I first met Bruce Wagner in Los Angeles about the middle
of 1997. I was and still am a rabid David Cronenberg aficionado.†
I was walking along the Venice Beach walk when I passed two
gentlemen wearing suits. One of them reminded of David Cronenberg.
I followed them for a little bit when one of them said the
word virus. I knew it had to be David Cronenberg. I stopped
them and I ended up speaking with David Cronenberg for about
a half hour. He introduced Mr. Wagner to me and I recognized
him as the creator of Wild Palms. Since then I have
done my best to sample Mr. Wagnerís work as much as possible.
I saw his adaptation of his excellent novel Iím Losing
You and when I read his new book. Iíll Let you Go,
I realized that he has really developed beyond criticizing
the excesses of Hollywood into a powerful novelist who can
take on any subject. He is a very articulate and intelligent
who was most recently excited by the rave review of his new
book in the New York Times.
Dan Epstein: In the new book I'll Let You Go,
why such an abundance of characters?
Bruce Wagner: The novel is in a sense a Victorian
novel, I didnít set out to write a kind of 19th
century novel but thatís what I wound up with. Iíve always
enjoyed large ensembles of characters particularly when all
of the lives of those characters knit together in some shape
or form by the end of the story. It is a very simple story
in effect, a sonís search for his father, but along the way
many other things happen many other lives intersect with that
DE: Like you said the book came out almost Victorian,
so it wasnít a conscious act to do so?
BW: I knew that I wanted to write a story that was
very rich in character and rich in detail and very emotional.
The story was taking place in Los Angeles but was not the
turf of my previous book Iím Losing You; it was not
a cynical story though many terrible things happen within.
So I found myself writing the book with a narrator in a style
that was perhaps reminiscent of Charles Dickens.
DE: The characters seem quite Dickensian, all the weird
people he meets in LA.
BW: These characters are very close to my heart and
certainly not modeled after any Dickens characters although
there is echoes and reverberations that one may find. But
these are just characters and themes that I always try to
explore. They were just explored in a fashion that was different
than my past two books.
DE: Did you want to get away from the kind of books that
you had written before or itís just that you had another idea
for a story?
BW: I just think that thatís what artists do. They
pursue a line and that line is often not a tidy extension
from what they have been doing. Iím a writer first and foremost;
Iím not a Hollywood novelist. I will always write about people
in this town and tangentially people in show seines. But there
are many things I wish to explore and will continue to. They
will not fit peopleís perceptions of what I should be doing.
DE: With all your success are you maybe feeling less cynical?
BW: I donít think I was ever cynical really. I think
people projected that into me. I think my last book; Iím
Losing You struck many people as cold or unmerciful. Itís
also filled with emotionalism. Itís a very passionate book
that has its moments of tenderness to offset those moments
of horror. I never saw myself as writing bleak and apocalyptic
books where there is no way out. There is always ways out
in my books.
DE: Youíve said that I'll Let You Go is the
second part of a trilogy started with Iím Losing You.
Was this always the intention?
BW: Itís more of a titular trilogy. My first book,
Force Majeure, was not part of that trilogy. Iím
Losing You, I'll Let You Go and the last book will be
called Still Holding.
DE: As you said, itís just in title, not concept.
BW: Well sort of. All of these books are about loss
and reconciliation. Of Iím Losing You, one review said
was a more desperate title. Iíll Let you go already
has some resignation within it and Still Holding really
means how difficult it is for us, even when we do decide to
let go, how hard it is to do so. We tend to hold on. On that
level the books are about loss, love and death. And how do
we live in a mortal world.
DE: There are three children at the core of I'll Let
You Go. How much is each one of them a part of you? (Tull
is the sensitive boy, Lucy is the smartass mystery writer
and Edward is grossly disfigured)
BW: Theyíre all a part of me. You write characters
and you become terribly enamored of them. You write from a
place of love so you ultimately love them. Thereís always
been a place for physically damaged children in whatever Iíve
done. I remember a movie that I wrote a long time ago called
Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills there
was a damaged boy who played piano. So deformity that overt
damage is something that Iíve always enjoyed exploring in
terms of children. Tull is a boy who has been wounded in a
different way not in the absence of a limb or of a gene but
of a father and the lies that have been told to protect the
mother. Thatís interesting to me because Tull is quite sane
and sober and an ordinary boy in a sense whoís living in extraordinary
circumstances. Lucy is a girl and she is a very smart and
acerbic little girl. Who has a different set of longings than
either Tull or Edward. But theyíre all very much† a part of
DE: You mentioned that Tull doesnít have a father.
