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CNN SUNDAY MORNING

Interview with Nelson DeMille

Aired February 17, 2002 - 07:19   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Remember the movie of the book, "The General's Daughter" with John Travlota? The film was based on a novel written by Nelson Demille. And Nelson Demille now has a new novel entitled, "Up Country." It is a sequel to that book. In the book, Paul Brenner returns to the contemporary Vietnam. Mr. Demille joining us now to talk about his book and his writing.

Good to have you with us.

NELSON DEMILLE, AUTHOR: Good morning, Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right, a sequel. You're not a big sequel person. How did it come to you?

DEMILLE: Yeah, I don't normally do sequels, but the -- I went back to Vietnam three years ago. I was there in 1968 with the government and the U.S. Army. I went back to do a magazine article and started to write a book on contemporary Vietnam and decided to use the Paul Brenner character from "The Generals' Daughter" as the star of the book. So it was first -- the second sequel I've ever done, but I think probably based on the success of the movie, I wanted to bring this guy back.

O'BRIEN: Fair enough. Now, you said you were in Vietnam. You were in the first cavalry.

DEMILLE: Yes.

O'BRIEN: And if any one of you've seen "Apocalypse" now, knows a little bit about the First Calvary.

DEMILLE: Right.

O'BRIEN: You were there during the...

DEMILLE: Yes.

O'BRIEN: ... tense, pensive, pivotal time in Vietnam. Let's take a look at some of the pictures as we talk about this. Obviously, it was a personal odyssey for you.

DEMILLE: Yeah.

O'BRIEN: Was it difficult to do your job as -- you're kind of a novelist with a journalist ethos to you. Was it difficult to separate all of that from your personal journey?

DEMILLE: Yeah, it was. You know, I went back with two other guys who had been there in 1968 with me and didn't really know what to expect. I was kind of pleasantly surprised in some ways of modern Vietnam. We don't hear much about modern Vietnam. We still think of it as frozen in time, 1968, and went back to the battlefields where, you know, we had been in '68.

I think, as you can probably see in the pictures, we all looked a little bit younger then. That might have been the saddest part of the whole journey.

O'BRIEN: The worst part is realizing you're 30 years older.

DEMILLE: Absolutely and realizing we covered the same terrain. I mean figuratively and literally. But perhaps not in the best physical shape that we had been in in '68.

O'BRIEN: Now, as you alluded to -- you didn't go into it, thinking this is going to be Paul Brenner's next chapter, when did it strike you?

DEMILLE: Yeah, I wanted to do a book on contemporary Vietnam. I was there for a magazine article, but then I decided to -- you know, I wanted to do the book. I needed a character for the book and I thought it should be a middle-aged guy obviously going back to -- well, in this, to investigate a murder, but it really is an odyssey of his own. He's going to journey back in time. And the Brenner character was -- his back-story, as it -- in the "General's Daughter" was that he was a Vietnam vet. So I needed a character and this guy needed a job, so I put them together.

O'BRIEN: Now, you typically do an awful lot of research.

DEMILLE: Yeah.

O'BRIEN: In this case, having lived through Vietnam, having been there recently, you probably didn't have to do as much as you normally do.

DEMILLE: Yeah, this was -- I'm a heavy researcher and this book was -- although, you know, after 30 years, your memory starts to fail a little bit and things like -- I thought I remembered, I wasn't quite that clear, but the '97 journey that I took was really reproduced in the novel, "Up Country" by Paul Brenner. So I kind of used his -- he kind of used my trip as his trip so to speak and also, my tour of duty in '68 as his tour of duty in '68.

O'BRIEN: So will -- this character, Paul Brenner, really is an alter ego at this point. It has a life of its own?

DEMILLE: Well, he's probably better looking than I am, and a little bit taller. But yeah, a little bit. It was probably my most personal book in that way. I usually don't do anything autobiographical, but in terms of his personal history, a lot of it would come sorted with mine. O'BRIEN: Now, I imagine, of course, when you're writing you get some sort of vision in your mind's eye of your character.

DEMILLE: Yeah.

O'BRIEN: I imagine it may not have matched John Travolta's visage. Now, is that -- is it harder now to write the book? Do you see Travolta? Does that change the way you write the book?

DEMILLE: Yeah, that's a good question. I didn't see Travolta as the Paul Brenner character. Paul Brenner is kind of south Boston Irish wise guy and this is not Travolta. I mean most people saw him as Bruce Willis, who actually I think wanted to play the part. And now, this is the first time I'm writing a novel with a character that keeps flashing in front of my mind.

But Travolta did a good job. I mean he did a good job as Paul Brenner. Everybody said that that was one of his -- you know, one of his better acting experiences in many, many years. And you know, I do see him. When I'm writing -- when I was writing the book, I saw Travolta as the part of Brenner.

O'BRIEN: Did that the change the way you wrote it? I mean it's probably hard to speculate. Do you think it might have?

DEMILLE: To some extent, this Paul Brenner is a little bit -- not quite as perhaps rambunctious or as much of a wise guy as the Paul Brenner that I written in "The General's Daughter." But Travolta brought a lot into the part. You know, sometimes -- it's sort of like when Brando played the godfather, you kind of change the part a little bit too. And I think maybe he influenced the book a little bit.

O'BRIEN: You kept seeing "Saturday Night Fever," you know, Tony...

DEMILLE: Yeah.

O'BRIEN: ... of "Saturday Night Fever." What -- tell me, do you know, is he going to play in the sequel?

DEMILLE: I know he wants to. I know he's supposed to be reading the book right now and -- as a screenplay in the works. And it was a good part for him. It was also very successful financially, as box office. So yeah, I think he wanted to do it again.

O'BRIEN: No small detail there. Quickly, what are you working on right now? Can you tell us?

DEMILLE: I'm working on kind of a sequel to "The Gold Coast," one of my earlier books. And "The Gold Coast" is being shot this April with Al Pacino. And it'll be my next sequel. I'm not -- I think as I get older and as my career goes on, I'm starting to write sequels. We sort of repeat ourselves a little bit.

O'BRIEN: All right, well, continued success and we appreciate your work and -- both on the silver screen and in the bookstores. Thanks for joining us this morning.

DEMILLE: Thank you very much, Miles.

O'BRIEN: Nelson Demille.

DEMILLE: A pleasure.

O'BRIEN: And the latest book is entitled, "Up Country" in bookstores right now. And he's, as a matter of fact, signing books here in Atlanta today at Chapter 11.

Thanks for being with us.

DEMILLE: Thank you.

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