One of my favorite brush-with-fame stories over the years has been the time I got invited to John Grisham’s private screening of his first movie, The Firm.
The story goes like this: I was in school during the summer semester at Ole Miss, way back in ’93. Grisham, who has a house in Oxford, was a favorite son, and was riding high after the release of his fourth book, The Client. So the release of an actual movie based on an actual bestseller by a local guy was a Big Deal locally of the type we’d not seen since the Faulkner days (which, lets face it, most of us couldn’t remember anyways).
In fact, it was so exciting that I’d gone to the matinee show during the day on the Wednesday it came out at the theater in the local mall. I went back to the newspaper office afterwards, to discover I had an invitation waiting for me: Would I like to come that night to watch the movie at Grisham’s private screening at the other local theater, The Hoka?
(I wrote a lot of stories about The Hoka and movies playing there, and the owner figured it would be good publicity to have us cover the event. I was certainly willing to do so.)
And so there I am, at the theater, with John Grisham and various local notables, watching The Firm. Which, to be sure, was kind of cool.
But you know what would be cooler?
So this was during a period when Grisham didn’t do interviews. Like I said, he was at a pretty high point with four huge bestsellers behind him and now a movie, and he decided that interviews just weren’t worth the trouble.
To the best of my knowledge, he only did two interviews during a half-year period.
One, for Parade Magazine, was with himself. He agreed to the article, but got to ask and answer his own questions.
The other —
I approached John that night, and told him I knew he didn’t do interviews, but told him who I was and that I was with the Ole Miss paper, and asked him, if he’d be willing to answer just one question.
He said he’d never met a reporter that could ask just one question, so if I could do it, he would answer it.
So I did.
I can’t tell the story without being asked what the question was, and really, the story demands a question that lives up to that situation. My question wasn’t that epic, but it worked. “When you watch the movie, can you detach from the process of writing the book and enjoy it like any other movie, or are the two too tied together?” Again, not brilliant, but I figured it would require him to talk a bit about the book and the movie and the writing process, etc., so I could cover a lot of ground with one question.
And that’s how I became the only person in the summer of 1993 to interview John Grisham.
I hadn’t seen the story in probably 20 years. If I still have a copy, it buried in a box buried in a closet with countless other newspapers. The story of what happened and the story that came from it, for me, both existed only in my head.
Until Lain came across it randomly recently and sent me a picture of the story, which ran exactly 23 years ago today.
It’s interesting to note that the story ran a week after the screening, which I don’t understand, unless it was around the school holiday schedule. (Which might also explain why I didn’t try to submit what seems like a decent exclusive to the AP.)
But every time I’ve told the story, I’ve never been able to share what he said. Here, then, is the printed answer to The One Question.