He’s one of the most successful novelists of all time. His 10 back-to-back best-sellers — along with the movies they’ve inspired — have grossed more than a billion dollars. He’s been translated into more than 30 languages, including Chinese, German, and Hebrew. And yet, for all his wealth and fame, John Grisham still can’t get a cup of coffee at the restaurant inside New York’s Pierre Hotel. Not in those pants, he can’t.
”We don’t allow blue jeans in here,” a white-gloved waitress coolly informs the author, body-blocking him from the hotel’s completely empty dining room. ”Not even just for a cup of coffee.”
So much for the power of the written word. But then Grisham, 45, is getting used to the slings and arrows of literary fame. Over the past few years, he’s been dissed and dismissed by much more powerful forces than Manhattan waitresses — and we don’t just mean book critics. His highly public tirades against what he sees as overly violent and excessively sexual entertainment have landed the author on the front lines of skirmish upon skirmish, doing battle with some of the most influential filmmakers in Hollywood. Considering the tone of his recent interviews — especially when the subject turns to that flap over Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, when Grisham publicly supported the decision by the victim of an alleged copycat crime to file a lawsuit against Stone and Warner Bros. (the suit is still pending) — it’s surprising he didn’t show up at the Pierre in army fatigues.
It’s ironic then that the novel he’s in town peddling on this bitterly cold January morning, The Brethren, may be the least moralistic he’s ever written. In fact, the book’s plotline — about three judges serving prison time who ensnare a presidential candidate in a gay-pen-pal blackmailing scam and end up on the CIA’s Most Wanted list — could even be described as wacky. Or at least goofy. Funnier than The Firm, at any rate.
Finding a jeans-friendly restaurant around the corner from the Pierre, Grisham sits down for a few hours of conversation. He speaks in the silky drawl of a once-poor farm boy who these days flies back home to Oxford, Miss., in his own private jet. For a foot soldier in the culture wars, he’s surprisingly easygoing, friendly, and impeccably polite.
EW There’s a timely presidential campaign in The Brethren. Have you been thinking about rekindling your own political career? Before you were a writer, weren’t you a state legislator in Mississippi?
GRISHAM I served for seven years in the Mississippi House of Representatives [as a Democrat], almost two terms, then I quit. You have to serve about 20 years there before you have any clout. The chamber was full of these old moss-backs who’d been there forever. So I just said, I can’t do this. I’m still a junkie when it comes to politics — I can’t help but follow it — but I never want to serve in office again.
EW And yet you’ve been very vocal on certain political issues, especially violence in Hollywood. Your campaign against Natural Born Killers, for instance, where you encouraged that lawsuit against Stone and Warner Bros. Do you still believe they should be held legally responsible for copycat crimes committed under the ”influence” of that movie?