John Grisham's novels continue to be popular with moviemakers, and the lawyer looks at what could be next

By Rebecca Ascher-Walsh
July 29, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT

The transformation of John Grisham’s books from page to screen may have made him Hollywood’s hottest author, but he says, ”there’s a lot of notoriety stuff I’m not comfortable with, and movies add a much heavier level to the fame.” Grisham had better batten down the hatches. Even though he insists on director, script, and principal cast approval, filmmakers are still clamoring for more movies:

THE CHAMBER Director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer bought the rights to Grisham’s latest best-seller, about an attorney who tries to save his grandfather from a death sentence, for a record $3.75 million in 1993, on the basis of a one-page synopsis, and are said to have been surprised by the completed novel, a decidedly un-Grishamlike non-thriller. ”There was nothing in the synopsis to indicate that there was action,” insists Grisham’s agent, Jay Garon, who acknowledges that screenwriter William Goldman has been brought on board (for a reported $1 million) to ”make it more movie-wise.” Grisham, for his part, is doing what he can to impress the novel’s edgier side upon the filmmakers: When Grazer, Howard, and Goldman recently visited the author in Memphis, Grisham says, ”We drove to the state prison, and I took Ron Howard to the gas chamber and shut the door.”

A TIME TO KILL Grisham’s 1989 novel about a father avenging his daughter’s rape, which has spent 103 weeks on the best-seller list, remains one of the hottest unsold properties in publishing. ”I own the film rights,” says Grisham. ”We might [meet with studios] next month, we might meet next year. I turn down so many offers, it’s almost becoming a way of life. But if it never is filmed, I’d be very happy,” he admits. ”Four movies are enough for any author. And this was not only my first novel, it’s my favorite.”

THE RAINMAKER The subject of Grisham’s next novel is an attorney who’s responsible for bringing high-paying clients to his firm. But you won’t see the movie any time soon: This time Grisham won’t even consider selling the rights until the book is on the best-seller list. ”He didn’t like the idea of being told what to do with a book by picture people,” says Garon. ”We’re determined not to offer this to anyone until it is finished.”

But don’t let the thought of a season without a Grisham movie panic you: Three years ago, before The Firm had made the best-seller list, Grisham wrote an original screenplay, The Gingerbread Man, about a Southern attorney who becomes involved with a seductive client. Jeremy Tannenbaum, president of the small production company Hometown Films, snagged the script for a comparative (though undisclosed) song, and plans on shooting next spring. It’s one project the author would like to see reach the screen: ”It’s the only screenplay I ever wrote, and the only one I ever plan to write,” Grisham says. ”I’m not sure how good the script is. I always thought the story would make a good movie. But then, what do I know?”