Richard Matheson Interview by Scott Brick
GROVER GARDNER: Welcome to Downpour.com’s interview series. I’m Grover Gardner, and today I’m pleased to present an exclusive interview with award-winning and acclaimed author Richard Matheson. Matheson is also a film and television scriptwriter. His works include “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” from The Twilight Zone as well as episodes of Star Trek. Several of Matheson’s novels are major motion pictures including I Am Legend and What Dreams May Come. Conducting the interview is award-winning narrator Scott Brick.
SCOTT BRICK: Thanks for having us here today Richard. It’s an honor to be sitting in your living room.
RICHARD MATHESON: You’re very welcome.
SB: When we last spoke you mentioned that you have a tendency to be the lead character in your novels.
RM: Oh, sure.
SB: When I was recording Somewhere in Time it really blew me away that the beginning and the end of the book, the parts that take place in Los Angeles, were set here and realizing, “Oh my gosh I’ve actually sat in that living room.” I’m curious. As you’re walking around your home, do you ever look and think, “Oh, that’s the scene where such and such a scene from What Dreams May Come took place? Or this is where Richard convalesced, or is it just home to you, or do you also think of it in terms of—
RM: No. It’s just home to me. I don’t equate it with things I wrote.
SB: The most powerful image—the visual image that comes to my mind—from Somewhere in Time, it has to be the penny. Whenever I see people write about it online that’s the image they always invoke, but I think a really close second is the watch, and the question of where it came from—
RM: That was my mistake.
SB: It was a mistake?
RM: Oh yeah, I suggested it, and then as soon as I suggested it I said, “No, that’s impossible.”
RM: And they were so in love with the whole idea, that they kept it in anyway. Even had a T-shirt that said “What watch?”
SB: Right. I saw that in the book, the making of Somewhere in Time…
SB: … several years ago. I saw it on certain cast members. It would say, “Ask me about the watch,” and yours said, “What watch?”
SB: As I was recording the novel about six months ago I had forgotten the scene where Elise comes to visit Richard when she’s an older woman, giving him the watch. That was alluded to in the book, but we didn’t see it. We actually got to see it in the film. When you were writing that scene in the screenplay, did you not put the watch in there right away? That was something that you later suggested to the producers after the script was already written?
RM: Seems to me I suggested it right away and they fell in love with the idea. Being logical, I knew it didn’t work.
RM: But they did it anyway.
SB: Well, it is such a classic time-travel paradox. If she gave him the watch, how could he have given her the watch, you know? Where did it originally come from? Did you point that out to them? Did they say, “Oh, we don’t care, we just love it so much”?
RM: Oh, I pointed out all the illogical qualities to it.
SB: Well, I love it. I think an experience is even greater when people who are viewing something or reading something can do some of the work themselves, when they can speculate on, for them, where did the watch come from. Do you prefer it that way? Were you happy to let them just speculate or have you ever come to a conclusion saying, “No, I know where the watch came from”?
RM: No, I let them have their own way.
SB: My girlfriend is still convinced that Elise had it first, and I say: “Okay, whatever you want. If that makes you happy, then she had it first.”
RM: Well, in the book I think she gives it to him, doesn’t she?
SB: She does, after they’ve fallen in love, in the past. She wants to give him a gift. And when he goes home to the present, he brings it with him. So, originally that is how it happened.
RM: So there’s no way the old lady could have it!
RM: Too bad.
SB: I don’t know. I love them both, but I love the paradox of it, because time travel does in itself seem to be a paradox, so …
RM: Oh yeah. When you examine time travel, it doesn’t work.
SB: Yeah. Have you ever thought about going back to the idea of time travel in any of your other novels?
RM: No, I get one idea at a time.
SB: Right. And when you’re done with it you’re done with it.
RM: Yeah … I became fascinated with the Western…
RM: … for about six novels, then I just lost all interest in it.
SB: Right. I read the novel about twenty years ago, I guess. And the part that really got to me the most when I first read it was the foreword and then the afterword by Robert Collier, the main character’s brother. The part that’s presented as bookends where he says this is the manuscript that was found and this is what Richard says happens to him. And reading that, at the end where he believes it was a hallucination, but he wants to hold out hope that it was real. I wept like a baby, the very first time I read that, and every time I’ve read it subsequently, the same thing happened. It happened six months ago when I was recording the audiobook. I’ve never had this happen before, but Blackstone came back to me and they told me they needed me to rerecord the last two pages because I was crying too hard and they said that they couldn’t understand …
SB: And this is something I already knew twenty, thirty years ago. I was already familiar with how it was going to end, but I had to rerecord it. And so, I’m curious about the device of the bookends, the foreword and the afterword by Robert Collier. When, at what point in the creation of the story did you decide to use that to maybe give…
RM: I think right from the start.
