Dennis Lehane Takes 'The Drop' From Screen To Page

Download Audio

Dennis Lehane grew up in Dorchester and writes crime novels with a voice that comes from Boston's gritty underbelly. He's author of "Gone Baby Gone," "Shutter Island" and Mystic River." You can add "The Drop" to that list, his latest novel about crime, cops, love and faith set in Boston.

The novel is actually based on Lehane's screenplay for a movie, which will be opening next weekend. "The Drop" stars Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini, in his final role before passing away last year. It's described as "a love story wrapped in a crime story wrapped in a journey of faith," with much of it set in a so-called "drop bar."


Dennis Lehane, crime novelist and Dorchester-native. He tweets @dennis_lehane.


On why he wrote "The Drop" first as a screenplay and then as a novel:
Dennis Lehane:
"If I knew why, I would have skipped a couple of steps. No, it just started with me...beginning a novel in late 2001 and writing about a guy, a couple days after Christmas, finding an abused puppy in a barrel. And then there were other things going on in that novel — all sorts of other characters. The novel ultimately never came together — I shelved it but I kept thinking about that guy. So then, a few years later, I wrote a short story just based on that one incident, OK? This guy finds a dog, he begins to open up because he finds a dog, he's a very repressed human being. He begins to flower, and then right at that moment, all of these other outside forces begin to come in and press in on him, not the least of which is the original owner of the dog...And then that became "The Drop" the movie...Fox came in and asked me to adapt it. I did, and as I was writing the script there were all sorts of places, paths I went down, roads I went down that I just couldn't use. They ultimately weren't going to work in a movie. So, cut to a couple years later, the movie's done, and my publisher calls me and says, 'Well, we've been waiting 11 years. Do you think you could turn in that novel now? That story you started in 2001?' And I said, 'That's interesting.' Because, again, I had all of this stuff that I didn't use in the movie and all this stuff from the original book that I would've loved to have used so that's when I said, 'Alright. Let me see what I can come up with.' And I sat down, and I revamped it again and I said, 'Basically what I can do is I can keep the structure of the film but I can just go deeper.'"

On casting James Gandolfini in the role of Marv:
"It was the only casting decision that I weighed in very vehemently on...When they were considering him, I still remember one of the producers saying to me, 'Our worry is that he's too on-the-nose.' That, basically, it's the cliched thought that, 'Oh, OK, you've got an aging mobster, let's hire Gandolfini.' But I said, 'Sometimes too on-the-nose actually should be translated as perfect because he's perfect for this part.' So, I was a big cheerleader for him getting the part. I don't think I was the deciding factor in any way, shape or form but I do think my enthusiasm mattered. So, when he was cast, I then went back and there were all these lines I wanted to give Cousin Marv but I wanted to wait until I saw an actor who could handle them. And the moment he was cast I went and I put them all back in the script."

On where his characters' voices come from:
"It's having grown up in a place where everybody spoke very distinctly...One of the things I like to say about...the people I grew up with is, they italicize better than anybody I ever knew...They knew how to hit the exact word you didn't expect in a sentence to make that sentence really hum. Great storytellers. Funny, I've never met a comedian or seen a comedian half as funny as some of the guys I knew growing up. So, there's just that. When you grow up with that it's like growing up in a rose garden and somebody says, 'Where do you get your sense of smell?' I mean, I grew up in a place where people spoke very vividly, so I got an ear."

On writing criminal characters:
"As I wrote more and more about 'criminals,' I began to become less and less enamored of the sort of master criminal. Because I don't know too many master criminals. I mean, a master criminal is Bernie Madoff. And in the end, he gets caught. I think most criminals are...halfway looking to get caught, halfway looking to go to prison because it's the only home they ever knew. They tend to be dumb people. And so I wanted to write, in this book, about real crime, which is often perpetrated by none-too-bright human beings...but that doesn't mean just because you're none-too-bright, I guess at the end of the day, that you don't have dreams. That you don't dream of a better future. That you don't have hopes. And so everybody in this book and everybody in the film really is just looking for a way to better themselves. It's just the ways they choose are almost guaranteed to work the opposite."

On what makes Boston such a great setting for crime stories:
"You have a very small bit of real estate, for one. And in that very small bit of real estate, you can see, basically, every social group in a very short distance. The distance between Humboldt Avenue and Beacon Street is, as the crow flies, very small...Boston feels like a village sometimes. I mean, I know it's a city but it feels like a village...I've traveled all over this country, I've traveled all over the world, Boston is one of the few places, certainly in this country, that I would call authentically unique. It's held onto its character in a way that most places don't, if they ever had it."


This article was originally published on September 04, 2014.

This segment aired on September 4, 2014.


More from Radio Boston

Listen Live