Patricia Cornwell talks “Port Mortuary,” secrets and Jolie

AE: In the planned film adaptation of the series, Angelina Jolie is set to play Scarpetta.
PC: That’s the plan, though I always preface this by saying that you have to get there first. When you have someone like Angelina Jolie, you have to have a great screenplay. That’s the stage we’re in right now. The studio and the producer have been working on that for well over a year. Once they have a great script, the film will start moving forward. But as of this moment, Mark Gordon, renowned producer of Grey’s Anatomy and Lost, is still the producer on the project and Jolie is still scheduled to play Scarpetta.

AE: Are you contributing to the screenplay at all?
PC: No, I’ve actually not even seen it. I approved the treatment, which is the overall concept. This was a while ago and now it’s going through the writing process. They will call upon me when they need me for something, but right now I’m not necessary to the process at the stage that it’s in.

AE: What are your hopes or expectations for the film?
PC: Mark’s vision is a really superb one, which is not to adapt one of my actual books for the film but to start out with Scarpetta as she’s just getting started. Because it’s 2010, you can’t start with something like Post Mortem, which is a twenty-year-old book with twenty-year-old technology. It would be far more exciting to imagine Scarpetta today, just landing in her new workplace with the kind of worries we have in this world, with technology and terrorism and everything ramped up way more than it was twenty years ago. His idea is to take the brand new Scarpetta and put her [on] a really thrilling and scary rolling coaster story that’s original.

AE: Will Lucy, Scarpetta’s lesbian niece, be in the film since the story features Scarpetta’s early years?
PC: I think the plan is to have all the characters in it. The interesting thing is going to be how they’re all starting out and where they are with each other in this particular story. It’s tricky when it’s something original and not based on a book, but I think it’s the only way to work it in this case because the series has been around for so long. You don’t want to start Scarpetta out at age fifty with a brand new series — particularly if Angelina Jolie plays her.

I try to tell my fans, look, first of all, there’s nothing to worry about or get excited about because we’re not actually filming yet. But when the day comes, what you need to look at, and the way you need to view this movie, is that it’s in addition to the books. It’s yet another fun way to have a thrilling time with Scarpetta. But don’t expect it to be just like what I do. I think that Angelina Jolie would do a magnificent job. She’s extremely smart. She’s a rather fearless person. She has a real edge. She will play it in a way that will show you the tiger in Scarpetta. 

AE: In terms of your writing, do you think being gay informs your work?
PC: I think that being gay informs everything. It doesn’t mean that that’s how I characterize myself when I first think of me. I don’t believe in labeling or defining people by one particular aspect of their life. I do think that if you are of any persuasion that puts you in the minority then that informs many things about your existence. It’s not comfortable being a minority. Unfortunately our society makes it uncomfortable instead of celebrated because maybe you’re unique or maybe you’re a minority because you are in a small percentage of very special people. We [the LGBTQ community] have to deal with a lot of fears of discrimination and judgment. That’s a real shame.

As always, I appreciate the things that you all are doing because I feel that when it comes to same sex relationships or being gay, so many people just don’t understand it. People tend to fear and judge what they don’t understand. My hope is that the more it becomes commonplace in society, in terms of people reading about it and talking about it and seeing it, they’ll begin to realize, “What’s the big deal here? Nobody’s trying to hurt anyone with this.”

AE: Did you think about this need for more representation when you first began to write Lucy as a lesbian?
PC: My mantra is to be honest. I really believe in telling the truth no matter how painful it might be or how risky. Lucy [came out] when I was working on the Body Farm. We really hadn’t seen Lucy as an adult prior to that. It was a scene in Scarpetta’s house in Richmond and Lucy, I think she was about 19, walked into Scarpetta’s living room. I hadn’t seen her in a while. I took one look at her in my mind and [realized], “Oh my god she is gay!” Somehow I just knew. And I thought, well, this is going to stir up trouble with my publisher. I could have just decided she wasn’t going to be gay, but I let my characters be what they are — whether for good or for bad, I don’t get in their way. I knew at that time she was gay and there was no way on earth I was going to change that. That’s always been the way that I deal with these things and I think that’s one of the reasons that the series stays so vital. As strange a thing for a fiction writer to say, I tell the truth.

AE: Is there anything you’re particularly proud of in Port Mortuary?
PC: I am very proud of this book. I think this is the most powerful book I’ve done in a very long time. I’m proud of Scarpetta in this book. Not only in how she handles these bizarre cases, but the new technology that she’s grasping and the way that she shares it with us. What I really love about Scarpetta in this book is that it’s almost like she’s saying to the reader, “Come with me and hold my hand and I’m going to walk you through something really scary.” She allows you to be with her. 

I really opened Scarpetta up to allow people to get close to her. It’s also inspired me as I’ve gone out and launched the publicity drive. I’ve tried to share the experience with my fans. I go on Facebook everyday. We take pictures. I try to share my book tour with those who are interested so that they can participate in it too. Prior to these social networking [sites], I had never been able to allow my fans to tag along with me. Now I get to do that, whether it’s on a helicopter ride or being on the set of Good Morning America or a book signing. Scarpetta and I are moving forward in the same way. We’re saying to everyone, “Come along with us. We enjoy your company.”




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