“Body of Lies”, adapted from David Ignatius’ novel of the same name, is the latest film from Ridley Scott (“Alien”, “Gladiator”, “Black Hawk Down”) and will be released into theaters this Friday, October 10th 2008. The spy-thriller, featuring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, follows a CIA operative, Roger Ferris (DiCaprio), who uncovers a lead on a major terrorist leader suspected to be operating out of Jordan.

I had the unique opportunity to interview David Ignatius and ask him about the story behind the first big screen treatment of his work which has spanned two decades and six novels. I’ve split the interview between two installments, the first of which is below with the second posting tomorrow. If you’ve missed the trailer, you can watch that here.

Hollywood Hills: What was the inspiration behind your novel “Body of Lies”?

David Ignatius: I have always been interested in how intelligence organizations seek to penetrate their adversaries. My first novel, “Agents of Innocence,” was about how the CIA recruited and ran Arafat’s chief of intelligence as a penetration agent inside the PLO. The first title for “Body of Lies,” in fact, was “Penetration.” My publisher nixed that, arguing that people would think it was a book you had to hide in a brown paper wrapper.

“Body of Lies” is about recruiting agents inside Al Qaeda. It’s also about deception operations, another theme that has fascinated me since I began writing spy novels more than 20 years ago. I did a good deal of research for the book, among former CIA officers and especially among members of the Jordanian intelligence service, the GID. The key Jordanian character in the book, Hani Salaam, is a composite of a number of the colorful characters in the Jordanian GID.

HWH: When writing “Body of Lies”, did you envision certain actors in the roles? If so, how close do DiCaprio and Crowe match what you saw?

Ignatius: I try to build up my characters in my head, not from celluloid footage, so I frankly had no idea who might play the roles—or, indeed, whether it would ever be a movie. That said, now that the movie is out, I will never be able to think of the book’s two leading characters, Roger Ferris and Ed Hoffman, without thinking of Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. They now own the fictional characters I invented, because they have made them real on the screen.

HWH: How did the screenplay deviate from your book?

Ignatius: Inevitably, the screenplay had to cut a lot of material, to make a two-hour movie out of a 350 page book. But the screenwriter, Bill Monahan, found a way to draw a straight story line through my material, and I think all of the main themes of the book are captured well in the film. I am really happy with the way it turned out.

Check back tomorrow for the second half of my interview with David Ignatius where he details his involvement with production of “Body of Lies”, which of his other books are being adapted, and what has been the best part of working with Hollywood.

“Body of Lies” releases in theaters this Friday, October 10th 2008.

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