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by Eric Kohn
August 6, 2012 9:00 AM
15 Comments
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Roger Avary's First Post-Prison Interview: Where His Career Will Take Him Next

Roger Avary in Locarno. Eric Kohn

Roger Avary is an Oscar-winning screenwriter, but these days he has trouble gathering his thoughts. "How do I put this?" Avary said on the the terrace outside his hotel in Locarno, Switzerland, where he's currently serving on the international competition jury at the city's film festival. "I haven't talked about this to anyone other than family and close friends, so I want to measure my words very carefully."

He stared at the ground and took a breath. "Incarceration didn't change me," he said after a long pause. "In many ways, incarceration galvanized me. The totality of the experience helped me." While Avary looked relaxed in a salmon-colored shirt and neatly tousled hair, sunglasses hid the emotion on his face.

Read more of IW's extensive Locarno coverage

Four years ago, the co-writer of "Pulp Fiction" and "True Romance" -- as well as the director of "Killing Zoe" and "The Rules of Attraction" -- faced a situation far more disturbing than anything depicted in his movies. Driving under the influence in Ojai, Calif., Avary got into an accident that killed his friend Andreas Zini.

Released on bail, Avary was eventually charged with vehicular manslaughter and pleaded guilty, serving time in a one-year work furlough and then later behind bars for eight months. Reasonably enough, he discusses the incident with trepidation. "I spend nearly every waking moment thinking about how I can live my life in such a way as to honor this absolutely terrible loss that occurred," he said.

The answer has slowly come to him with new work. Based on the sheer volume of projects currently in his queue, Avary may have entered the most productive period of his career, not to mention an entirely different stage of artistic expression.

The last two years have been especially busy: He recently finished overseeing the scripting process for the second season of the French-Canadian spy show "XIII: The Series." He's working on a screenplay for Paul Verhoeven based on the director's scholarly tome about the life of Jesus. With production company Wild Bunch, he's planning to reteam with "Rules of Attraction" scribe Bret Easton Ellis to direct an adaptation of Ellis' "Lunar Park." For "Moon" director Duncan Jones, he reworked the screenplay for a biopic about James Bond creator Ian Fleming. He also plans to adapt the early William Faulkner novel "Sanctuary."

Avary said his immense activity is part of his plan to find a creative outlet in everything he does. "I'm looking for work that enriches me and touches me somehow. I'm certainly not taking work just to pay bills."

Avary said his immense activity is part of his plan to find a creative outlet in everything he does.

As if to prove that point, at the request of the Locarno Film Festival, Avary agreed to maintain a blog chronicling his experiences in Switzerland. He used the opportunity to construct another piece of fiction that refers to his fellow jurors as "the Thieve's Guild": Apichatpong Weerasethakul is "the Thailander," while "The Housemaid" director Im Sangsoo is "the South Korean," tags that make the group sound like a medieval take on "Ocean's Eleven."

Avary's reports contain enough coded insight to turn them into a brilliantly gonzo set of festival dispatches that analogize the jury process to espionage. After singling out Apichatpong's meditative filmography, Avary wrote that "he always did things his own way…not every heist needed to pull in the big bucks. A true thief pulled a heist because it was in their soul to do so."

That's a sentiment to which Avary relates. He said he never stopped writing except when he had no choice: After he began tweeting a similarly embellished account of his experience in the work furlough, Avary was forced into solitary confinement and served out his remaining sentence in lockdown. Since then, he has stayed away from the creative prospects of status updates. "The problem with 140 characters is that subtlety is lost," he said, then politely requested we change the subject.

With the trauma of his jail time came an epiphany that carried him through the ordeal. "I never stopped writing," he said, although he had a harder time watching movies, a hobby relegated to the prison television where he found himself watching "My Name Is Earl" by default. Even such relatively minor limitations influenced his new perspective. "If I've learned anything," he said, "I've learned that we don't have control."

15 Comments

  • Factoid | June 12, 2013 10:24 PMReply

    Really? One glass of wine... then explain this:

    Judge Bruce Clark granted motions to split a blood sample taken from Avary so the defense can confirm – or rebut – prosecution findings that the defendant had a blood-alcohol level of .11 when the tragic accident occurred just near Boardman Road on Ojai Avenue. A blood-alcohol level of .08 or greater constitutes drunken driving in California.

