Rex Pickett, author of the novel Sideways, sits across from me at the Bacara Resort & Spa in Santa Barbara, a glass of wine in his hand. The oenophile says the wine tastes like "grinded rat innards," but it certainly is not his first of the early afternoon.
Pickett grew up in San Diego and attended UCSD before moving to Santa Monica. But here, today, he is reveling in last night's screening of Alexander Payne's Sideways.
Loosely based on Pickett's own experiences of alienation, wine consumption, lost loves and chances, Payne and Jim Taylor's adaptation follows San Diego schoolteacher Miles (Paul Giamatti) and his old UCSD roommate, Jack (Thomas Hayden Church), up to the Santa Barbara County vineyards for a week of debauchery that will change them forever.
CityBeat: What do you think of the film?
Rex Pickett: It is unbelievably faithful to my novel. In addition to that, the novel is written in the first person. Miles is the first-person guy-although I don't have hair on my back and I'm not bald. In the film, [Payne] could have elected to go wherever he wanted to go, yet he stays with Miles. It captures the soul and the spirit of the book. Alexander Payne is a master filmmaker and I'm just a speed bump on his road to immortality and that's the fucking truth.
CB: What do you think is the biggest change?
RP: They made Miles an eighth grade schoolteacher. In the novel he was more of a guy living on the edge, more of a bohemian, more of a walking kind of free spirit. Grounding him in that job makes him more of a lumpenproletariat, in a way. That's the only change. So when he steals money from his mom, that's the only scene-it made sense to me as the free spirit Miles-but a guy who has a job, it didn't. It's the only moment I cringe at a little bit. He also changed the character of Stephanie [played in the film by Sandra Oh].
CB: How involved were you through the writing process?
RP: Alexander includes people in the process all along the way. He makes all his own decisions-don't kid yourself. But every draft of the script I was given to annotate and to critique.
CB: What do you think it takes to adapt a novel to film successfully?
RP: You have to be ruthless with it. You can't play favorites. You can't be beholden to it. Really great novels are often badly adapted because they revere the book, so they don't want to change anything in it, but you can't do that. You have to be able to re-fertilize it, and they were willing to do that.