Danny Wallace interview

We asked Danny Wallace, author of Yes Man, Join Me! and Friends Like These, for an interview. Guess what he said?

Danny Wallace is on the eve of seeing his hit book, Yes Man, hit UK cinemas in the guise of a big Jim Carrey blockbuster movie. So how does the man who brought us the likes of Join Me and half of Are You Dave Gorman?, as well as an increasing number of TV and radio projects, feel about it? He spared us a bit of a time for a quick chat…

You’re pretty much living the dream life for many of us, in that a conversation between a couple of people started a process that’d lead to you on the set of your own Hollywood movie. Are you still in the ‘pinch yourself’ phase?

It’s a bit crazy. And all thanks to the word ‘Yes’. It’s become particularly odd now, because it’s suddenly real, and to watch this huge machine go into overdrive has been slightly overwhelming. For such a long time, there was a very small team involved, and now there are literally hundreds of people involved. I’m in LA right now, and can’t switch on the TV without hearing it mentioned, or walk down the street without seeing a billboard. It’s quite a humbling experience.

I saw you at the London press conference, with Jim Carrey, Zooey Deschanel, David Heyman and Peyton Reed, and you said that you didn’t think you’d be on a stage like that again. Do you really think this is a once in a lifetime thing?

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In all likelihood, yeah. I mean, it’d be great for something else like this to happen, but in film terms this has all happened incredibly quickly and smoothly, and suddenly you’re there on a stage with Hollywood bigshots and a genuine comedy hero. I think that rather than get carried away with it and think “Yes! This is what life will be like from now on!” it is better to just enjoy the moment, then get your head down and start working on something else.

Are you really doing the bungee jump that Jim Carrey challenged you to? Does the idea of it not make you want to write a quick sequel – ‘No Way’?!

Well, after Jim did his jump, he turned to the camera and challenged me to do the same. I have never had any particular desire to do a bungee jump, but if all this is because you decided to say Yes to every challenge – and the challenge comes from Jim Carrey – it’s pretty hard to turn around and say No… as for the idea of No Man as a project, I think it’d probably just be six months of me sitting in my pants at home…

How much control over the material did you have when it came to turning the book into the film? Did you have reservations as to whether it’d work?

Heyday [the production company] were very kind to me and kept me in the loop at all stages and involved. It’s a testament to them that they did – I imagine the most annoying person you could be dealing with in the film process is the bloke who wrote the book. But they’d fly me over to LA, they’d send me scripts, they’d ask what I thought – and I’d tell them. From an early stage, I made my position clear: that I totally understood that a story about a bloke who lives in the East End of London, shops at Argos and pops up on Richard & Judy was unlikely to bust any blocks… so long as the film was warm, and funny, and lacking in cynicism, and carried the fundamental message, I would be happy. And that’s what they’ve done. Of course, there are very many differences that have come up in development. But what I like is that they tend to be quite superficial differences. On second viewing, you see the film match the book in terms of beats, the relationships, the love stories, many of the situations… it’s actually more similar than I at first thought. Anyway, it’s not like I’ve written Atonement, is it?

The approach came through producer David Heyman. Was it as out-of-the-blue a conversation as it sounds? Did he add the Harry Potter party, given that he produced the Potter movies?!

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In the book, I tell of the very boring parties I’d said Yes to [interviewer confession; Yes Man is the only Danny Wallace book I’ve not yet fully read!], like the Bring-a-Fact party run by an overzealous colleague… the Harry Potter party is a bit of an in-joke. And it probably helped that they had access to extensive clips…

When it comes to the initial conversations, it wasn’t quite as out-of-the-blue. David got a copy of the manuscript before publication, and we knew he’d liked my earlier stuff too. Other people were interested in it, and I had to take their offers seriously, but it was David and Rosie at Heyday that I wanted to work with. They completely share my worldview and they are thoroughly decent, fair and talented people. As soon as they showed their interest I knew it was them I wanted to look after Yes Man.

When was the call, and how quickly did things progress from there?

Back in 2005. And immediately, things got going. There was a slight false start, but the scripts started coming through pretty quickly.

When did Jim Carrey get on board, and how did your meeting go with him from there?

I think Jim first got involved in very early 2007. That was quite a thrill. I’ve been a fan of his since In Living Color, and, of course, I love films like The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine. I think often people think of him as a comic actor – which of course he is – but forget that as a straight actor he is also immensely talented. I understood, though, that the project was no longer A Danny Wallace Book, but a Jim Carrey Film.

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Have to ask: you’re listed as Associate Producer on the film. In this context, what does an Associate Producer do?

I think the title has been invented in order to make authors feel more important. But it also gives you better access, people have to take you more seriously, you can read secret things, and you get a chair with your name on.

Did you get to keep the chair?

Oh yes.

You appear near the end of the film in a bar scene: were you keen to get on camera, just to top the experience off?

After “did you get to keep the chair?”, “Did you make a cameo” is the question I get asked most. So it had to be done. But it actually came about because I’d been on set for a while, filming some behind-the-scenes stuff for the DVD. I was wandering about, messing about with people, and then the bar scene kicked off. One of the producers, Tiffany, and Peyton Reed decided that I should get in the scene, and I was more than happy to… I got tips from Jim, and spent a moment developing the character of Man At Bar with Peyton. I was Steve, a failed chiropractor, possibly gay. I think that comes across.

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Was it good to go back to the book and add on a new chapter?

It was, actually. And great to be able to say that this chapter is only there because I said “Yes”. It was like more confirmation that saying “Yes” works… of course, I can’t promise that everyone will get a Jim Carrey movie out of it. That would be a bold claim. But life will get more exciting…

How are the film options of your other books going? Would you be tempted to write a specific film project?

Good. There’s a star buzzing around one of them, so fingers crossed there, I may yet be on another stage one day. Perhaps even get another chair. And yes, I’d like to write a decent screenplay. In fact, I’m just coming to the end of one now, which I’ve been working on under the mentorship of Dan Mazer, who worked on Borat, Bruno etc, and I’ve another script I’m beginning to develop with a guy called Marc Haynes. It’s a high-concept comedy. So we’ll see what happens. 

What’s your next book about?

The No Man: Six Months, One Room, Same Pants. Thanks for that.

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A pleasure! Danny Wallace, thank you very much.

Yes Man hits UK cinemas on 26th December 2008, and our review is here.

The film-tie in version of Yes Man by Danny Wallace is published by Ebury Press, £7.99


Interviews at Den Of Geek