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A Roundtable Chat with Peter Straughan and Tomas Alfredson (“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”)

When Focus Features drops you a line and asks you if you’d like to head to New York City for an overnight stay at the Waldorf Astoria in order to attend a screening and press junket for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” based on the novel by John le Carré, you don’t think about it. You just say, “Yes.” And so I did. After catching a screening of the film on a Friday night, I got up on Saturday morning to begin the interviews of the day. First up: director Tomas Alfredson and one of the film’s screenwriters, Peter Straughan. (Alas, Straughan’s co-writer, Bridget O’Connor, who was also his wife, died of cancer in September 2010.)

One word of warning: the potential for spoilers exists within the piece. But, look, given that the original novel was published in 1974, followed by the TV miniseries in 1979, it’s not as if you haven’t had plenty of time to absorb this information already…

Journalist: How liberating was it for you to be told (by John le Carré), “Don’t reshoot the book?”

Peter Straughan: Very. [Laughs.]

Tomas Alfredson: Yes, very. I was much more so, I think. Peter wasn’t too worried, but I was very reverential about the book and was very nervous about taking a foot off the path. So it was just very good that John le Carré was there to push us off the path and tell us to do something different.

J: Can you each tell us about your first encounter with the book, if you had read it a long time ago? Did either of you?

PS: I’d read it, yeah. And Bridget had read it years earlier and loved it. In the UK, it’s considered one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, let alone spy novels. And then we read it again when we were asked to come in to discuss adapting it. Which made us quite nervous. [Laughs.] You read it, and…it’s quite a difficult book to adapt!

J: Because it’s so well known, or because of the complexity…?

PS: Because of the complexity. Because it’s quite an interior story. So much of it takes place in Smiley’s mind and Smiley’s memory. And also because, in the UK, it’s a holy cow. As is the TV series. So there was a sense of…I think we were maybe the only writers who rushed in and said, “Okay, we’ll do it!” Everyone else would say, “No, we don’t want to do it!” [Laughs.] Fools rushing in where angels fear to tread.

TA: I think it’s…very much about not deciding, “Okay, I want to do this,” but it’s about, “I want to start working on this, to start the process.” And early on, it was…I remembered the old TV series and the reading of the book, but also meeting with the actual persons, with Peter and Bridget and le Carré and the producers, who are very nice people. To do a scary thing like this, you need to be encouraged, and if you’re surrounded by encouraging people who you trust, it’s much easier.

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A Chat with Stuart Paul, creator of DC / WildStorm’s “Ides of Blood”

Fact: real men read comics.

I’m sure some would still try to argue this point, but in a world where it seems like just about every comic-inspired movie finds itself atop the box office on its week of release, it’s hard to pretend that comics are strictly the domain of the geeks and the nerds. (Would that this transition could’ve occurred when I was still in high school.)

As such, Bullz-Eye is going to try to tackle more stories from the medium…and when I was sent a copy of “Ides of Blood,” a new series from DC / WildStorm which is – at least according to the press release – not entirely unlike a blend of “True Blood” and “Rome,” it certainly seemed like something that our readership might be interested in learning more about.

God bless DC’s publicity department: they quickly put me in touch with series creator Stuart Paul, who gladly answered a few questions for us about his own introduction to comic books, the origins of “Ides of Blood,” his semi-controversial decision to have characters in ancient Rome use modern colloquialisms, which of DC’s stable of superheroes he’d like to take a shot at writing, and much much more.

Since I’ve seen the phrase “new to comic books” used in conjunction with your history of writing for the medium, what’s your personal background with comics? And don’t be shy: if your memory stretches back that far, feel free to offer up the very first comic you remember buying.

My childhood experience with comics was pretty limited. Other than reading the occasional issue of Moon Knight or X-Men at my friend’s house, the only comics I personally bought were “Star Trek” comics—mostly “Next Generation” and some of the original crew that took place in the post-“Wrath of Khan” time period. It wasn’t until college that my girlfriend reintroduced me to comics through Sandman. Once I realized there were comics for adults out there, I started reading them more and more. Initially, I stuck with the superstars—Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Brian K. Vaughan, Garth Ennis. I was kind of a Vertigo whore at first. I guess I still kind of am, but not as much. I have to hear a lot of good buzz about something before I’ll invest in a whole series like Walking Dead, but I’ve definitely branched out. Once I discovered Urasawa’s Pluto, I started getting into manga more. Right now, I’ve got 20th Century Boys, Basilisk and Lone Wolf and Cub to read. I also went through a period of reading a lot of DC superheroes. Jeph Loeb’s Batman stuff is my favorite. Sometimes I’ll still read X-Men, but it’s pretty rare for me to read superheroes these days. My favorite series right now is probably Okko. I think Archaia is doing some of the most creative and well-made comics today. Also, Chew is the only series I read on a monthly basis. Everything else is TPB’s, although the iPad is kind of changing that.

There’s been much talk about how fans of both “True Blood” and “Rome” will find much to enjoy in Ides of Blood. Is that combination what led to the concept for this series? If not, what were its origins, and how do you feel about those points of comparison?

No, neither show existed when I originally came up with the idea and wrote the first draft. I mean, I don’t have a problem with people using those as points of reference. It’s an effective shorthand, but it’s the type of thing you’d bring up in a Hollywood pitch meeting. The problem is that you don’t necessarily know what connotations those shows have for the reader and also, they’re such current references that it makes the comic sound like it’s just trying to exploit the zeitgeist. I mean, if you said it’s “Gladiator” meets… well, actually, “Dracula” might have too much baggage attached to the name, so I guess “True Blood” probably is a good descriptor. The point is, I don’t mind the comparison, but I do think it has as much potential to put-off readers as it does to draw them in. Anyway, the concept for the series came out of boredom. I don’t really like vampires, so it started as a challenge to myself to figure out what I’d have to do to make vampires interesting to me. Julius Caesar just popped into my head.

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