Chuck Palahniuk wrote Fight Club. Choke is his next adap. Excited?
With his fiction soaked in anarchy (if you’ve never read short story Guts, we dare you to), it’s not that shocking that Choke is only the second of maverick author Chuck Palahniuk’s works to become a movie. The first, of course, was Fight Club, a work Total Film anointed ‘best film of the mag’s lifetime’ in issue 100. From such lofty beginnings, the only way to go is down – which is as good an explanation as any as to why the Washington-state based author’s other books have struggled to make the big-screen leap. Who wants to be compared to Fight Club?
“I really haven’t had expectations in terms of adaptations,” the author tells Buzz. “That saved me with Fight Club because I had a chorus of people whispering in my ear that it’s not going to happen, it will never happen. So it was completely without expectation that Fight Club did get made. I’ve really resolved myself to control the things I can control. That’s why, so many years later, I have 12 books out, because that’s the one thing I can control.”
His fourth novel, Choke, is many things but primarily it’s a satire about sex and consumerism, bad parenting and self-loathing, Colonial theme parks and lost faith, filtered through the tale of Victor Mancini, a rampant sex-addicted, self-asphyxiating con artist. Raised by his fierce mother Ida, who’s losing what’s left of her marbles in an expensive private hospital, Victor attempts to cope with his crippling sex addiction and winkle the identity of his father out of Ida’s damaged brain.
“I always saw Choke as the sequel to Fight Club,” muses Palahniuk. “When he grows old, Tyler Durden – someone who has rebelled against everything, has always attacked things but never created anything – becomes [Choke’s] Ida Mancini, somebody who is haunted and tortured by the idea that they never stood for anything other than destruction. After 9/11, I wanted to take a look at standing for something rather than just always protesting things.”
Like Fight Club before it, Choke at first was too hot to handle for most filmmakers until exec-producer Gary Ventimiglia handed a copy to actor Clark Gregg, who was immediately hooked. Once sorted, casting began with Sam Rockwell signing on for Victor, Anjelica Huston for Ida and Kelly Macdonald for a nurse who might offer Victor the redemption he seeks. When Gregg wrote a script he was happy with, he showed it to Palahniuk, who approved – although, as the author admits, he’s not necessarily the best judge.
“I tried writing an original screenplay once and it was dreadful,” he winces. “It was really, really bad. I took a class and everything! I bought two or three Syd Field books and I did my damndest. But it didn’t work. I don’t think my agent even sent it out to anyone. I eventually turned it into a short story called Ambition.”
With the propulsive, nihilistic backbone that’s key to his fiction – and research (he’s been known to slip businessmen prescription drugs on flights to get them spilling the sordid details of their lives) – Palahniuk will always hone in on the darkest sides of the human experience. His next book is about the world’s greatest gang bang. Looking back on Fight Club, he’s still amazed it ever got made, let alone by a major studio (Fox were so horrified by what they’d paid for they dumped the movie in cinemas before exploiting its cult popularity on DVD).
“If Fincher had made it one year later, it would never have been released because it would have come out on top of 9/11,” says Palahniuk, who found himself in Italy on a book tour exactly one year after the attack. “I was in an auditorium and just as I went on, they played the last scene from Fight Club and I found myself on stage with these collapsing Century City buildings. I was devastated by that image, just thinking how quickly it had become so loaded. So many transgressive books and films disappeared after 9/11.” Perhaps Choke is a sign that Hollywood is lightening up again.