Hubbub: Chuck Hogan
On September 10 Chuck Hogan’s Charlestown-set bank heist novel, The Town, hits screens as Ben Affleck’s new thriller. The Canton native has come a long way since his early days as a writer, when, fresh out of Boston College, he worked the registerat the old Videosmith on Huntington Avenue. So why is it that the former video-store clerk still can’t get any respect from Hollywood?
This book is straight out of the Boston noir genre, right?
It is, right. I call it “Boston No-R.” Get that? No-R.
I get that. Clever.
I’m trying to copyright it or patent it, whatever.
At the beginning of the book, you have a disclaimer to the people of Charlestown, like, “Hey, this is about a few bad guys but I know that you’re not all terrible.”
I just didn’t want to get my car windows broken. It’s a crime book through and through, but all of my grandparents either grew up or came through South Boston, which is so similar to Charlestown. It was important to me not to sully the name of Charlestown.
Now that it’s going to be a big movie, you might need to get double-reinforced windows.
I was scheduled to do a reading at the Charlestown Public Library when the book first came out. A day or two before, I got a call from the librarians and they were like, “We just want to let you know, we’ve had some calls and there are some people who aren’t happy.” So I thought, Great. But we had a huge crowd. There’s a toast at the beginning of the book, which I read and got a standing ovation, my first ever. So I immediately read it again.
The book is set in the ’90s, so a lot’s changed — you talk about robbing BayBanks. But the one thing that’s the same is Tim Wakefield. You’ve got a riff on Tim Wakefield.
It’s the same complaint, too, that they need to force him to retire.
So how did you find out they were going to do the movie? Did you get a call from Ben Affleck, or…
No, they don’t do the Ed McMahon thing.
Affleck didn’t show up at your door with a giant check?
Not with a giant anything. The book went through a number of different people… At some point, I heard that Ben Affleck was going to do it, but I thought, That can’t be. And then maybe six or eight months later, I was checking Variety online and it said something like, “Affleck moves to The Town.” I was like, “That sounds like my book.”
That’s like finding out you got traded from ESPN. Did you ever get to go on set?
I did. During the last week of filming, when they were at Fenway Park. I had a friend who snuck me on set.
Wait, you had to sneak onto the set of your own movie?
I wasn’t sure if I was going to be invited, and this stuff doesn’t happen every day. But then I did get legitimately invited.
Did they pick your brain at all?
I had lunch with Ben and all we did was talk about the story, but it was already done by then. He had been living with it for almost two years. He didn’t need any help from me.
You’ve been able to screen the movie. What did you think?
It was completely surreal, having dreamt it up so many years ago; my plan is to see it pretty much every night it’s out. I may never get another movie made, so I’ve got to soak it up while I can.
Do you get a ticket to the premiere?
They are contractually obligated to invite me. I can’t wait.
I read somewhere that when you’re writing your novels, you like to cast the characters as if it were a movie. So how do you think the producers did?
In fact, I never do that — it’s my wife. When I write something, I give it to her. She reads it, lets me know what she thinks, and then she’s like, “I see this person and that person.” But she definitely mentioned Ben Affleck early on — and this is going back to 2003, I think — when I was writing it.
Oh yeah, absolutely. She loves the cast now, and I certainly love the cast now. And I’ll say, as the person who created the characters, the actors really do seem to get it. It’s really exciting and really strange for me to watch.
So when you got to go on the set, you had lunch with Ben Affleck. How’d that go? Good guy?
Great guy. Yeah, really good. He really gave his all to the movie, that was obvious. And in person he was fantastic. We talked throughout this whole craft services lunch in a tent full of people they set up near City Hall. They were relighting the scene, and we kept talking until we were the only two people in the entire tent. So it was great. I’m really lucky. I feel like he brought stuff to this movie that no one else would bring. He did a lot of research on his own. He went way over and above what 99.9 percent of filmmakers would do.
Like what type of stuff?
Going to prisons, I know that. Interviewing a lot of bank robbers. Just stuff like that, really. It seems like, my impression from everybody there was that he was hands-on in every department — casting and location and everything.
Maybe there is something to having a Bostonian do the movie, since one of the cool things about your book is how local it is. You set scenes at really specific places, like Espresso Royale, Canestaro’s on Peterborough Street, the movie theater in Braintree.
Yeah, yeah. Partly, when you’re working on a book, any shorthand is good. Putting stuff like that in lightens the workload a little. The other part is that it’s just fun. It’s really fun to think about things happening in places that you know well and just sort of immersing the story in those details.
My favorite part is when you have that chase scene on the C Line. It’s great because there are like 12 stops within three feet of one another, and the FBI agent gets pissed about it and commandeers the train. I think everyone who’s ever ridden the C Line has dreamed of doing that.
Exactly. That’s a train I rode all the time and to be able to, in my mind at least, hop on it and take it over — it’s just fun.
One last thing, since you’ve also written vampire books. I’m not sure you realize this, but between those and the Boston books, you’re sitting on like the two hottest genres out there. If you could combine them to make a Boston vampire book, I think that would be gold.
It’s funny because, as you say, The Town [as a novel] came out before The Departed, and [coauthor Guillermo del Toro] and I started working on these vampire books before Twilight and we just sort of ran into these things. But you’re absolutely right. I gotta hang up right now and get on that.