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A Funny Man Writes A Serious Historical Novel
Gene Wilder discusses his new World War I adventure
April/May 2007 | Volume 58, Issue 2
The background of the story was influenced by a number of American and German films. I took a lot from their ambiance, though nothing specifically for my story. The 1956 German film The Captain From Köpenick (about a shoemaker who impersonates a Prussian officer) is a film I very much enjoyed. Chaplin has always been an influence on my work. I like to mix absurdity with the dramatic, and that came from Chaplin.
Did you write My French Whore with the idea of it becoming a movie?
No, I’m convinced the idea works much better as a novel. My agent thinks it would be a good movie. Perhaps it might, but that wasn’t my motivation.
Having now mastered three literary forms—the screenplay, the memoir, and the novel—which are you most eager to pursue?
I just finished the third draft of my next novel.
What’s your title?
The Woman Who Wouldn’t.
Is it contemporary?
No, it’s set in 1903. Anton Chekhov is one of the main characters.
Between writing for the screen, writing your memoirs, and writing fiction, which type of writing is the most difficult? Which is the most satisfying?
Well, I’ve had eight screenplays produced, and I’d say writing a good screenplay is the most difficult kind of writing I know. It takes a long time.
Why? Because the conventions of screenwriting are so restricting?
Not necessarily because of that. When I wrote for the screen, I was under contract to 20th Century Fox, and even for a really good producer like Alan Ladd, Jr., there was that clock ticking. Now, when I write fiction at home, my wife will bring me a cup of tea and a kiss, and all the tension melts away.