Vince Flynn Talks 'The Last Man,' His Newest Mitch Rapp Best-Seller (Q&A)

The author talks about how current events in Afghanistan influenced his new book, the possibility of a movie starring Chris Hemsworth and Bruce Willis and being a self-publishing trendsetter.

Vince Flynn’s latest Mitch Rapp novel (the 14th featuring the character), The Last Man, recently went on sale, debuting in the No. 1 slot on The New York Times list and No. 2 on the USA Today list.

It is currently No. 8 on the Times list and No. 12 on USA Today

The writer talked with The Hollywood Reporter about the book, his views on the evolving fight in Afghanistan and Iraq and the toll it is taking on those involved, the status of a potential Mitch Rapp movie starring Chris Hemsworth and Bruce Willis and his unusual start as a best-selling author.

A Minnesota native, Flynn took up writing after he was medically disqualified from becoming a Marine aviator.

He self-published his first novel, Term Limits, in 1997 -- long before the Internet, e-readers and Amazon made self-publishing a viable route -- and by going bookseller-to-bookseller he turned it into a local best-seller in the Twin Cities.

Pocket Books picked up the book the next year and in 1999 it hit The New York Times best-seller list, beginning a streak that has seen every one of his books make the list.

In 2003 Flynn switched publishers to Atria for his fifth novel, Executive Power.  

Since then, Flynn has written nine more Rapp novels, selling millions of books and becoming one of the most popular writers of military thrillers.

He also was a consultant on the fifth season of Fox’s 24 and a frequent guest on Glenn Beck’s show.

Read THR’s interview with Flynn below.

The Hollywood Reporter: What’s the Last Man about?

Vince Flynn: Last Man is a double entendre. Mitch Rapp is kind of the last man you want to piss off. The other thing is when you’re pulling out of a country in a military struggle especially with a strategic withdrawal you don’t want to be the last guy.

I wanted to write about Afghanistan this time, because we are going to see an acceleration of that country falling apart. I wanted to delve into the politics of it and the corruption and how it's affected the men and women of the CIA, the State Department and the Pentagon. The ISI over in Pakistan (the country’s security and spy agency) has really played the U.S. and really meddled in Afghanistan. It's not been a very good ally at times.

I think most people would agree that the ISI knew Osama bin Laden was being hidden in their country. If we can’t get together and agree that Osama bin Laden deserves to die, we’ve got a real problem. So it's going to be really interesting. This isn’t going to happen overnight. This is a subject that I’m probably going to continue to return to because I think it is fascinating.

What makes Mitch Rapp distinct?

Flynn: I think the main thing with Rapp is that you’ve got a guy who is not very tolerant. He doesn’t see the world through politically correct glasses. He has understood since his mid-20s that he’s really left with two alternatives: He can either go kill these guys, or they come kill you and you go back to the '90s and Osama bin Laden, those guys fire their rifles in the air and say, "Death to America." Rapp is the guy that took them at their word and said, "We need to kill these guys before they come and kill us."

He’s an operator, he’s not a professor. He doesn’t buy into these ideas that this is about economic opportunity. If this was about economic opportunity, we’d have terrorists come across the borders in San Diego and blowing stuff up every week. This is about a group of radical men who have taken a radical stance on Islam, and they’ve radicalized young men to run around and kill Jews, Christians, homosexuals, you name it. We don’t need to understand them unless that understanding helps us exterminate the threat.

What’s the status of a Mitch Rapp movie? CBS Films has plans to adapt American Assassin, right?

Flynn: The quick version of it: Bruce Willis has agreed. He sat down with Jeffrey Nachmanoff and approved him as director. Bruce is now in final negotiations. We’re right at the goal line with Bruce.  When I sat down to write American Assassin, Bruce Willis was in my mind [to play Rapp’s mentor, Hurley] with a Don Imus-type attitude toward the role.

Bruce has that ability to do humor without doing humor in a serious movie. He has that way of delivering a line or giving a look that is absolutely funny in a very tense situation without trying to be funny. I think he’s absolutely the best there is in the business, so I’m thrilled that we’re so close with him.

CBS went out and gave a big offer to Chris Hemsworth to play Rapp. I think he’s the perfect guy to play Mitch Rapp. We’re really hoping that Chris takes the role because he’s perfect for it.

Any interest in writing the screenplay?

Flynn: I thought about it but it was just a brief deal, mostly because I’m probably too close to the project. At this point, I’m better at editing a screenplay. When you’re this close to a project, I think it’s a bad idea. I think you have to turn it over to professionals who are in the business of making movies, and you need to get out of the way.

We’re all out there shooting for the same thing: To make a really kick-ass action thriller that makes a bunch of money and makes the Rapp fans happy. If I’ve got to sacrifice a little bit of my art for that, I’m not going to stand in the way of it, because to be honest, I think a lot of authors get really big-headed about this stuff. They’re just like, “It’s my baby, it’s my creation, it’s my way or the highway." I don’t operate that way.

You had a really unusual start to your writing career. Can you explain how it began?

Flynn: I grew up dyslexic. I didn't read anything for pleasure until college. And then I got hooked on Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, John Grisham and all those guys. What I found out was that every time I picked up all those books, I knew exactly what was going to happen. After college I was medically disqualified from applying to the Marine Corps, and I was trying to get a medical waiver for that. A friend of mine from college was murdered in Washington, D.C., and I started to sit down and write a story about that. And that story became Term Limits. It was rejected by everybody in New York City. So I self-published it in 1997. It went to No. 1 locally in the Twin Cities. Then Simon & Schuster picked it up. Now, I’ve just published my 14th book.

Self-publishing has become a huge phenomenon, hasn't it? It wasn't back then but with the rise of Kindle and iTunes store, people can publish. Have you reflected on what's going on in publishing now?

Flynn: I think the more avenues that open up when people want to publish, the better. Some of the authors that want to jump ship from the traditional houses and go on their own, you know what? Good luck. It's going to be a lot tougher than you think.

I have been blessed to have the same editor and work for a great publishing house. It has a great PR department. There's a lot more to publishing a book than writing it and slapping a cover on it. So for me, working with all these great talented people frees me up from a stress standpoint in what I need to focus on, which is to write the damn book.

I'm a big believer in free enterprise. If people want to try it, then go for it. I think it's great for certain people. I think for certain people the digital front is a great way for them to break through the gatekeepers that you have at these publishing houses.

Do you remember how much it cost you and how many copies you sold of Term Limits?
Some vague numbers. I published 2,500 copies at first. My unit cost was something in the neighborhood of $6 a book. That was with cover artwork and all that stuff. Those books were sold out in the Twin Cities in the first three or four weeks.

I brought in a guy who was the art designer for Target whose name is Paul Heflin to do the cover. A buddy of mine shot the photo for the back of the book. I hired a couple of publicists locally who I went to college with, and they were great. I gave them a percentage of Term Limits for almost seven years. I raised another $25,000 by selling 25 percent of Term Limits for seven years to friends. Those people they made their money back. I don't know exact numbers, but it was over a 1000 percent return on their investment.