David Baldacci is one of the world’s most prolific and best-selling novelists. His political thrillers have sold by the bucket-load, some providing the base for hit movies (like Absolute Power, for instance). Created over a decade ago, his King & Maxwell series has been adapted for television, and the 10-part series will start on Alibi next week (Wednesday 5th March). We’re excited to say that we conducted an interview with David a few weeks ago and asked him to tell us a bit more about the series (in which he executively produced). It’s an interesting read.
The interview took place when half of Britain was underwater was being battered by endless storms. David, on the other hand, had other weather concerns on his plate – his home on the east side of America was snowed under. We talked about the weather. How very British.
Born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1960, David Baldacci went from law school and a career as a lawyer to a best-selling novelist after he moved to Washington DC. He’s written over 25 novels, and a host of children’s books. All this within a 2o-year period. That’s pretty impressive.
As for King & Maxwell, it stars Jon Tenney and Rebecca Romijn as to ex-secret service operatives-turned-private detectives. But we’ll let let the man himself tell you about it…
The Killing Times: How would you describe King & Maxwell to anyone who hasn’t read the books or watched the series?
David Baldacci: They’re two fallen characters who have a second chance. They’re former secret service and now they’re private investigators. Their careers in the secret service are ruined – they both screwed up – and they were drummed out and now they’re trying to rebuild their lives.
TKT: They seem to have quite a sparky relationship, tell us more about them…
DB: Michelle [Maxwell] is the more physically imposing of the pair. Sean [King] is more cerebral, even though he’s a physical guy too, a big guy. He’s like a slow-moving planet and she’s like a super nova. You never know what she’s going to do. So when you have two opposites like that the challenge is how are you going to make them work. Somehow they do, and I think the television series has done a good job on bringing the relationship dynamic through from the novels.
TKT: When it comes to adapting novels for the big or small screen a lot of people have mental images for the main characters because they’ve just read the books. Did you have your own for King and Maxwell?
DB: I was involved in the casting. They sent me all the reels of Jon Tenney, and I thought he was perfect for the role – he had the looks, he had the build, he had the sarcasm. They ran a series of actresses to see who had the best chemistry with Jon, and right at the end Rebecca Romijn came along. All I was looking for was not how I envisioned them from the books – that would be impossible and a disservice to them – but I was just looking for chemistry, because I know that if you get the chemistry between the two leads right then you have a great show. And they had the chemistry. We didn’t even know that Rebecca was going to be reading for this until at the end of the process. But to answer your question, I try to be fair and don’t expect the actors to live up to the mental image I have of the characters from the book.
TKT: You must get fans who do build up a mental image of your characters…
DB: Trust me I get emails like that almost every day: what were you thinking?!!
TKT: Did you have any aspirations for the books to become a TV series?
DB: No, not at all. I didn’t write Split Second [the first King & Maxwell book] as a series book, and it wasn’t until I’d finished the novel that I thought to myself: “You know what? This might have some juice.” They were the first characters I’ve ever brought back; the first dozen books I wrote were stand-alones. But it was just something about the characters and their chemistry that I wanted to explore more. Didn’t even know it was going to get a book series, let alone a TV series.
TKT: We’re pretty sure novelists don’t start off with the ambition of making TV series or movies…
DB: I’ve written scripts for films and we filmed one of my other novels – Wish You Well – last year, and that was a great learning experience. In fact that was as hard as I’ve worked in a very long time. I think if you write a novel with an eye to it being made into a TV series, you’re really writing a screenplay or a teleplay in disguise and it’ll end up being a really crappy novel. It’s such a long shot – all the stars have to be in alligment before anything like this comes together. There are so many ways for it to go wrong. It might be nice to fantasise about Julia Roberts or George Clooney playing your characters in a movie, but don’t bet the farm on it.
TKT: What’s the biggest difference between writing for the page and writing for the screen?
DB: It’s so much more collaborative. I don’t have to sit down and write with actors when I’m writing a novel, especially if they have an issue with the dialogue or if they want their character to be deeper or whatever or if they want an extra scene put in. Or, because of logistics, you don’t have time for something in one scene to be filmed, so you have to come up with something in a previous scene to cover the gap in the plot. I had to do all of those things during Wish You Well. I’d be re-writing as we were filming. We were filming at a farm, so I was sitting there with my laptop with roosters and chickens all around me re-writing a scene with an Oscar-winning actress standing in front of the camera waiting for me to deliver her lines. For me as a writer I am the King, the Queen, the whole thing put together. I don’t answer to anyone. But on a film set? Trust me, you get lots of people who want input and there’s a lot of people you have to meet with and talk to. It’s a very, very different process.
TKT: Are you good at letting go?
DB: I think that I am. Before I sell anything to anybody I don’t say ‘who’s going to pay me the most money’, but I sit down and ask them to tell me their vision for their story and ask them why they want to make it. If they answer with something that’s totally at odds with how I see things then I say ‘thank you very much but I’ll pass’. But if I meet someone with a vision that matches my own, and they’re faithful to the characters and they want to make it for the same reasons I wrote the story, then that’s the best protection as a writer. You’re not going to be on-set every day, and they are. So if you’re working with people who have a synergy with you, then there’s trust.
TKT: Your work tends to have a political edge. How did you develop this?
DB: I was a writer since a young kid – I wrote short stories for 10, 15 years. I went to law school and supported my family, and I just never thought I’d be a best-selling thriller writer. I thought I’d be lucky to sell short stories here and there. In fact, I didn’t get paid for some of my short stories – they just gave me five free copies of the magazine. But I moved to Washington DC and lived near the White House, and I got the idea for my first novel, Absolute Power. I really didn’t have this grand vision of being a political thriller writer but I had a story that intrigued me. That’s really how I’ve always approached my work. If I’m intrigued enough I’ll go and find out about something enough to write about it. So I sort of backed into Absolute Power because geographically I was in the right place.
TKT: It sounds as though the city really inspired you…
DB: Oh yeah. You see the motorcade come out with all these people around it, and what really intrigued me wasn’t just the President, but all the careers and people tied to him. Hundreds of incredibly motivated, bright people who, if he goes down, they all go down. Then the secret service… we look at them at being all brave and willing to sacrifice their lives. So I thought I’d throw a monkeywrench in that and make the President a bad person and they have to kill an innocent person because that’s their job – to protect him. But it turns their lives upside down. I thought that was a pretty cool moral dilemma to base a book on.
TKT: King & Maxwell was cancelled after one series. That must have been a shock.
DB: I was so surprised by that. I was looking at the World Almanac for 2014 and they had the top 40 cable TV shows for 2013, and King & Maxwell was at number four. It was the only one in the top 40 that was cancelled! They may resurrect it; I know some of the producers are interested in doing that. But I’ll be writing more King & Maxwell novels because I think they still have more life in them. In the meantime though, I’m working on my next Will Robie novel, The Target. And I have a fantasy novel out too, for Scholastic.
King & Maxwell: Wednesday 5th March, 9pm, Alibi