girl and it had been pretty much rolling around in my brain for about three years by that point. But to go on the set in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, which was the perfect river town to match what I was describing in the book and screenplay, was (amazing). To walk from these places I had made up, from the police station to the bar at the end of a street on the Mississippi River, was like walking through a 3-D version of my brain.

It was great to see the actors take on those roles. There's a sense of stingy ownership about the whole thing, but I felt very lucky to see Ben (Affleck) and Rosamund (Pike) playing them. They were perfect and to hear them say these lines that I had rolling around in my head for so long was very gratifying.

FL: Your characters leave New York and return to Nick's roots in Missouri where the foul play takes place. Is there something psychologically more chilling when something takes place in a town like this as opposed to in a big city? Of course the easy comparison would be Truman Capote's classic In Cold Blood, though obviously that is a very different but still chilling tale set in the same region.

GF: I'm from Missouri and all three of my books take place there or in Kansas. Part of it is that a small town has a claustrophobia about it. You can't re-make yourself in the same way that you can in a big city. People know who you are and if you do something wrong, it's going to stick with you in a way that it won't in a large city. You really are going to be who you are in a place like that, there's little room for reinvention.

FL: Any hint on what's on your horizon post-Gone Girl?

GF: Right now I'm doing another project with David Fincher. We're working on an HBO series that's a fun-well, our definition of fun is probably different from others' (laughs)-murder, conspiracy thriller. So that's the next step...