Dennis Lehane

Posted: August 1, 2017
Dennis Lehane grew up in Boston. Since his first novel, A Drink Before the War, won the Shamus Award, he has published twelve more novels that have been translated into more than 30 languages and become international bestsellers. He’s a writer and producer for Mr Mercedes and has written 4 of the 10 episodes in season 1. I got a chance to talk to him about it.

Lilja: You have written 4 episodes of Mr Mercedes. How did you get that job?

Dennis Lehane: David Kelley and I met to discuss another project but when I learned he was assembling a writers room for Mr. Mercedes, I asked to be considered. He hired me a week later.

Lilja: If I’m correct you wrote the script for episode 4, 6, 7 and 10 (the season finale). Can you tell me a bit about how it works when you write episodes surrounded by episodes written by someone else?

Dennis Lehane: Well, every show works differently, but in this case, David, Bryan Goluboff, myself, and AM Holmes broke story for episodes 2 thru 5. (David had already written the pilot.) Then we all went off and wrote. Then we reconvened and broke story for episodes 6 through 10. And off we went again to write our episodes. If something in, say, episode 6 makes something in episode 7 redundant, you catch it in the early drafts and cut it out. If Bryan, say, stumbled on a fresh idea that wasn’t in our original outlines, he’d call me and let me know and I’d tweak my episodes to reflect it. And vice versa. Very fluid process.

Lilja: Is the entire season more or less mapped out before you and the other writers start writing your episodes?

Dennis Lehane: No, but in this case, we had a book to work off of, and we remained pretty faithful to it, so it wasn’t like we were flying blind. We knew what the endgame was.

Lilja: Did you write episode 4 first and then read episode 5 before you wrote episode 6 and 7?

Dennis Lehane: Yup.

Lilja: How much freedom do you have to write what you want in the episodes you write? I guess you need to follow Stephen King’s book and what the other writers have set up in previous episodes.

Dennis Lehane: Well, we were very free to imagine whatever direction we wanted to take the show in. We’re not galley slaves and David’s not a hardass taskmaster. But Stephen gave us such great source material that we didn’t range too far from it. We tended to drill down on things because we had the space. But we didn’t deviate too far from the foundational text.

Lilja: How long does it take to write one episode and how long before the shooting is scheduled to start do you need to have it ready?

Dennis Lehane: Every episode is different, but I’d say for sake of argument, it takes roughly a week to map out an episode and then two weeks to write it. Then there’s rewriting, which can take several drafts, depending on a variety of factors. Then usually a script is “locked” maybe a month before production.

Lilja: There is a character in the show (Ida) that isn’t in the book. How hard is it to add a new character to a bunch of already established characters?

Dennis Lehane: It’s not terribly hard. Ida was David’s creation and she gives Hodges’ a wonderful foil to play off. I created several characters--mostly minor--who aren’t in the book but who fit in the world of it pretty well, I hope.

Lilja: I personally love reading scripts (when I get a chance) and I think they give you a depth that is interesting since they often contain descriptions that is helping the director to set up the scene. I would love it if scripts for shows like Mr Mercedes were published in a way so the public can read them. Why do you think that almost never happens? Isn’t there a market for it?

Dennis Lehane: It’s probably, as you say, due to a lack of broad interest in reading teleplays. They have academic appeal, I’m sure, but the average Joe isn’t looking to get to the end of his day and thumb through a teleplay of Episode 7, Season 1, of Mr. Mercedes.

Lilja: Jack Bender talked at Comic Con about a second and third season. Would you be interested in writing for those as well if they happen? Are you already thinking about this possibility?

Dennis Lehane: If we get picked up for Season 2, yes, I’m already in the mix. We shall see.

Dennis Lehande Photo Credit: Gaby Gerster, Diogenes, Zurich.