Larry Watson is an American author of novels, poetry and short stories. His novel Let Him Go was just adapted into a film by writer and director Thomas Bezucha.
Let Him Go tells the story of George and Margaret Blackledge, a couple who lost their son James on a horseback riding accident. Lorna, James’ widow, then marries Donnie Weboy and takes off with Margaret and George’s only grandson. Margaret is resolved to find and retrieve the boy — while George is none too eager to stir up trouble. Soon, the Blackledges find themselves entangled with the entire Weboy clan, who are determined not to give up the boy without a fight. The movie stars Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as George and Margaret Blackledge, and it was theatrically released in the United States on November 6, 2020, by Focus Features.
Interview with Larry Watson
- How was seeing your book being translated/adapted into film?
Very exciting. By the time it became a movie and by the time I watched it I no longer thought of it as mine — which is right. Books and movies are different. So I was able to watch it as a fan, as an audience member. So I was just very excited to see the action play out. I thought it was a terrific movie.
- How involved were you in this process?
Really not at all. The screenwriter and director Thomas Bezucha and I had conversations over the years but mostly those were a courtesy on his part. He was telling me about what his plans were for the movie. In early conversations we shared what our thoughts were on the characters and the direction of the story, and it was pretty obvious that he had a vision for how the story should go and we were never far apart on who we saw the characters as or any of those things. But even anytime he was deviating from the book he would explain why he was doing that and I understood. [Books and movies] are very different mediums and there are things that he has to do for a movie that I don’t have to do for a novel.
- Was the process different from what you expected? How?
I don’t know that I had expectations. I hoped that it would be a good movie. I had come to know Tom Bezucha a little bit, and my wife and I visited the set in Calgary so we got to know some of the people working on it. I liked them, they’re all very talented people and they were working so hard and I hoped, for their sake, that the movie would be good. So I’m just really happy it turned out as well as it did.
- Tom Bezucha is very talented and has a varied body of works, what were you hoping he’d bring out of this story?
When we first talked he hadn’t done anything yet. It was only some of his thoughts on how the movie would go. I was very pleased and impressed when it came to our discussion about the characters. For example, we agreed that Margaret Blackledge and Blanche Weboy were similar — they are very different characters but share some very important things. We agreed that George Blackledge did what he did for Margaret, that he didn’t entirely agree with what she was doing but he went along with her for her sake. Those were really important things.
image via focus features
- Kevin Costner (George Blackledge) and Diana Lane (Margaret Blackledge) are both very talented actors. What was your reaction to them being on the project? What were you excited about or what were you hoping they would bring to the characters and the story?
They told me they had Diane Lane first and then Kevin Costner, and I was just very happy as a movie fan. I really admire their work. I knew that they’d be able to portray those characters in a rich and believable way. Who surprised me was Lesley Manville (Blanche Weboy), my wife and I had been big fans of her work, and then to see the way that she embodied Blanche Weboy…it was a revelation.
- Sacrifices are always made when adapting a novel, what were some of the things that had to be changed from book to movie? How did they help the story?
One of the key things, I think, in the novel, George and Margaret begin in a small town in North Dakota and travel to Montana to meet with the Weboys. In the film the movement is reversed. It begins on their ranch in Montana, and they travel to find their grandson in North Dakota where they meet with the Weboys. I understand perfectly why that is. It makes picture sense. It begins in this beautiful setting, and part of the movie is a kind of descent, and they literally travel down into North Dakota. Once I saw the movie I just said: “Oh, absolutely right.”
- The movie has this very classic Western feel to it, but is also different from other Western stories. How do you think it’s similar and how is it different?
I guess there is such a thing now, the “neo-Western.” Some films sort of partake in the “Western myth,” but set in post-contemporary times. I’m interested in my fiction interrogating the myths of the American West and sometimes exposing them as false, and yet those myths persist. People who live in those regions, even if they don’t subscribe to them, even if they don’t believe they tell truths of their own lives, they have to know that the larger believes them. I think this is borne out in the movie when the Blackledges meet Blanche Weboy and their sons. Blanche wants to give a little speech when they meet, almost like she prepared to deliver it, about how harsh and difficult life is in that part of the world and how she survived. It seems like she is interested in perpetuating some of those myths about the American West. Then George just says: “We just came to see our grandson.” I thought that was a very good moment. He and Margaret don’t want to play.
image via focus features
- Have you gotten comments from your readers or people who have seen the film about how it challenges those myths?
Not really. The movie is being marketed as a thriller, and I think it certainly is. I think it’s more than that too. I think it’s a love story in addition to being a suspense story. I certainly think it’s a story that asks questions about who we are, where we belong, what does it mean to be a Blackledge, what does it mean to be a Weboy, what does it mean to be in this place at this time as opposed to another place? I think many of us in this country ask those kinds of questions. I think those issues are in the movie. There’s a scene where the Sheriff goes to George and Margaret about their grandson and says: “Well he’s a Weboy now.” For them that represents a defeat.
- It’s very striking to see the familial bonds in the movie and how they work as well, how does each family differentiate from the other?
Yes, that is something else that you could say the movie is about. Is about different kinds of love and different ways people are bonded to each other.
