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James Sallis: Drive & Driven

The author of Drive on Ryan Gosling, writing the sequel and the freedom of driving fast

When Drive was released across cinemas last year, it created one of the most iconic action heroes in recent memory. Ryan Gosling as the angelic Driver capable of phenomenal violence, who lives by his own rules and looks after strangers, lives incognito yet dresses like a glitterball. Driver cracked heads and broke hearts. He started life in the mind of American author James Sallis in his novel Drive. Seven years on, Sallis has written the sequel, Driven. Currently touring the UK with the book, James Sallis spoke to Dazed Digital about the nature of Driver, writing a sequel and whether Gosling will star in a potential film adaptation...

Dazed Digital: How close to Driver was Ryan gosling’s portrayal?
James Sallis: In the physical details, probably not that close; in terms of gestures and body language, they’re probably quite different. But to me, Ryan really gotit the character, really made the character his. Right from the scene where he’s talking on the phone, that was so restrained and so quiet. I think Ryan’s conception was different, but that was my character. In the same way that the movie was different in many ways, but it still feels like it's my book.

DD: When you sat down to write the sequel, how much was it inspired by the movie?
James Sallis: I was inspired to write the sequel by the film, but as far as any details, there were times when I could see Ryan with a toothpick in his mouth while I was writing, but I tried to resist that. I wanted it to be quite different from the first book, but in another way I wanted it to be very much like that first book. I wouldn’t have written it if it wasn’t for the film and second if it wasn’t the knockout film that it is, I don’t think I would have ever written the sequel, I certainly didn’t plan to.

DD: Were you asked to write the sequel?
James Sallis: When I visited the set of the film I was asked if there was any possibility, but I had actually started before that. The production company which had the film called my agent to say Adam Siegel [producer of Drive] wants to know if I’m even thinking of writing the sequel and I said, ‘oh no, I’m an artist.’ I walked from the phone, sat down and typed “Driven”, and what is essentially the first page of the book. From the phone to the computer, I knew exactly what I was going to do.

DD: The character Driver holds a place in American literature by representing freedom. How did you see Driver as part of that tradition?
James Sallis: What I believe about American literate, is that all literature has its foundations in frontier literature, author James Fenimore Cooper through to Mark Twain you see this. It’s the independent mountain man who has to come into town to buy groceries. And you see that moving towards the cowboy and it seems that that cowboy keeps moving and that every one of us in the States has a cowboy right next to our hearts, someone telling us it’s all about you, be by yourself, live by your own code. It’s definitely freedom. Driver’s a cowboy and the cars are horses. It’s all about freedom: you raped my horse so I’m going to come and kill you.

DD: How is Driver set apart from the tradition?
James Sallis: I was thinking of those people who aren’t quite right, they’re not in sync with the world but they’re passionate about one thing. There’s a wonderful passage in a David Goodis book where he talks about driving his bus, as long as he can drive his bus everything is fine. A very existential kind of thing. And that’s what I was looking for.

DD: Do you know if Driven is going to be made into a film yet?
James Sallis: Not yet. The studio kept wanting it, they kept asking about it. They saw it immediately when it was done, they said they love it, and that was the last we heard. That was a few weeks ago. They move at their own pace though. Drive sat there for two and a half years, we assumed it was done with, then we heard there was a casting call out. When they first bought it Hugh Jackman was attached, but then nothing. Finally the producer put it together with Ryan. Ryan said he’d love to do it and brought Nicolas Winding Refn to direct it.

Photo by Alena Jascanka

The interview took place at Jameson Presents Whiskey & Words, a literate collaboration between Jameson Whiskey and Book Slam