Michael Connelly is one of the most successful novelists working today, with over forty-two million copies of his books sold worldwide and translated into thirty-five foreign languages.
His popular novel The Lincoln Lawyer, has just been turned into a movie starring Matthew McConaughey. The actor portrays Mick Haller, a slick LA criminal defense attorney who operates out of the back of his Lincoln Continental sedan. When he agrees to defend a rich playboy named Louis Roulet on a charge of attempted murder, the case turns into a nightmare involving a crisis of conscience for Haller.
Despite his success as an author, Connelly is probably best known for playing himself on the popular TV series Castle.
Were you happy when you heard that Matthew McConaughey was going to play Mick Haller?
I saw McConaughey in the small part in Tropic Thunder about two years before they made this film. He played a sleazy Hollywood agent. And there was a scene where he was behind a desk on a phone and he’s working his clients while doing other things. And so there was a dimension there that made me whisper to my wife, who was sitting next to me, ‘He could be a good Mickey Haller.’
About a year later my agent called me. And he knows not to call me unless it’s real, and said, ‘McConaughey’s gonna be Mickey Haller.’ And so I had already established in my acceptance genes that this guy might be able to do it. And so I immediately took it as good news. I just instinctively thought he could do it.
Can you talk about the ways that Matthew caught the aspects of your character and the ways he maybe added other dimensions to it?
Sure. The key things about the book and the character, Mickey Haller, were a sense of momentum. Courtroom drama is pretty sedentary. Here’s our main protagonist sitting in a chair through many of the most important things. Or at least standing in a courtroom.
So you’ve got to find ways of creating a momentum. And McConaughey comes in a package that says momentum. He can be standing still and it looks like he’s moving. And the filmmakers are very good about putting him in motion.
The opening scene where he’s going through a winding maze of courtroom hallways, I just thought was a wonderful way of establishing this guy as moving, moving, moving. He’s a guy who is always looking for the next angle. And even though I’m in the Screen Actors Guild, I’m not really sure how to say McConaughey did that. I think those were the key things.
And then as you get into the film they start layering on other dimensions. The fatherhood, being hung up on the ex-wife, things like that, that I think can throw in another softening dimension to what we’ve already seen of this guy working the angles and so forth.
Does this idea of the justice system being flawed, is that just kind of a personal opinion that you have that is reflected in the story? Is that just kind of a personal thing that you like to get out there to kind of have people think and debate it?
I just want to raise questions. I don’t want to be didactic about anything. I covered courts for a number of years on and off as a reporter. And I just felt that what you see in the trenches, the every day delivery of the justice system, is not what you see most of the time in popular entertainment. So I wanted to write a story that would be, I felt, realistic.
Is the system flawed? Yes. But I don’t think you need a novel to tell people that. I think they know it. But you can show ways of how people work within that system. This book- I just had access to these lawyers that helped me, allowed me into their world, and I wanted to write a book that in my mind was almost like a whispered confession from the shadows of those nice columns you see in front of courthouses.
In fact, when I turned this book into the publisher it was called, The Confessions of a Lincoln Lawyer, and the marketers said, ‘That’s too many words.’ So it’s just called ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’. And they were probably right. And so that was really my purpose there. I didn’t want to make any kind of statement about the justice system.
Are we going to see you visiting Castle again any time soon?
Yeah, I’m filming it next week.
Is it more than just the poker playing scene?
I think I’m the lead! (he laughs) No, it must be just the poker because they told me they need me for half a day.
How was it handling the issue with Stephen J Cannell passing on?
I’m looking forward to seeing that. They told me it’s going to be Dennis Lehane and me and Castle and an empty seat. But I haven’t seen the script so I’m sure there will be an acknowledgement to Stephen.
How is that experience recurring on the show as yourself?
Well, it certainly underscores how big television is. Because I’ve been around writing books for twenty years. But nothing is talked about or brought up to me more often than my two one minute stands on Castle. It’s just amazing. And it even comes up in foreign countries.
On one night, if I have a good book it will sell a million paperbacks. That is a fantastic sale. In one night, sixteen million people see Castle.
Has it helped your books, do you think?
I think so. I think it’s made people check them out. I think there’s been stories that I think a lot of people didn’t realize that we’re real writers. And there’s been stories about that and that will lead people to check it out. The whole wall is being broken with Castle putting out real books now.
So it maybe, a little bit, trickles down to me.