Marcus Sakey Talks New Book Thriller 'Afterlife,' Coming Imagine Adaptation

The best-selling author reflects on writing his first screenplay and earlier attempts to adapt his work.
Courtesy of PMK BMC
Marcus Sakey

Author Marcus Sakey has optioned to Hollywood all but one of his dozen or so novels written during the past 10 years. His latest, Afterlife, hits bookshelves July 18 with movie rights scooped up by Imagine Entertainment in a bidding war last March. "We're not at a state where there's anyone under terribly serious discussion," Sakey tells The Hollywood Reporter about casting the movie. "Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt would be my first choices."

Two Chicago FBI agents track a serial killer that takes them into the afterlife, where souls in transit face off against an army of evil cannibals. In time, the agents fall in love and unite to stop an all-powerful evil force at the root of the bloody mayhem. The mix of film noir and fantasy in Afterlife is not new to Sakey, but adapting the screenplay from his own book is. "I spend a lot of time hating the author," he gripes, but in the next breath confesses, "it's really fun to have more colors on the palette, the things you can and can't do in films versus books."

Sakey has been studying the film business from his hometown, Chicago, since the beginning of his career. Ben Affleck's company picked up the rights to his first novel, The Blade Itself. After the option lapsed Sam Raimi's company stepped in, but there's been no progress since. As for the one book that was adapted into a movie, Good People, starring James Franco and Kate Hudson, Sakey "didn't love the end result," and neither did the critics.

In 2013 his trilogy, Brilliance, sold to Legendary Pictures for $1.25 million, with Julius Onah set direct, and Will Smith and Noomi Rapace heading the cast. "We were six weeks from principal photography. We had a David Koepp script. We had one of the biggest movie stars on the planet trying to play. They were in full preproduction and because of some changes at Legendary and disagreement between them and Smith, all of a sudden that was just spiked," Sakey recalls of 2014 when the project fell apart. Rumors at the time had Jared Leto taking over for Smith, but according to the author, negotiations never reached the point where offers were made, and rights have reverted back to him with the hope of adapting it as either a movie or TV series. "I think part of that was because of the velocity of everything. The script was being written while they were trying to cast it and trying to get a director lined up."

One stipulation that helped seal the deal for Imagine in last March's bidding war over Afterlife was the fact that they granted Sakey the first shot at the screenplay. "Part of what's been really exciting with Imagine is they have this experience of translating complicated material, books, into film, A Beautiful Mind, The Dark Tower," he says, pointing to a Best Picture winner and Sony's Stephen King adaptation due in theaters next month. "The notion of working with them as kind of partners to develop it, get it to where we want it, and then take it to a studio of our choosing as a very tight package was very appealing, just after seeing what happened with other films. So many drafts of Good People, so many writers involved that I felt like it lost identity with each pass."

The Imagine deal was brokered by Sakey's reps, including Shane Salerno of The Story Factory, as well as Jon Cassir and Matt Snyder at CAA. No word yet on who will direct, but the novelist is hoping Ron Howard will give it a look. "I'm really excited about the collaborative nature of it, especially with the cast. The idea of writing what I think is a pretty good line and then having a spectacular performer, actor, actress just murder it, and see the look on their face really elevate the written word, that's very exciting for me."