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INTERVIEW: How Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder Inspired Maureen Lee Lenker

Updated: Jan 30

Welcome to the Tuesday Author Interview with Christina Boyd for the Who, What, When, Where, and Why.

It seems eons ago, but I first met author and lifelong Janeite Maureen Lee Lenker in 2015 when she answered the call for an Austen-adjacent anthology project titled Then Came Winter for boutique publisher Meryton Press. I was the editor subcontracted for the project, and Maureen wrote the short story "The Food of Love," a contemporary reimagining based on Austen's Mansfield Park with characters cast in an upcoming production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Since then, I've been gobsmacked witnessing her star rise as a writer at Entertainment Weekly interviewing Who's Who in Hollywood to becoming a published novelist. What can't she do?

CHRISTINA: It's fun for me to turn the interview tables on you and have you in the hot seat.

When did you first think you had a book to write and how did you start?

MAUREEN: I've always been a writer. I wrote my first book, a picture book about my stuffed toy, Marbley, when I was seven. For a long time, I would start things I never finished, but once I finished grad school and had more time to write that changed. My first book, set in Elizabethan England, got me my agent, but it didn't sell. While that was on submission, I started thinking about this other story and threw myself into it as a distraction.

CHRISTINA: How did It Happened One Fight come to you?

MAUREEN: I have always wanted to write a book set in the Golden Age of Hollywood because it's an era I'm obsessed with, and particularly after reading and loving The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, I felt like it was something I could do. The kernel of the idea — two costars who are accidentally married on set — came from an interview I did with Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder where Ryder posited the idea she thought that she and Keanu were married for real on the Dracula set. I started wondering what would happen if someone was accidentally married, but instead, they hated each other.

CHRISTINA: That is incredible. I think, when this is adapted for film, Keanu and Winona should play an older couple setting up the story (think: the older couples interviewed in When Harry Met Sally), and then the story plays out as a flashback. Do you hear me, Hollywood execs?

What do you absolutely LOVE? What gets you up in the morning?

MAUREEN: Good stories. Whether I'm writing fiction or working my day job as a senior writer at Entertainment Weekly, I spend my days surrounded by stories — in books, films, TV, and on the stage. I'm always chasing finding the next story that grabs ahold of me and won't let me go. And I love dissecting process with the people who make things as part of my job.

CHRISTINA: I am awestruck by your manifold interviews of A-listers. I would bound out of bed everyday just to see the schedule for the week. Wow. Just wow.

Tell me, if you could have dinner with three people, living, who would be at your table, and how would that go?

MAUREEN: Mindy Kaling because I find her voice so hilarious and romantic and inimitable. And I'm also continuously in awe of the career she's built and would want to ask her all the questions. Tom Hiddleston. Besides obvious reasons, he's invigorated by intellectual pursuits — Shakespeare, great theater, history, etc. — in much the same way I am, and I think we'd have a scintillating conversation. Bruce Springsteen — to me, he is the ultimate American storyteller through his work and just sitting in his presence would be life-changing.

CHRISTINA: I think that table for four would draw quite a crowd! Try to make that happened, Maureen. (wink, wink)

You seem to have interviewed everyone in Hollywood, so I gotta ask: Who would you dreamcast in It Happened One Fight?

MAUREEN: Maybe it's just because I've seen her playing a feisty period woman on Mrs. Maisel for so long, but I think Rachel Brosnahan would make the perfect Joan. Dash is a bit harder to dreamcast. Glen Powell has that Old Hollywood vibe, which I find is actually very rare in contemporary leading men. Jack Huston would be my other choice because he's from a Hollywood dynasty and gives serious Clark Gable vibes.

CHRISTINA: Ooh, great casting choices. Jack Huston does have that Old Hollywood vibe. Swoon... I adored It Happened One Fight.

And that's a wrap! Thank you for taking time with me for this interview. I wish every good thing for you and this book.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Maureen Lee Lenker is an award-winning journalist who has written for Turner Classic Movies, The Hollywood Reporter, Ms. Magazine, and more. She is a Senior Writer for Entertainment Weekly, where she maintains a quarterly romance review column, Hot Stuff, in addition to covering film, TV, and theater. She is a proud graduate of both the University of Southern California and the University of Oxford. Maureen calls Los Angeles home, where you’ll either find her at the beach or in a repertory movie-house, if she’s not writing.

You can connect with Maureen via her website and social media.

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