Actress-turned-screenwriter Jennifer Salt has had an eclectic career. The daughter of Oscar-winning screenwriter Waldo Salt (Coming Home; Serpico), Jennifer began her acting career in the late 1960s, just when a new wave of moviemakers were being given the reins by the studios to make more personal, thought-provoking, offbeat work. Some of her credits during this heady time include Midnight Cowboy (for which her father won an Oscar), Hi, Mom!, Play It Again, Sam, Brewster McCloud and Sisters (in which she starred with former roommate Margot Kidder). She next focused her attention on television, appearing in several programs, including a recurring role on the sitcom “Soap.” By the early ’90s, Salt decided to retire from acting, only to re-emerge several years later as a TV writer. Her big writing break came when she was hired as a writer-producer on the daring FX series, “Nip/Tuck.” She remained on the series for its full six season run, and was nominated for a WGA Award in 2006.
Salt is currently making the transition to the big screen, with her much-anticipated adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat Pray Love, starring Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem and James Franco. Salt co-wrote the script with director Ryan Murphy, who, not uncoincidentally, created “Nip/Tuck,” as well as TV’s current sensation, “Glee.” The movie revolves around a woman (played by Roberts) who, after a series of painful personal issues, decides to take an around-the-world journey to gain a different outlook on life. Just before the movie’s release on August 13, Salt told MM about the challenges of adapting a popular book into a movie and why she decided to shift her career from acting to writing.
Kyle Rupprecht (MM): What made you decide to retire from acting, and begin a writing career? Did your father’s success as a screenwriter have any influence over your decision?
Jennifer Salt (JS): I retired from acting because I was feeling unsatisfied with the kind of roles I was auditioning for. It’s an awkward time for a woman (being in her 40s) if she hasn’t become a household name; it was just TV lawyers and moms basically. But I also have to admit that when I began writing, it felt better than acting ever felt. I enjoyed the privacy of writing, being totally creative but absolutely on my own creatively (at least in the beginning stages of a script, before the “development process” begins). I did not start writing until after my father died; I did not even consider it. I guess he was a very daunting, brilliant presence—I didn’t resent it, I just didn’t allow myself to hear the call until he was gone.
MM: How did you get involved in adapting Eat Pray Love, with Ryan Murphy, for the big screen?
JS: Ryan Murphy had shared the book with me, just as a friend. Then, after we both loved it, he came to me and said he was going to do it as a film and he wanted me to adapt it with him.
MM: What do you think accounts for the book’s popularity? Why has it struck a chord with so many readers?
JS: It’s a book about transforming your life; giving yourself permission to do something original and personal with your life, which often flies in the face of other people’s needs or expectations. I think it’s a privilege more frequently extended to men, so this is a powerful inspiration for women, especially when you’re over 25! It takes guts. And Elizabeth had the guts, while maintaining kindness and good will toward those around her who were hurt or disappointed.
MM: What was the biggest challenge in adapting the book into a movie?
JS: How do you take a memoir—basically an interior monologue—with no real story in the traditional movie sense, and turn it into a big, Julia Roberts movie that will appeal to the big audience it deserves? We had to take out a story without betraying the truth of the book. Ultimately, the story was found in the details.
MM: Now that “Nip/Tuck” has ended, do you have any writing projects in the works? Are you interested in writing for another TV series, or would you rather focus on features?
JS: I’m creating a TV series based on a memoir called Foreign Babes in Beijing by Rachel DeWoskin, about her ex-pat days in Beijing. She and her husband, playwright Zayd Dohrn, and I are writing the pilot for HBO. It’s about losing and finding yourself in this energetic, emerging global culture of Beijing. It’s a fascinating international scene, completely original both culturally and visually.
MM: What’s the best piece of advice you would offer to someone wishing to change careers? What’s the biggest challenge?
JS: The biggest challenge is how many people will tell you the reasons it won’t work, and how you hang on to a real belief in yourself while learning the rules of the game at the same time. It’s a constant juggling act—you have to be tough and fluid at the same time.