Hemingway to Capote: Watching Our Favorite Writers Come to Life On-Screen

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Writers have a long history of showing up as characters in films. Sometimes those writers are real people interacting with history (like Hemingway!), and sometimes they’re made up characters, showing us exactly how Hollywood imagines the concept of the writer. Regardless, these writers usually have certain traits in common: they’re often tortured by their art, they prefer to be isolated from society in some way, and they LOVE whiskey.

Of course, these are broad generalizations, and sometimes we do see writers who are mentally stable, well adjusted, and finding success without also finding a drinking problem – though it’s admittedly pretty rare. But no matter how a writer is portrayed, we’re always happy to see them on the screen. It takes the often low-key life of a writer – which mostly involves sitting at our desks, drinking a lot of tea and wasting time on Twitter – and turns it into something exciting and celebrated.

So with that sense of excitement in mind, here are our eight favorite portrayals of writers on the screen:

Ernest Hemingway in Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen’s 2011 film is all about writers, from the struggling lead character of Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), to F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), to the formidable Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates). But when Pender goes back into the past and meets Hemingway (Corey Stoll), the whole screen lights up. There have been a lot of portrayals of Hemingway in film, but never has he been so hilariously over-the-top in his love of war, women and words.

Grady Tripp in Wonder Boys

Michael Douglas stars as Tripp, a writer and teacher who’s in danger of becoming washed up as he works to complete a way-too-long new novel. He’s also the quintessential writer on screen: he’s perpetually unhappy, flirting with addiction (too much weed, in his case), and struggling with the concept of himself as a writer. Luckily, the movie is also hilarious and touching, and says a lot about what it means to be an artist.

Paul Sheldon in Misery

Being a writer has never been so dangerous! Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is a famous romance novelist who ends up trapped and imprisoned by his “number one fan,” Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates). This film is a classic for a reason, as Annie terrorizes Paul, forcing him to write, breaking his ankles, and just generally being the worst fan in the world.

Anais Nin in Henry & June

The fantasy of the writer is alive and well – in more ways than one – in the super erotic Henry & June. Based on the true story of Anais Nin’s (Maria de Medeiros) relationship with Henry Miller (Fred Ward) and his wife, June (Uma Thurman), this film dives deep into the sexy bohemian lifestyle of the 1930s. But it’s also about writing itself, as Anais blossoms as a writer and becomes both a muse and proponent for some of Miller’s best work.

Jack Torrance in The Shining

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Writing might just be the true demon in The Shining, the classic film based on a book by Stephen King. It’s the thing that seems to initially drive Jack (Jack Nicholson) crazy, and it’s certainly one of the first indications that something isn’t quite right with the reclusive writer. It’s hard not to get chills when Wendy (Shelley Duval) picks up Jack’s typed pages to find only that famous phrase repeated over and over.

Truman Capote in Capote

In the late ’50s and early ‘60s, author Truman Capote spent years investigating the murders of the Clutter family, including spending time with their killer. Starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman, the movie chronicles this period, diving into the complicated feelings that come from writing about a true crime story. Nuanced and emotional, this is probably one of the truest portrayals of a writer we’ve ever seen.

The Ghost in The Ghost Writer

The writer (Ewan McGregor) doesn’t even get named in this thriller all about a ghost writer who’s tasked with writing the memoirs of Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), a former Prime Minister. But it’s no simple job, and soon the writer is caught up in CIA intrigue, murder plots and hidden messages. Writing has never looked so exciting.

Charlie Kaufman in Adaptation

Adaptation is a truly meta experience, following the writer Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) as he tries to write the screenplay for the book, The Orchid Thief. Only, the screenplay is actually written by the real Charlie Kaufman about his experiences trying to write the screenplay for The Orchid Thief, with the book actually unfolding as a narrative in the film. Following? Us neither. But the film is hilariously madcap, smart and a truly great film about what it means to be a writer.

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Rachel Carter grew up surrounded by trees and snow and mountains. She graduated from the University of Vermont and Columbia University, where she received her MFA in nonfiction writing. She is the author of the So Close to You series with Harperteen. These days you can find her working on her next novel in the woods of Vermont.

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