7:30am PT by Kimberly Nordyke
'Between Me and You' Author on its Hollywood Connection, Sneaky Weinstein Reference and Unusual Story Structure
What happens when both halves of a Hollywood couple don't experience the same level of success?
Between Me and You, the latest novel from Allison Winn Scotch (In Twenty Years) explores that through the eyes of Ben and Tatum — he's a writer, she's an actress — from both of their perspectives. The twist? Ben tells his story from the present day going backward, while Tatum tells hers from when they first meet to the present day. At first, he's the more successful one, winning praise as she struggles to land auditions, but as time goes on, she eclipses his success — going on to win an Oscar — as he toils on a mediocre TV series.
The movie gets its title from a song off The Desired Effect, the second solo album from Brandon Flowers, frontman of The Killers. Its meaning becomes clear at the end of the novel.
Two days after taking her daughter to see that very band in concert, Scotch jumped on the phone to talk about the inspiration for her latest book, that thinly veiled reference to Bob and Harvey Weinstein and who she'd like to play in the potential movie adaptation she's currently writing.
How did you get into the world of Hollywood? What was your research process like?
I have always probably been celebrity-curious, not heavily — I don't read every gossip item — but read some of the smarter gossip pages and from larger cultural insights, I think it's just sort of fascinating. For Tatum, she actually started out as a character in another book I was writing, and the book wasn't gelling, but she was the only aspect of it that I liked, that notion of pulling back the veil of celebrity and finding a human beneath that. So I extrapolated her from that book and I started thinking about what actually was interesting to me and it was this relationship story I've been married for a long time, and while this is not reflective at all of my marriage, I thought the relationships that we all go through, celebrity or not, are really interesting, and when you put celebrity on top of that — we all see the headlines — that makes it even more interesting and in some ways more cumbersome to have a normal life. I started there, and then, because of how I wrote the book, it went through a lot of drafts.
During your research, was there anything else you learned about Hollywood that was surprising?
What I found most interesting, which I'm sure is the least sexy thing to say, but a lot of what I did when I was talking to friends, and I really did try to speak to people throughout the industry to get a fully fleshed out idea, and I live in L.A. so you're always somewhat aware and you go out to dinner parties and you hear people talking about the industry, so I paid attention to that. So this isn't a sexy quote, but I found it really fascinating how I could sit at a table with a group of powerful women and at the end of the day, we all were complaining and talking about the same things and it wasn't really about fame. It was just about human nature and children and schedules and sleep, and I know that's not super flashy, but I think it shifted my perception of what a celebrity is and — not to make it like Julia Roberts in Notting Hill — but these people were "just a girl standing in front of a boy," metaphorically. It was not what I was expecting to get out of it, but it really did surprise me, that there is a public perception and then there is a private person. Obviously, people say that in interviews, but I think to a certain extent, that's true. And that's what I wanted to convey in these characters too.
How did the story change throughout the writing of those drafts?
As human and normal as I wanted to make these characters, they really were reading more two-dimensional on the page. At that point, I did start reaching out to executive friends, writers, producers, actress friends, and sitting down with them and I asked them industry questions, but I felt like what I took from a lot of these conversations, particularly with women, and what I hope I ended up imbuing Tatum with, is that fame is the veneer but human complications are all universal. I think that ended up driving a lot of who these characters came to be. One thing that really changed in the fourth draft, after talking to these women — I wrote the book going on 18 months ago, at least, before the #MeToo movement and before the Time's Up movement, and people were not talking as openly about maybe some of the misogyny they faced — but there were intimations in the conversations about how it is to be a powerful woman in the industry, and how you're sort of swimming upstream with your spouse, with how people view you, and that came into play a lot. That's when really made Tatum's star ascend and his star diminish, because that was a whole thing I hadn't considered until I spoke to these women and that's a whole other beast that we have to manage. I thought that was really interesting, particularly in light of everything that's happening now.
There is a very thinly veiled reference to Harvey and Bob Weinstein in the book. The names are changed, but one of the studio mogul brothers is described as being the subject of "stories that would curl your hair (involving but not limited to casting couches, bribery, blackmail and some vague, potential felonies)." Was this written before the allegations against Harvey came out?
In my early drafts, they were named, and I changed it because legal was concerned. The book was finished a year and a half ago, so at the time none of this was out. But like many people, I'd heard the rumors. Harvey Weinstein had actually bought one of my books [Time of My Life] many years ago, so I wasn't unfamiliar with the personality. I had never met him, but you hear things. So that was in there, and the names changed.