In the book there are awkward bonds between the boys and their
moms.† Does this reflect your relationship with adults and
BW: I think everyone has awkward bonds with their
parents. The book is dedicated to my mother so it could hardly
reflect that. She is alive and well and I have a good relationship
with my father. I think when growing up everyone has difficulties
with their parents. This one is just obviously magnified because
this boy was lied to. His mother was humiliated or used as
an excuse for what happened. Her being jilted was used as
an excuse for a kind of a personal downfall and the father
of course is quite disturbed but far less disturbed than we
imagined once we learn that he is alive. So itís just a complexity
for purposes of story. Obviously a child having difficulty
with a parent, you need to know what is that difficulty is,
otherwise you donít have a novel. You have an anecdote.
DE: Bluey one of the main characters in I'll Let
You Go has Alzheimerís disease, did you do research to
portray that accurately?
BW: I did some. The book was heavily researched but
more in the area of childcare and homeless because one doesnít
really need to research Alzheimerís. we can all project dementia,
we know what that is in our bones. In our daily life we have
moments of dementia. There is some research regarding that.
I was already familiar with the Motion Picture and television
Hospital because I had written an article about that place
for the New Yorker and there is an Alzheimerís care unit there.
There was a certain amount of familiarity I had with that
world, but you donít want to become a TV movie of the week.
You donít need to become an expert to describe it, if fact
it becomes more poetic. I became a court appointed special
advocate in the process of writing the book and I had a caseload
and I was over at the Los Angeles childrenís court. Those
were the areas where I† did most of my research, being downtown
with the homeless† and the encampments, visiting SROís becoming
involved in a marginal way with homeless healthcare. Those
were the rich areas for me.
DE: Tull meets such a different array of characters; do
such interesting people really exist in Los Angeles?
BW: I hope so, thereís millions of people here if
they didnít it would be kind of an Orwellian world. These
people are all drawn from a collective unconsciousness. I
say over and† over in the book that fiction is far less interring
than reality. I would say that anything exists that you can
DE: You directed the film adaptation of your book Iím
Losing You, How hard is it to adapt your own work?
BW: Well Iíve done two films based on that book. The
second one is called Women in Film, I think Iím finding
my way as a filmmaker. I chose a different path with the film
Iím Losing You and made something that a lot of people
may have wanted it to be more scabrous or closer to the book.
But I had a different view of the book than those people.†
There are two camps, thereís those who want you to continue
doing what you have done or to endlessly explore this world
of depravity and there are those who are comfortable with
the exploration of other things. The second film was more
of directorís film, its something where I found my legs as
a director. I havenít looked at the first film in a while.
As being the author of these books you make choices and once
you make them its not difficult to adapt. Its that initial
choice in tone and how I am going to do adapt. Then it writes
itself. Whether the choices I made are ones that people approve
is kind of irrelevant.
DE: Women in Film is an InDigEnt, does that mean its
shot on digital video?
BW: It stands for Independent Digital Entertainment.
Thereís been about 8 films so far. Itís a collaboration between
the Independent Film Channel, the Independent Film Channel
and Killer Films (producers of Iím Losing You and Todd Solondzís
Storytelling). Its three monologues, Beverly D'Angelo, Marianne
Jean-Baptiste and Portia de Rossi. Three women who hold very
different roles in moviemaking. One is a masseuse who can
steal energy from her clients, another is a casting agent
whoís just given birth to a blind baby and the last is an
independent film producer. I had a wonderful experience with
that and the film was shown at both Sundance and Venice Film
Festivals. Iím anxious to do another film next year now that
Iíve gotten this giant book off my shoulders.
DE: Will the next film be a totally original script?