- What was your inspiration for this story?
For me when I write a novel there are always different things coming together and often from different places. My wife and I are grandparents, and I remember years ago when our daughter, her husband, and their son used to live 35 miles away from us but they were going to move. When they were moving they stopped by our place, we said goodbyes, and sent them on their way. They were only moving 60 miles away, it was not as if we weren’t going to see them just as often, but I remember thinking that night “What if they were moving more than 60 miles away? What if it was 600? What if it was 6000?” We would never see our grandson! There are many examples of families who have been split up and kids and grandkids go off in one direction and families become fragmented. Margaret was somebody who wasn’t going to allow that to happen. So I thought about it as a road trip, I certainly thought there were going to be some moral dilemmas along the way, should we be doing this? Margaret believes one thing, George being a law enforcement officer believes another but he is going with her! Those are some of the things that came together.
- About the title, depending on the character or even the point in the story we are on it can mean different things, what’s your take on that?
I couldn’t agree more. There are so many places in the movie where you could say “Let him go” about many different characters and situations. My original title for the novel was Bring Back the Boy, and you can see how that applies. But someone at the publishing house, I believe it was my editor, said a better title would be Let Him Go and I just knew instantly how right they were because it had so many different applications for the story.
- How does time and place/setting impact the story?
I think some other locations might work. But it’s not a contemporary novel, they can’t google the Weboys, they can’t use the cellphone, they have to go out there and make the trip, make the effort. It makes it a bigger deal. They travel through the country, which is sparsely populated, they are isolated. Once they get into Weboy territory they have a confrontation with them at their home and Bill Weboy says “We have numbers on you.” And it’s true, George and Margaret are outnumbered. And it’s the early 1960s, it didn’t occur to George and Margaret to go see a lawyer and try to initiate some sort of custody battle, which would be the default for many of us now. Tom Bezucha has called the story a kind of fable and I think because it’s set down in that time and place it adds to that sense of it being a fable.
- The scenery of the movie apart from being very beautiful is very open and wide, all the nature and the fact that it is so far from civilization makes it feel very isolated and dangerous. How does this affect the story? Was it done consciously or is it just a given because of the setting?
With having conversations with Thomas Bezucha and after viewing the movie, I knew that that is something that he strived for. When they are traveling there are these very open shots of the countryside. They are very isolated. Then they are also in other places, interiors that are very dark. You have both the sense of George and Margaret being out there on their own, but also the sense of them being trapped. In the Weboys’ house and Peter’s shack it feels like they can’t move, it’s very claustrophobic.
image via focus features
- There are several moments of foreshadowing in the movie that give you the feeling the things are going to go wrong. What are your thoughts on these moments?
There’s a scene at the beginning of the movie where George and Margaret are getting dressed for what it looked like their son’s funeral but they were actually going to a wedding. I thought this scene was just brilliant. Not only does it say how they feel about the wedding to come, but you can’t help yourself to think about mourning because of their son’s death. A wedding is supposed to be a very different ritual, but they are not happy about it and you can clearly see it.
- All the characters in the story are very determined and similar in some other ways, but how is this determination different?
Their determination is similarly motivated. They both want Jimmy. Margaret is motivated by love and affection and you can see that in the moment that Jimmy comes in and says something and she understands him. Blanche wants him there too, she wants him to be a Weboy, but it feels with her like it’s a possession, like she needs to own him too. We know she is being on control, and she’ll want to control Jimmy like she controls all the boys.
- What was your favorite part of this experience?
Everything just seemed to go right. You couldn’t ask for someone better than Thomas Bezucha to pull your book off the shelf. He wrote a screenplay that surprised me. I thought of screenplays as blueprints but when I read his screenplay I was just astonished at how well written it was. I didn’t even think it was necessary to try to write a good screenplay. And then to hear about how the movie was being cast and the actors who were in it, I can’t say that I saw that in my wildest dreams. Everything that happened, happened for the best. And we haven’t even talked about the music, which is so beautiful, too.
When I watch movies I often say to myself “I just want to watch this one scene,” I do that with The Godfather and Vertigo, but then you realize that the whole movie is just one great scene after another. That’s true for me with Let Him Go. I’ve seen it a couple of times and I’d be happy to see it again.
- If you had to pick a favorite scene, what scene would it be?
The emblematic shot in the movie for me is Diane Lane, Margaret, in the Weboy kitchen when she is holding her grandson and she has that look in her eyes like wants to run. She has come so far and it’s both beautiful and sad. And it has such great tension, too.
image via focus features
- Do you have any other interesting stories from the movie that you would like to share?
There’s this tiny little thing in the movie that sort of spoke to my English teacher part. It was when Jeffrey Donovan (Bill Weboy) and Diane Lane were in the truck together and she says something like “How much further is it?” and Jeffrey just says “farther.”
- Are you hoping for future adaptation of your other works?
I’m always open to that. I have a number of novels that have been optioned for a film but none of them have gone through the process. Montana 1948 has come very close and I think it has potential and so do the people who own the rights. But what I learned from this experience is that you really can’t get better than the team that worked on Let Him Go.
You can watch Let Him Go in a theater near you now!
featured image via IMDB