After making her mark in movies and TV, the actress, 44, sets her sights on the literary world with her debut novel, ''When It Happens to You'' (out Aug. 14), a set of linked stories about love and betrayal
I was skeptical when I heard you were writing a novel, but it’s actually good. How frustrating is it to deal with preconceptions?
[Laughs] I’m pretty used to it by now. I mean, yeah, it’s kind of insulting, but then I try to step outside of it and think how I would respond, and it’s true that there are not too many actresses who write literary fiction.
Where did the urge to write come from? Were you on the Breakfast Club set thinking, ”Screw this, I really want to be a novelist”?
I always wrote fiction, even when I was doing The Breakfast Club. I just never wanted to publish anything unless I was proud of it.
What does fiction allow you to express that acting doesn’t?
As an actress you’re always at the mercy of the screenplay or the play or the director or the editor. It’s a truly collaborative art. But with writing, for better or for worse, you take complete responsibility for what’s out there. Every word is chosen by me. There’s a certain amount of gratification in that control.
One of the book’s supporting characters, Peter, is an actor. How much detail did you draw from your life? I’m thinking of the annoyingly unhelpful feedback from casting directors, for example.
[Laughs] Yeah, I drew somewhat from my own life. [Like Peter] I was told at one point that I didn’t sparkle. It was [an audition] for Benny & Joon. I came home and my agent said that was the feedback. It stuck in my head all these years.
At one point Peter calls acting a ”ridiculous career.” Is there some of your voice in there?
I don’t find acting ridiculous. I do feel it’s an art. But there are also plenty of people who choose it for not the most noble reasons. There are people now who just want to be reality television stars. There have been times where I’ve said, “If I hadn’t chosen this as a child, then maybe I wouldn’t be doing it as an adult.” But then there’s a feeling I get from acting that just doesn’t come from anything else. What can I say, I think I’m conflicted about it. [Laughs]
Safe to say you won’t be on The Celebrity Apprentice?
Yes. Reality television is something that I couldn’t imagine for myself.
Have you been asked to be on any shows?
Oh, God, yes. Everything. Reality television is dangerous for our culture. I think it makes us generally stupider. It just feels like fast food.
What’s next? Another novel?
I’ve started taking notes on a new book, which is exciting. The main thing that I’ve always wanted to do is write and direct, so that’s probably going to be the next thing on my list. I’m very interested in adapting When It Happens to You for the screen. Demetri Martin wants to play Peter. After I’d written the book we met and I was like, ”This is perfect for you. Can you read this and tell me? There is a masturbation scene. [But] don’t worry about that. We can work on that.” [Laughs]
Would you ever write an autobiography?
I might, but I don’t imagine I would want to write it until I’m quite a bit older. There are a lot of people who need to die first. [Laughs]