Cormac McCarthy's Stirring First Response to The Road: 'I Have to Go to the Restroom'


The screenwriter of The Road today recalled the raw nerves that came along with screening the film for Cormac McCarthy, the Pulitzer Prize-winning source novelist who'd seen his books made into both modern classics (No Country For Old Men) and prestigious follies (All the Pretty Horses). So which would The Road represent to the no-nonsense 76-year old? He'll get back to you right after this break.

Writer Joe Penhall set up the scene in a brief, evocative essay in advance of The Road's UK release. Imagine: There's you and director John Hillcoat, with whom you've spent the last year collaborating on an adaptation of McCarthy despairing post-apocalyptic masterpiece. You're under grave deadline pressure from the Weinstein Company (which is going to simply bump the film to 2009 anyway, but you don't know that yet). And you haul your cut of the film to a "deserted screening room in Albuquerque" so McCarthy -- who drives up from Santa Fe in an old silver Cadillac -- can sign off with his blessing. The projector barely works -- the same goes for the sound, which you get working only as McCarthy comes up in the elevator. Then, finally, you unspool your work for the master:

Finally the three of us sank into the leather armchairs, a discreet distance from one another, and the film began. Immediately, McCarthy began scribbling notes on a reporter's notepad. Hillcoat and I eyed each other nervously. By the end, he had pages of the damned things. He stood up and stretched, yawned and said absolutely nothing as the credits rolled. Finally Hillcoat asked: "Well?" "I have to go to the restroom," was the impassive response, and he was gone. [...]

We were immediately sure he despised the movie more than any of the other Hollywood McCarthy adaptations - and there had been a few stinkers. We watched the clock and waited. Either the bathroom was a long way away or McCarthy had flown the coop. We looked out the window for the silver Cadillac - reassuringly still in the car park. Then he reappeared, studied the floor like a man who had dropped his car keys down a storm drain, sighed and said: "It's really good." Hillcoat, who had been beaten over the head with the specter of failure by just about everybody involved up to this point, couldn't contain his doubts: "Really? You're not just saying that?" "Listen," he reassured us, "I didn't drive all this way to blow smoke up your ass."

Hallelujah! If only they'd had as much luck with Harvey Weinstein, whose own reaction was more akin to speedily recutting the film during a bathroom run. (And he still wasn't going to blow smoke up anyone's ass.) But McCarthy is even more fun, Penhall reports, downing shiraz and beer as the trio went out for a post-screening meal, then signing Penhall's copy of his novel Blood Meridian: "From your friend Cormac, Albuquerque, November 2002" (it was November 2008 at the time) before driving the filmmakers to the airport. "Jesus Christ, John, how much did we drink?" Penhall asks Hillcoat. "He's got to drive back to Santa Fe in the dark - if he winds up in a ditch we'll be responsible. We'll have killed America's greatest living writer."

What? How does Don DeLillo figure into this? Anyway, yes, it would have sucked. Thanks for the concern.

· Last man standing: what Cormac McCarthy made of my adaptation of The Road [Guardian]


  • NP says:

    I wonder if he really _was_ blowing smoke up his ass. I didn't think the film was really good.. good, maybe, but not really good, but I think a lot of that does have to do with how it was recut.. Director's Cut on DVD, please!