His behavior seems to have been an open secret in Hollywood. Had you heard anything about that prior to the allegations surfacing last fall?
I had never heard the extreme allegations, and again, I'm not enmeshed in Hollywood, but you hear about the lechery and I had had distant interactions with him via my agent — nothing sexually inappropriate. But I knew he was a tough guy, and so that was just my inference. I find celebrity culture interesting so I probably pay attention to it in the way THR readers do, so not everything in the book certainly came from people I sat down with. Some of it was just observing and trying to pay attention and putting my finger on the pulse of what's happening. But I did think it was really interesting that the power dynamic was certainly discussed among the women I spoke with, but now I can really see maybe what they were trying to say but couldn't at the time, which is all of the hurdles, not just some of them, that they have gone through.
The book is not told in chronological order: One character is telling the story backwards, while the other telling the story as it happened in order. How hard was it to get that structure down?
It was really difficult to write. I had to burn down 75 percent of my first draft and then I had to do that again on my second draft. At that point, my editor, whom I love, was like, maybe just tell a straightforward story about marriage. I was like, I respect that, but I've written a bunch of books, and we've all read a bunch of relationship books, and I wanted to tell something in a different way. One thing I was really interested in, having been married for 16 years — and as I said, while this is about Hollywood celebrity, it's really about the ups and downs of a relationship and I was really curious and this is obviously and impossible thing to answer: If you could unpeel a relationship, unwind it year by year, and when things are really bad, get back to that early time when everything was heady and passionate and your partner could do no wrong, if there were a drug they could give you to remember that feeling, if that would change how you viewed your partner in real time. And for Ben, in the story, he's able to do that and it does change things. It was an interesting thing to examine, and something I thought about, having been married 16 years, happily, and how that would change your perspective, and so I wanted readers to consider that too. That's why I ended up writing it that way. I thought it might give readers something to think about.
With each chapter, you get a new revelation inside their relationship, until all the various pieces come together.
I am working on the script and I was breaking it out with my friend, and I was like, "Oh yeah, I remember why I hated writing that book." We're staring at this giant white board, and I'm having PTSD from it. [Laughs] But I'm very proud of it — I would just never write a book like this again. But that's the point of creating something; I don't want to repeat myself. That doesn't interest me. But in the end, I'm very glad I did it. I don't know what I'm going to write next, but I'm very proud of this one.
Who are you working on the script with?
I am working with Peter Chiarelli, a screenwriter [his credits include The Proposal, Now You See Me 2 and the upcoming Crazy Rich Asians adaptation]. He and I are collaborating on it, and I'm seeing what it can become. He's wonderful and so smart, and has a lot more experience than I do, so it's fun to reimagine it while also reminding me of why it was so arduous.
Is there a studio attached?
No, he read the book and called me, he's a friend of mine, and said, "I really think this could be a film," and I said, "Great! Sure." And we figured out a way we think it could work and I'm writing the pages and he's reading them and we're getting our feet wet sorting it out.
Who do you envision playing Tatum and Ben?
I'm in love with Margot Robbie right now. I really love Rose Byrne. I've had a girl crush on her for so long. She's so capable and adept. But at the same time, I feel like casting directors are so much better at this. Is there somebody who you think would be perfect?
Margot Robbie would be great as Tatum. For Ben, I could see Ryan Gosling in that role.
Well, sure, who's going to say no to that? Ryan Gosling, I will have you. [Laughs] It's so funny, whenever you have a book come out, people ask you that. And for my second book, which was the one that Weinstein bought, I had a very clear idea of who I wanted, and after that, of course, when it never got made, I stopped fantasizing about it because then it rarely works out. When I write, I picture myself in all these people, so it's harder for me to name names. But I'm big on the Margot Robbie train right now. Everything I read about her, I'm impressed. Tatum really is that ultimate movie star, and I feel like she arrived on the scene, and she's a star. She is unquestionably magnetic.
What else are you working on right now?
This book was so exhausting. Usually I'm ready to start something new, but I haven't been. I keep writing first chapters, and then think, "No, I can't write 350 pages of this." So I'm waiting for something great to strike. In the meantime, this script is still holding my interest. It's an interesting thing with characters when you find that you can't shake them. Certainly, now that the book is out, I'm letting go a bit more. I think leading up to publication, it can be difficult; it's like having a kid. You're pregnant, you're pregnant, you're pregnant, and the, OK, now they're out, and the they grow up, and as the get older, you feel more confident letting them go out into the world. I'm almost ready to start something new but I'm not sure what that's going to be yet.