Duane Swierczynski’s ‘The Blonde’

BUYER: Michelle Monaghan will star in “The Blonde.”
BUYER: Michelle Monaghan will star in “The Blonde.”
(Carlos Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

April 24, 2008

The deal

Michelle Monaghan options the film rights to Duane Swierczynski’s “The Blonde,” a noir-techno thriller about a femme fatale who has a time bomb ticking inside her and a hapless airport traveler who will die unless he remains shackled to her.

The players

Monaghan (“Mission: Impossible III” and “Gone Baby Gone”) to play the female lead; Paul Leyden (Simon Frasier on “As the World Turns” and writer of “The Factory” starring John Cusack) is writing the screenplay and is represented by Paradigm. Swierczynski is represented by DHS Literary Inc. and, on film rights, by Angela Cheng Caplan. The book is published by St. Martin’s Minotaur.

The back story

As pickup lines go, this one’s a beaut: A guy sits down at an airport bar and the drop-dead blond next to him says: “I poisoned your drink.” When he tries to blow her off, she lifts her Cosmopolitan and says, “Cheers.” This opening, and the breakneck plot that follows, was enough to sell Leyden on “The Blonde.” The TV actor turned screenwriter, who said he’d been trolling the Internet “like a crack addict” looking for material to adapt, conceded that “the rights to big books are usually taken by studios before they hit the stores. But I saw an opening here, and I instantly thought of Michelle.”

Monaghan and Leyden had been looking to collaborate (he’s married to her best friend), and the actress was drawn to the gritty novel based in Philadelphia: “After acting in ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,’ I wanted to find another great noir story that I could be part of,” Monaghan said. The book “has all of those classic elements with a modern twist,” she added, because the male lead gets involved with a woman who may have given him a slow-acting poison. “And, of course, this mystery woman is much more than what she seems.”

In fact, the blond spends much of the novel in a coma, which is not the film Leyden had in mind. But not to worry: He met in Philadelphia with Swierczynski, who also works as a writer for Marvel Comics. He’s open to plot adjustments, noting: “You can do oddball things in a novel, but a film has to be more expansive.” For his part, Leyden vows to be faithful to other elements of the novel -- especially the opening scene. “That is something we’re holding on to, no matter what.”