A person could get whiplash watching this Train speed by. It hasn’t even been two years since the debut of Paula Hawkins’ bestseller, The Girl on the Train, and the thriller is already in theaters as a Hollywood movie starring Emily Blunt, Justin Theroux and Rebecca Ferguson. The book, about a London divorcée who rides the commuter train while spying on her ex and his neighbors, has sold 11 million copies and is once again the top-selling novel on Amazon. We caught up with Train author Paula Hawkins to talk about the journey from page to screen. - Alynda Wheat, Amazon.com
There were plans to adapt the book into a film before it was even published. Was that a relief, or did it just add to the pressure for you? Well, it was kind of strange because I was aware that quite a lot of books get optioned, and then nothing really happens. So I just kind of thought, “Oh that’s fantastic, but it may happen, it may not.” The fact that this movie is out less than two years from the publication of the book is just — it’s extraordinary.
Still, it’s hard to hand your baby over to Hollywood. What did you mean when you told director Tate Taylor to “just make it great and make it truthful?” I wanted to keep the essential darkness of it, and the essentials of those characters, particularly Rachel (Blunt). We’re not used to seeing a woman like that, who’s so broken down and such a mess and is behaving in such a bizarre way. But she is the heart of the story, and so I wanted her to remain the same and she has done.
Does relocating the story from London to New York change something fundamental for you? I don’t think so. I know there are readers who are upset that it’s not set on the outskirts of London. But for me, really, the key location is actually the train. It’s not the place that she’s traveling to, it’s that commute. That thing she does, it’s the houses that she looks at. That is the important setting. So yes, they are different houses than the ones I pictured. [But] the film sucks you in so completely. The performances are so strong that you won’t be worried about whether she’s traveling to Euston or to Grand Central Station.
You went on set a few times. What were you able to see? I watched the scene where Rachel takes the baby from their house and goes out into the garden with it and then Anna (Ferguson) comes running out panicked. That was wonderful. It was obviously really dramatic to watch. Watching Emily play that scene, obviously it’s creepy and it’s frightening, but there was also real tenderness and sadness. All she wants to do is hold this little baby. It was actually much sadder, visually, than it had been on the page.
It must’ve been sort of an out-of-body experience seeing your words come to life. I think that’s a really good description. I mean, I know it’s mine and it’s my story, but then it also feels like it’s a different thing. Like it’s taken on its own life. While it is a faithful retelling it also feels like a very separate piece of work to the book.
And to have Emily Blunt in the lead role — I was delighted when they chose her! I’ve always been a bit of a fan. I think it’s an extraordinary performance because it’s really not an easy thing to play drunk without it being ridiculous and somehow laughable. She’s made it sad and grim and unpleasant and shameful, which is how it should be. She carries around that shame. You can see it radiating off her almost.
Author Paula Hawkins, left, chats with Emily Blunt on the set of the movie (Photo: Barry Wetcher)
Why do you think this book has resonated so deeply with readers? It’s hard to really put one’s finger on it. I think there’s an element of relatability. That voyeuristic impulse is universal. We all do that thing of watching other people or gazing into houses and imagining others’ lives.
Which you captured beautifully. How real is the pressure to have another bestseller with the new novel you’ve been working on? Well, obviously there’s pressure and there’s expectation now. All I can do is write the best book that I can at this point, and tell the stories that I’m interested in telling. I have a draft with my editors at the moment. I know that there’s more work to do — it’s not finished. But I’m hoping that it will be published in the first half of next year. Hopefully, I’m getting there.
Excellent news! Final question: What’s the last thing you bought on Amazon? The last thing I bought on Amazon was actually a book. It’s an old book. It’s Fatherland by Robert Harris, which I read and enjoyed ages ago. Then I was having a conversation with a friend about it, so I bought it for a friend.
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