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Author James Patterson On How Studios Wanted Him To Make Alex Cross A White Man...

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by Tambay A. Obenson
August 26, 2013 11:05 AM
13 Comments
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Alex Cross

Sadly, I feel my books have been better than the movies made from them. I’m a total movieholic, so that state of affairs is more depressing to me than it ought to be. My current paranoid theory is that I’m a victim of “caricature assassination” in certain Hollywood quarters — “Oh, that airport author has another best-selling page-turner.” True story: When “Along Came a Spider” was in galleys, I got a large offer from a studio. All I had to do was change Alex Cross into a white man. 

Words from author James Patterson when asked by the New York Times in an interview published last week, which of the films based on his books, is his favorite.

I bring this up, obviously because 3 novels from his Alex Cross series have been adapted for the screen - Morgan Freeman starred in the first two, and, most recently, Tyler Perry starred in the 3rd. None of them was received all-that well, critically or commercially. Although Freeman's turn as Cross fared better overall than Perry's, with the first film, Along Came a Spider (2001) the best of the bunch.

I suppose the most interesting, although not at all surprising thing about Patterson's quote above is that studio execs wanted him to make Alex Cross a white man. Like I said, nothing surprising about that. It's a story we've heard told by many-a filmmaker over the years - being asked to change the race of the leading character, when the character isn't white.

Obviously, he didn't do it, and audiences got 3 films with black male leads as a result.

It's also interesting that he feels his books are better than the film adaptations of them. Having read 3 of his novels, I can't entirely agree with him on that. As I've previously noted, the source material (as in the novel series) is terribly weak and offers absolutely nothing new to the genre. I've read many-a serial killer, man-hunt, revenge novel, done a lot better.

There's nothing transgressive about the stories or the style, nothing that pushes the boundaries of that box, or even blows up the box. It's really very basic stuff.

And while Patterson doesn't like what he refers to as "caricature assassination," he really is the best-selling "airport author." There's little weight to the novels, making them perfect reads (from start to finish) during a 6-hour flight from New York to LA.

So I wouldn't say that the novels have been better than the films. I think the films adequately represent the source material, and are maybe even a bit better in an instance or two.

I should note that, before the last Alex Cross movie was released, Patterson did say that he'd seen all of the film's footage, called it THE best Alex Cross movie ever, trumping previous works by Morgan Freeman, adding that he felt Tyler was closer to the character as written in the book in terms of age and physical ability.

He also called Tyler Perry a "method actor" (who knew?), and that he immersed himself into the role, recalling a funeral scene in which Tyler's performance actually made the other people on set weep because of how good and genuine the scene apparently plays out. 

My guess is that he said all of that ahead of the film's release to help generate excitement over it; but, really, he likely didn't care for the film.

There was word that Perry optioned another novel in the Alex Cross franchise, so we may see him in another Alex Cross movie. But given how poorly the last one performed, I doubt it. Certainly not with Perry in the role. Maybe Idris Elba will revisit the idea, given that he was once set to star, but pulled out.

I think the source material provides a good enough starting point for what could be a really good franchise of films. They would just need some imaginative, bold writers and a director to take the novels, use them as a base, and build upon them, creating something that could be more akin to an edgier TV series like Luther. But even better.

Read the full New York Times interview HERE.

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13 Comments

  • Hans | September 1, 2013 9:06 PMReply

    The character of Alex Cross is a Genius of observation and logic, comparatively they're pretty rare in that demographic.

    Now if we're talking about manipulating an odd shaped ball, the audience finds that more believable.

  • AccidentalVisitor | August 27, 2013 12:22 PMReply

    "It's criminal that more films based on the Easy Rawlins novels haven't been made. It's even more criminal that Devil in a Blue Dress wasn't supported."

    Black folk, well black women at least, appeared to have saved up their money for "Waiting to Exhale" which came out the following week. It's a shame that Devil didn't do better at the box office because I wanted to see more of Don Cheadle as Mouse.

