Movies kinda seemed like the work of the devil to me,'' says Ted Tally. But after the acclaimed playwright (Terra Nova) read Thomas Harris' The Silence of the Lambs, he helped the devilish Hannibal Lecter spring from page to screen and copped an Oscar to boot. Silence kicked off chapter 2 of Tally's career, turning him into a sort of a second-story man, a magpie thieving the brightest baubles from others' works and reweaving them with bits of his own, such as ''I'm having a close friend for dinner.''
''I've never been very good at making up plots,'' Tally confesses. At making money, he's better: Instead of $10,000 for a play, now he gets a reported $1 million-plus for adapting the suspense novel The Juror. He just doctored Outbreak, a thriller about a killer virus to star Dustin Hoffman (''My job is to just nurse it along,'' says Tally) and finished scripts for Rosellen Brown's novel Before and After and, for director Mike Nichols, Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses.
Looking ahead, Tally muses about adapting C.S. Forester's Admiral Horatio Hornblower for Hugh Grant, whose buckle could use the swash, and working again with Harris. ''Tom is writing another book,'' says Tally, ''and I'd do any book he ever wrote.''