In 1997, Tony Blair was the U.K. prime minister, and Oasis, Blur, Pulp, the Spice Girls, Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, “Trainspotting” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral” were among the cultural touchstones of what was dubbed “Cool Britannia.” And bestselling writer Nick Hornby was making his first movie, an adaptation of his hit novel “Fever Pitch” — and earning his first mention in Variety. Hornby has since gone on the write yet more popular books — “About a Boy,” “Juliet, Naked” and “Funny Girl” are a few — and more movies, including “Wild,” “An Education” and “Brooklyn.” He’s now downsizing with Sundance TV’s “State of the Union” — ten, 10-minute episodes directed by Stephen Frears and starring Rosamund Pike and Chris O’Dowd as a couple working on their marriage. Each episode takes place in a pub 10 minutes before the characters are due to meet their marriage counselor, and delivers laughs and the truth about relationships and modern life.
In 1997, music, movies and art pretty much revolved around Great Britain.
I think all this stuff … when it’s happening, you don’t really notice. You just work and sit on your own and if there’s anything going on culturally, you are consuming it at the same rate as everyone else. It’s not like I’m in this mad world of parties and creativity. I’m just doing my own thing.
It seemed like a hopeful time.
In 1997 there was an enormous sense of optimism because we’d had 18 years of a conservative government, and Tony Blair was young and he knew who people were. That was one of the most thrilling things, really. He knew who Oasis were and he knew about bands and he knew about writers. And the conservative government’s attitude to culture — they don’t read, they don’t do anything that well.
You know, Tony Blair had these parties where he invited people from the arts — I went to one of those and that was pretty amazing, just looking around the room and seeing, say, Mike Leigh and saying, “Wow, this is what they think Britain is.” And it was kind of, for a moment, thrilling.
What led to Fever Pitch, which was published in 1992, being made into a film (and later remade in the U.S.)?
“Fever Pitch” was a very organic thing because I met the director [David Evans] in 1992, and he was making a little TV piece about the book and he said, “Hey, I want to make a movie out of this.” And it made me laugh. Oh yeah, fine; be my guest. And he said, “I want you to write it.” And I said, “I don’t know anything about movies, I’ve never written a film.”
Did the director have any experience?
He said, “There’s someone I’ve been to college with who wants to be a producer.” So he introduced me to her [Amanda Posey]. It was the three of us; first screenplay, first direction of a movie and first time producing a movie. And we just slowly jumped over the fences.
It was a busy year for you.
The things that were floating around were “High Fidelity,” which had been optioned, and “About a Boy,” which was about to be optioned. They were more distant from me for a while — there’s this stage where you just don’t know what’s happening with them. I didn’t know who was writing them or if anyone intended to direct them. “High Fidelity” disappeared for about four years but now I know that’s completely normal.
What has evolved about your characters from 1997?
I don’t write about men so much. There’s been “An Education,” “Wild” and “Juliet, Naked,” with the woman as the central character, and my last novel, “Funny Girl.” I would say I pretty much jumped ship [laughs]. I didn’t have anything else to say about youngerish men. I just want to write about all people, really, and certainly in film and TV the actresses are so good, and most parts for them are so bad that it seems like you get the pick of who you want if you write good stuff. I’m the winner — Reese, Carey Mulligan, Saoirse, Rosamund — I’ve had a pretty good run so far.
What about the short-form format attracted you?
Well, I was literally sitting around. I’d finished a draft of something and I was waiting for somebody to get back about something else, and I’d had this idea for a while about trying to tell stories in 10 minutes. And I thought OK, now’s the time to do it. I chose that “pre-therapy” time because it was a perfect self-contained context for these 10-minute episodes. They were a joy to write. I certainly didn’t expect them to be as high falutin’ as they ended up, with Rosamund and Chris and Stephen Frears directing.
Rosamund Pike — I love her; I met her during “An Education.” She’s properly funny in “An Education” and I’d never seen her do that before and I always remembered that. And I thought, “I want to write comedy for Rosamund.” She was someone I thought about while I was writing these. We had stayed in touch, and she’s a neighbor as well, so it felt great that she wanted to do them.