Richard Price has written seven novels, including the national best-sellers “Clockers” and “Freedomland.” He has also written the screenplays for “Ransom,” starring Mel Gibson, and “The Color Of Money,” for which he received an Oscar nomination. Price will read from “Samaritan,” his new book, tonight at 7 p.m. in the Borders on E. Liberty.
Recently, Price sat down with The Michigan Daily to discuss his experiences as an author and screenwriter.
The Michigan Daily: Was growing up in the Bronx tough?
Richard Price: No. The housing projects in the ’50s and ’60s were nothing like the projects today. Now it’s shit. Housing projects are rough places right now.
TMD: Why does “Samaritan” and so much of your work deal with race?
RP: I feel compelled to write about it. It pervades everything in American consciousness, American history, American culture.
TMD: How are writers generally treated in the film industry?
RP: Not very well, but you’re paid an awful lot of money. Everybody has more power than you. The studio pays the bills. You can’t write what you want; you have to write what they want. There’s no independence. It’s a product. You just can’t decide to make triangular toilet paper for $60 million.
TMD: Your character, Ray, from “Samaritan,” comes down pretty hard on television’s high school, urban dramas. Are you not a fan?
RP: The bigger the market the product needs to appeal to, the blander and safer the product has to be. They’ll make these high schools on TV where it’s supposed to be an inner-city, yet the student body is magically divided (equally) between black, white, Asian, Hispanic. I’ve never seen an inner city high school like that.
TMD: Ray shows his daughter a Wee-Gee photo. Who is Wee-Gee?
RP: Wee-Gee was a very well known tabloid photographer whose work transcended … you don’t know who Wee-Gee is?
RP: He’s probably the best-known black and white urban photographer of the ’40s and the ’50s. He was a crime scene photographer.
TMD: What is “Samaritan” really about?
RP: The title “Samaritan” is ironic. The whole thing is about how good impulses can be tainted by vanity. The point is that Ray is doing these favors for people with one eye in the mirror, admiring himself doing them, needing the praise, and that taints whatever good impulses he has. He does have good impulses. He’s just a weak person with a little extra money in a poor, desperate area.
TMD: When can we expect “Samaritan” the movie?
RP: It’s been sold and I’m supposed to write the script, but I don’t want to write it for a while. I’d prefer somebody else do it.
RP: Because I did the book and it would be like doing “Samaritan”-lite. It’s not a lot of fun. It’s a job, basically.
TMD: Wouldn’t it suck if someone else butchered it?
RP: At this point I’d prefer that somebody else butcher it.