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For six decades, Elmore Leonard has been sitting at his writing desk, first in Detroit, then in the suburbs, creating robberies and murders for books and movies. Hollywood has tried many times to translate Leonard’s work from page to screen: Get Shorty, Out of Sight, two versions of 3:10 to Yuma. Leonard has written several screenplays too, and worked on the recent, short-lived ABC television series Karen Sisco.
Tonight, another television network — FX this time — takes a shot at bringing Elmore’s World to life. Leonard himself is an executive producer of Justified, but he says there are a whole bunch of those, and he doesn’t have script approval.
But Leonard’s happy. He’s met the writers, and they’re keeping their source close at hand.
“They said, ‘We all have this little plastic bracelet on that says WWED — What Would Elmore Do?’ ” Leonard says. “It seems to me that they sound like my writing.”
What Would Elmore Do? Take, for starters, the advice he says he gave to Get Shorty director Barry Sonnenfeld on how to balance dark humor and menace.
“I said, ‘When these guys say something funny, you don’t cut away to get laughs because they’re serious. They’re all serious,’ ” Leonard says.
It’s advice worth heeding. Leonard has written 43 books, almost all of which have been optioned for films. His fans — there are many — say he’s the best crime writer ever, and they can recognize any page based on the sound.
“Well, when people ask me about my dialogue, I say ‘Well, don’t you hear people talking?’ That’s all I do. I hear a certain type of individual,” Leonard says. “I decide this is what he should be, whatever it is, and then I hear him. Well, I don’t hear anybody that I can’t make talk.”
Leonard also uses names he likes the sound of. He once met a man named Raylan at a book fair, and created Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, from Harlan County, Ky. Givens appeared in two novels by Leonard as well as the short story “Fire in the Hole” that is the basis for Justified.
In the show, Givens wears a white Stetson and only pulls his sidearm if he intends to use it, as in a scene from the pilot where Givens (played by Timothy Olyphant) gives a thug an ultimatum: Get out of town, or die.
Just in case the television guys run out of stories, Leonard says he hasn’t been able to resist working on an idea of his own for Justified. He’s about 20 pages into a storyline about body parts that starts as Givens enters a motel room to make an arrest.
“It’s quiet, and the guy’s not in the bed,” Leonard says. Givens goes into the bathroom to find his suspect “in an ice bath, naked, lot of crushed ice up to his chin, hair back, and both of his kidneys are missing. So Raylan wonders, well they took his kidneys to sell them.” Leonard chuckles. “But why did they keep him alive?”
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