  • Sperky | August 7, 2012 1:00 PMReply

    Ojai you are a pedagogue and a fool. First off, he pled guilty because rednecks in Ventura (like Ojai) played the system and made that the only way out. He had one glass of wine and was not drunk. Andreas wasn't his friend he had only had one dinner with the guy, that night. Gretchen Avary (wife) was almost killed too. A young neighborhood girl came forward and admitted to driving them into a ditch. Successive prosecutors kept putting the case off, because there wasn't one. Avary paid millions to the victim's family. On and on and on. But then some anonymous puke calling themselves by the inbred city where this happened comes on here and speaks as if they know ANYTHING and it is disgusting to me. Shame on you.

  • Sperky | August 7, 2012 2:16 PM

    Being an inbred Ventura redneck I don't expect your reading skills to be all that good. My point was clear that Roger showed ENORMOUS contrition despite minimal responsibility. You remain disgusting.

  • From Ojai | August 7, 2012 2:10 PM

    Thank you for proving my point about a lack of contrition. It's epidemic, apparently.

  • From Ojai | August 6, 2012 7:05 PMReply

    We're willing to forgive mistakes, but wow, he doesn't sound the least bit contrite for having killed a man. Terrible loss that occurred? That's not measuring your words very carefully.

  • From Ojai | August 6, 2012 11:55 PM

    You should read what the Italians had to say about Avary. Anyway, kudos to the reporter for asking the tough questions.

  • Joe-Bob | August 6, 2012 11:33 PM

    Uh no, Ojai, he doesn't compare himself to a POW. You went ahead and made that up.

    This isn't rocket science. Incarcerated baddies •and• goodies get through their sentences by taking inspiration from others who've suffered -- Jesus, Ghandi, Stockdale and heck, even Epictetus. Learning from those who've gone before.

    I'd be much more suspicious if Avary wore his sorrow on a sleeve, the way everyone here seems to want. The American taste for hypocrisy is wide and deep, reaching even as far as Shangri La.

  • From Ojai | August 6, 2012 11:22 PM

    He's galvanized by his incarceration, learned we don't have control (yet it was all in his control), he passively references "the terrible loss that occurred "(which he caused) and he compares himself to a POW. But yeah, let's talk about his film career.

  • Joe-Bob | August 6, 2012 9:33 PM

    Choosing your words exactly is a sure sign of contrition, just as effusive apologies are the mark of a bullshitter. Many in the hair-shirt crowd will resent that his having a career at all at this point, let alone a busy one. I think that's what you're picking up on.

  • Mark Rabinowitz | August 6, 2012 5:32 PMReply

    Nicely done, Eric!

  • Jeremy Walker | August 6, 2012 2:51 PMReply

    Great feature Eric. I totally appreciate your reporting:

    "This October will mark the tenth anniversary of "Rules of Attraction" hitting theaters in the U.S. Avary said would like the movie to receive a special anniversary release, but has yet to convince distributor Lionsgate. Seen outside the context of its initial release, it remains an enjoyably surreal endeavor that messes with the characters and viewer alike by constantly rewinding various party scenes, drawing us into seemingly inconsequential moments of hedonistic indulgences and rendering them bleakly poetic."

    I would offer to your readers that if you look again at AMERICAN PSYCHO and RULES OF ATTRACTION you will encounter similar sensations of timelessness you evoke in your dispatch. It's an argument for Ellis overall that both movies have ripened without aging one teensy bit.

    JW

  • tom | August 6, 2012 12:01 PMReply

    great interview!

  • shelly | August 6, 2012 10:28 AMReply

    Going from his drunk driving incarceration for killing his friend to a prisoner of war's 7 year stretch being tortured is not the best way to gain empathy from other people. Not the same thing dude.

  • Tim | August 6, 2012 4:59 PM

    I think we all sussed that Avary wasn't comparing himself to Stockdale. He was talking about a coping mechanism he learned from Stockdale.

  • Hipstercrite | August 6, 2012 10:07 AMReply

    Great interview!