SB: Right from the start?
SB: ’Cause I know that usually, when you’re able to provide some distance, some perspective on the story it’s a great literary tool. It really helps in the storytelling process. So, I wasn’t sure if it had come on at some point later and you had added it in.
RM: No, it was part of the original concept.
SB: It’s still my favorite. And for all the people who have only seen the film, I always tell them you have to read the book, just for that afterword alone. It’s just lovely.
RM: Yeah, I was watching last night—the Classic Art Showcase on PBS. They had this segment where Bernstein is conducting the last movement of Mahler’s Second Symphony—
SB:—which was the music for the book.
RM: And that just washes me out.
SB: Yeah. The changes that were made to the book, in order to make it into a film, I know the book was set in the Hotel del Coronado and then it was switched to the Grand Hotel, and the music changed from Mahler to Paganini. How did it feel with making those changes?
RM: Well, Jeannot Szwarc was perfectly willing to have Mahler in the movie. And then they decided that it was a little too hard to fit it in.
SB: Too long a movement perhaps, or…
RM: For any particular moment the music has to reflect that moment, and it was very heavy music.
SB: Right. Well, I was assuming that because Richard Collier said it was his favorite piece of music I was assuming it had to have been yours.
RM: Oh yeah, sure. Mahler is my favorite composer.
SB: It still has that effect on you?
RM: It hit me very unexpectedly last night. I was suddenly blubbering.
SB: That’s the lovely thing about music. It still has the capacity to do that to us.
RM: Oh, it’s great, it’s great.
SB: With all the adaptations of your novels to film over the years, in terms of staying faithful to the source material, do you think Somewhere in Time is your most fully realized story that was told in film?
RM: Probably, since I wrote the screenplay.
SB: Right, that certainly would help. I read that the original idea for Somewhere in Time came when you saw a picture of the actress Maude Adams and you pondered what would happen if someone fell in love with that picture.
SB: I noticed when I read the book and when I watched the film again recently that Elise McKenna is portrayed as she is performing The Little Minister, which is actually a role that Maude Adams performed herself. Was that a nod to her that you put in the original story?
RM: Well, at one point I was going to call the book The Man Who Loved Maude Adams.
SB: Is that right?
RM: Yeah, but then I realized I was too specific about details. And Maude Adams never did the thing.
RM: Elise McKenna did, so....
SB: That you would have needed her for the book?
SB: When did you decide to name it Bid Time Return? Is that, perhaps, when you found the quotation, the Shakespeare quote that you used?
RM: It was suggested to me by the editor. I was calling it And Love Most Sweet which is a ridiculous title.
SB: But that was the title of a song that was referred to in the book, if I recall.
RM: Oh, yeah, it was…
SB: Aimee Semple McPherson?
RM: No. Mary Baker Eddy.
SB: That’s what it was. That’s right. So that was the title—
RM: And the editor suggested Bid Time Return, which I liked a lot better.
SB: It’s lovely. Yeah. It’s very evocative, that quote. That Shakespeare quote is wonderful.
SB: I’m curious, given how much Maude Adams had to do with the creation of the story, did you ever frame that photo that you saw of her?
SB: … to keep as a memento?
RM: Oh yeah, I still have it out in my room, in the garage.
SB: Is that right?
RM: Oh, yeah.
SB: Oh, that’s terrific.
GROVER GARDNER: Thank you for joining us for this exclusive interview of legendary and acclaimed author Richard Matheson by Scott Brick. You can find other Richard Matheson titles, as well as Blackstone Audio’s complete selection of titles at Downpour.com.
This interview was recorded in March 2011.
Disclaimer: This audio and transcript have been edited slightly from the original recording for quality and readability.
Listen to more of this interview with Richard Matheson about Other Kingdoms, here on Downpour.com.
Somewhere in Time
Written by one of the grand masters of modern fantasy, Somewhere in Time is the moving, romantic story of a modern man whose powerful love for a woman he has never met allows him to literally transcend time.
A dying young playwright staying in a turn-of-the-century hotel becomes captivated by a painting of a beautiful stage actress from the previous century. Obsessed, he begins to study everything he can about the woman and her time and becomes convinced he belongs with her. Through self-hypnosis, he transports himself to 1896, where he finds the soul mate he was fated to meet. But will he be able to stay?
Somewhere in Time won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel and was the basis for the 1980 cult classic movie starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour.