Michael Lewis is the author of Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, The Blind Side, and a long list of other bestselling books. Next week, his latest book, Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World, will be published by W.W. Norton. Recently, Lewis was kind enough to answer a few questions via e-mail.
Rob: You've been quoted in many places saying something like, "I never thought this book could be a movie."
Your opinion was widely shared, from the moment plans for a movie were first made public. But in retrospect, why the skepticism? A good movie merely requires compelling characters, and you wouldn't have written Moneyball in the first place unless you'd known that Billy Beane and the rest were compelling characters.
If nothing else, do you now have a greater appreciation for the abilities of skilled Hollywood types to turn a great story, no matter the subject matter, into a good movie?
Michael: My doubts arose both from the subject matter (the use and abuse of baseball statistics) and the way the story was told (it was far more the story of an idea than of a man). I thought the most emotionally loaded, and therefore the most movie-friendly, aspect of the story was the effect this idea had on the lives of players like Chad Bradford and Scott Hatteberg. And I didn't think anyone would make a movie about Chad Bradford and Scott Hatteberg. I underestimated the ability of the moviemakers to turn the story of an idea into a compelling story of a man, and to make the man stand for the idea. There was a bit of this in the book, obviously, but they pushed it harder than I imagined it could be pushed, without falling down.
Rob: What is it like for you, more than eight years after your book was published, to still be essentially living with Moneyball? The book is still in airport bookstores, Brad's Pitt graces the cover of Sports Illustrated, you are doing publicity for the movie, old enmities are being rekindled... Does this feel strange at all, after all this time?
Michael: I've been living with Liar's Poker for 21 years. Moneyball, in comparison, feels fresh and new. I've done some small amounts of publicity for the movie but the truth is I had nothing to do with it, and don't want to be seen to be taking credit for the work of the people who actually made it. The book always benefited from making the right enemies. The movie appears to be following in its footsteps.
Rob: I won't ask if you really like the movie. (I assume that you do like it, and I also assume you wouldn't tell us today if you don't.) It does seem to me that where The Blind Side told roughly half the story you did in that book, Moneyball goes to some pains to tell most of the story in that book.
Even so, there are some relatively subtle differences in the story you told, and the story the moviemakers tell. Did you have the same reaction upon seeing it?
Michael: I really couldn't believe how good it was. And I really did think that, if made, it might be awful. I'm so deeply relieved that I haven't stopped to think about the differences between the movie and the book. I suppose I did wonder how much people would be bothered by trivial distortions of real events that I found a tiny bit jarring (Jeremy Giambi joining the A's in 2002, for instance, or Billy Beane physically traveling to Cleveland in the off season to make trades). Not much, it appears. It was indeed different from watching the Blind Side because the Blind Side left half the story I wrote on the cutting room floor. This one used every piece of the duck but the quack.