Richard Russo has done well by doing good work and keeping good company.
His 2001 novel “Empire Falls” earned a Pulitzer Prize and was made into an HBO miniseries. The latter event may not have occurred if Paul Newman, who starred in filmed versions of Mr. Russo’s “Twilight” (1998) and “Nobody’s Fool” (1994), hadn’t convinced Mr. Russo to adapt his novel or persuaded HBO to give it the sort of star treatment that only HBO can.
At his home in Camden, Maine, Mr. Russo is digging back into a novel, an activity he says is “long overdue” as a result of writing the screenplay for “Empire.” But he’s also basking in the afterglow of reviews of “Empire Falls”-mostly thumbs up, especially for the large A-list cast headed by Mr. Newman and his wife, Joanne Woodward, but including a few complaints that Mr. Russo’s script was too faithful to his original novel.
Although “Empire” was filmed in familiar locales in his adopted home state, he said, “I stayed away from the shoot for the most part. That was my gift to Fred [director Fred Shepisi], because having a writer on a set is not always the best way to ensure efficiency.”
He’s happy the production provided “just a huge economic shot in the arm for a bunch of towns that have lost a lot of jobs,” and that the HBO miniseries has the “Empire Falls” novel “selling like crazy again.” It was, not at all coincidentally, reissued in paperback last month.
Mr. Russo has two big-screen projects in the pipeline: “The Ice Harvest,” due out in November, and “Keeping Mum,” which is in post-production.
He’s planning further adventures for characters from “Nobody’s Fool,” but asked about the fates of favorite characters from “Empire Falls,” the most emotionally draining of all his five novels, he said: “I don’t know. The book ended before I got that far.”
Mr. Russo grabbed the opportunity to praise the natural scene-stealing by Danielle Panabaker as Tick, the teenage daughter of Miles Roby (Ed Harris) and his ex-wife Janine (Helen Hunt).
“I’d love to see Danielle Panabaker on the screen again, wouldn’t you?” coaxed Mr. Russo.
He also said he wants to work again with Mr. Schepisi, on a just-completed screenplay based on Nicholas Rinaldi’s 1999 novel “The Jukebox Queen of Malta.”
Who knows, all this activity might even pry his screenplay of his novel “Straight Man” out of long limbo at DreamWorks.
Who could ask for anything more? Do things like Emmys matter?
“You wouldn’t take me seriously if I said no,” Mr. Russo said with a laugh. More soberly, he added that an Emmy would matter because, “We’re incredibly proud of the work we’ve done.
“Everybody knew that it was good work we were going to do, so everybody showed up, everybody was prepared, everybody was ready to work, and they worked longer hours than they normally do and for far less money. Everybody who worked on it did it as a labor of love.
“They deserve every glowing review that they’ve gotten.”
Others to Consider
2004 Miniseries Contenders
Winner: Angels in America (HBO)
Other nominees: American Family-Journey of Dreams (PBS); Horatio Hornblower (A&E); Prime Suspect 6: The Last Witness (PBS); Traffic: The Miniseries (USA)