  • Onyx | August 27, 2013 10:29 AMReply

    This isn't surprising. Back in the 60s there was a popular novel called HOTEL, by Arthur Hailey (Later ABC had a TV show with the same name and based on the book. The role of Royce, who was a young black man working in the hotel wasn't cast for the film and many of his scenes in the book were given to the lead actor Rod Taylor. But Royce, and his relationship with the wealthy owner of the Hotel was a major part of the book. It was disappointing that their interactions were cut, as well as the scene changed where Royce is the one who saves the young white girl from being harmed by some drunk frat boys who were partying in their hotel room. Royce notices the girl, bursts in the room and takes them all on until help arrives. In the film, Rod Taylor does this scene.

  • Miles Ellison | August 26, 2013 9:08 PMReply

    Even the considerable talents of Idris Elba won't turn Patterson's airport book carousel hackery into watchable movies.

    As for Tyler Perry's "Method" performance, the tears were from people laughing their asses off. Perry is not exactly DeNiro.

  • floyd webb | August 26, 2013 3:39 PMReply

    Why are we constantly amazed at Hollywood being Hollywood? In 110 years Hollywood has abused the black male and female character in cinema. And we are still surprised? We need a new discourse for discussing these ideas instead of warmed over conversation from 1920, 1950, 1968, 1979 and 1983 (years chosen arbitrarily). You get the characters you want for talking on the financial burden of production and fighting for the integrity of the worldview you wish to present.
    So far, the images of the neo-confederacy are winning, as nikgro-reboot seems to be the order of the day.

  • SF | August 26, 2013 2:07 PMReply

    Tambay - You are completely off base with your 'terribly weak' description of Patterson's novels . They accomplish just what they're supposed to: offer suspense and a central character his readers love.

    I didn't know Tyler Perry optioned a second Patterson book. Here's hoping he gets out of the way and do what should've been done the last time around: cast Idris Elba. I noticed you wrote Idris pulled out of the Alex Cross film. No, he didn't pull out of it, he was pushed out by TP.

  • AccidentalVisitor | August 26, 2013 5:46 PM

    I don't think Tyler Perry had the clout to push Elba out of the way in a non-Tyler Perry film. But the producers who made the film for some reason thought Perry's box office clout would translate better to moviegoers interested in a Alex Cross or any detective film for that matter? They were dead wrong. That bit of silly casting alienated the majority of the readers of the series.

    As for Patterson himself, he should have stood up more for his franchise when Perry was picked to play the part. If he coldn't get anywhere protesting behind the scenes he should have gone public with his complaints to his fans. Anything to put pressure on the studio to reverse the Tyler Perry decision.

  • AccidentalVisitor | August 26, 2013 1:43 PMReply

    1 - Kiss the Girls was the first movie.
    2 - It was received fairly well.
    3 - It was a box office success, easily the most successful of the series.

  • miktal | August 26, 2013 12:33 PMReply

    I think you`ve hit the nail on the head with Alex Cross. I haven't read any of the books but the screen persona just isn't interesting. Basically, Cross has no character faults or defects, which is made even worse when you cast an angel like Perry into the role. All the years of taking down criminals and avoiding near death situations, must take their toll on a person, but with Perry`s Cross in particular, it`s just another sunny day at work, without a care in the world.
    A much better black detective is Easy Rawlings from Walter Moseley books. Now that would be a much better franchise.

  • Miles Ellison | August 26, 2013 9:16 PM

    It's criminal that more films based on the Easy Rawlins novels haven't been made. It's even more criminal that Devil in a Blue Dress wasn't supported.

  • LeonRaymond | August 26, 2013 12:20 PMReply

    Not surprised at all folks would be really shocked to find some of the greatest films were originally written as premise for and with Black Characters. Can you say "Gone With The Wind" Can you say "Manchurian Candidate" !!!

  • Peggy | August 27, 2013 6:24 AM

    My late stepfather swears that back in the 50's, he was being considered for an all black version of "Shane".

  • Walter Harris Gavin | August 26, 2013 12:06 PMReply

    Who knew? Not ever having read any of the Cross books, I actually thought is was the other way around. Figured they just out a "black" face to a white character. Is that an example of Fanon's "Black Skin, White Masks?"

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