Hollywood's 25 Most Powerful Authors
As a struggling writer in London during the 1970s, Follett took a crack at writing for film and television. “I wrote one TV show, an episode of a BBC cop show called Target,” recalls the Welsh author. “Then Eye of the Needle” — his first novel about the pursuit of a German spy, published in 1978 — “became a worldwide No. 1 best-seller, and I lost interest in writing for the screen.” But nine of Follett’s historical thrillers have been adapted, from Eye in 1981 to the recent The Pillars of the Earth miniseries, which attracted producers Ridley Scott and the late Tony Scott and bowed on Starz in July 2010.
The $40 million, eight-hour epic aired to modest ratings in the U.S. but was a hit around the world. It remains Follett’s favorite book-to-screen adaptation and spawned an eight-hour sequel, World Without End, which began airing Oct. 17 on ReelzChannel. “I was very concerned that it should be a long-form television series,” notes the 63-year-old, who lives in London with his wife of 28 years, Barbara. “Not four hours or even a two-hour movie of the week. No one would agree to that until Ridley.” Pillars also resulted in Follett’s favorite piece of casting with Ian McShane as ambitious and corrupt bishop Waleran Bigod. “He’s so wonderfully evil,” says Follett. “In person, he’s a complete sweetheart. But, boy, can he pretend to be a son of a gun.” When it comes to adapting his work, Follett says he prefers his role as spectator, though “there’s always a little wrench when something clever the author has done is sliced out, taken away like an inflamed appendix that is not wanted any longer.” But, he adds, “if you don’t like what they’re doing, look at your bank statement.”