DE:† David Cronenberg is one of the more strict directors,
what is he like as a producer on Iím Losing You?
BW: He is incredibly supportive and generous, I† never
met anyone that was quite like that. He didnít interfere at
all. He was only helpful and only supportive. I was very honored
to work with him. Heís a dear friend and a person whoís friendship
doesnít exclude collaboration. Its impossible for him to have
a hostile moment or notion=. Heís a kind and very dear man.
DE:† What did Cronenberg bring to the table with Iím Losing
BW: He helped† get the film made as its godfather.
He gave an air of legitimacy to the project. He was very†
helpful in the editing process.
DE: What is it about Hollywood and Los Angeles that makes
you want to write such things about it?
BW: Iím from here. I went to elementary† school here.
I grew up on Rodeo drive. Whatever it is† about peopleís hometowns
that makes people write about their hometowns makes me write
about it as well.
DE: You were born in Wisconsin, why did your family move
to Beverly Hills?
BW: My father was in the broadcasting business and
hopped around the country working in various radio stations
and eventually settled in Los Angeles. He worked for a moment
in the television business. So thatís† how we landed in the
DE: You have deep horror film roots, you worked a bit
with Wes Craven, how did that work affect what you do now?
BW: No I always liked horror and Paul Bartel [director
of Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills] introduced
me to Wes and I showed him a script that was never produced.
But Wes was sufficiently impressed and asked me to work with
him on Beetlejuice, Tim Burton later replaced him. Bob Shaye
[head of New Line Cinema] asked Wes to do another Nightmare
on Elm Street and he was in the middle of doing a film
called Deadly Friend at the time and called me out
of the blue and asked me if I would like to work with him
on it. It was a very generous offer and I had a huge amount
of fun working on that movie.† I have always loved horror
films and been moved by them, disturbed by them.
DE: You also acted for a little while. Did you do it for
BW: I donít act anymore most of what I did was ten
years ago. Thatís was stuff I did because I needed the money,
I didnít enjoy any of it. It just happened because I had friends
who wanted me to be involved.
DE: You also appeared in two Savage Steve Holland films,
One Crazy Summer is a classic where you appeared as
the crazed uncle who wins the radio contest, what was it like
working on those films?
BW: That was a very dark period for me, a close friend
of mine had died and I was having a kind of a breakdown. I
had no money and I quite remember how I met Steve but he asked
me to so that, suddenly I was on a place to Marthaís Vineyard
where we shot it. It was a good thing for me to get out of
town but it was all a very dark period for me that I then
wrote about in Force Majeure. Its not something that
was fun for me.
DE: Are you still trying to make the film How To
Marry a Billionaire?
BW: Iím not sure if thatís the project I should do
next. I have to give that some more consideration. I really
love that script. You write a script sometimes and certain
people hold onto stuff forever until they can make it. But
Iím not one of those people. Sometimes I feel the moment for
something has passed and I want something new to breeze in.
DE: Who are your favorite writers and directors?
BW: Of course Cronenberg and Todd Solondz is one of
the finest directors out there. I† wrote an essay for the
screenplay book for his new film Storytelling. Toddís
work continues to be amazing, with each film he make she goes
farther into an area of human concerns and passions that other
people are afraid to enter. I love his work. As far as books,
I donít read any contemporary authors. I like David Foster
Wallace but Iím a slow and poor reader and I donít read that
much at all. When I do I tend to focus on dead authors.
Dan Epstein lives on the Upper West
Side of Manhattan in New York City. He is contributor to such
websites as Gadflyonline.com, 3ammagazine.com, Hybridmagazine.com,
SlushFactory.com, Ifanboy.com and DavidFincher.net. He has
interviewed such luminaries as Jodie Foster, David Fincher,
Bruce Campbell, Jerry Stahl, Daniel Clowes, Gilbert Shelton,
Chuck Palahniuk, Douglas Coupland, Paul Auster and The Damned.
He is also a former producer for
MetroTV where he worked on such shows as The Daily Beat, Studio
Y and New York Eats and has worked on such feature films as
Tromeo & Juliet by the Troma studios and Dinner and Driving.
He loves referring to himself in
the third person
Email him at email@example.com
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