“Did you cry?” Jojo Moyes asked.
The author wanted to know if the film version of her best-selling novel “Me Before You” had brought a viewer to tears. It was a reasonable question: Her book, a love story about a wheelchair-bound young man who falls for his caretaker, has emotionally devastated its 6 million readers.
So she’s hoping the movie adaptation, which stars Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin, has the same effect.
“I’ve been standing in the back of the theater during screenings, waiting to see who’s sniffing,” said the 46-year-old Brit, calling from her home in Essex. “If it’s not 70 percent or above, I’m not pleased.”
Moyes, of course, has a lot invested in the film. Not only did she write the screenplay — her first — but she’s also been trying to get an adaptation of her 2012 novel made for years. After the book’s initial publication in Britain, its movie rights were snatched up almost immediately. Everything was on track until she got a call informing her that a French picture called “The Intouchables,” about a wealthy quadriplegic who strikes up an unlikely friendship with his live-in caretaker, was also in the works.
“The distributors of my film pulled out because they said there can’t be two films about quadriplegics,” Moyes recalled. “I was gutted.”
Fortunately, things turned around pretty quickly. When “Me Before You” was published in the U.S. in January 2013, the New York Times Sunday Book Review gave the novel a rave review. Suddenly, Moyes had calls from a dozen producers interested in turning her book into a movie.
She went with Warner Bros., which is releasing the film Friday. And then Karen Rosenfelt, a producer on the project, asked Moyes if she’d ever considered writing the screenplay herself — a prospect the writer had assumed “would be the studio’s worst nightmare.”
So she began to entertain the idea, giving herself a crash-course in screenwriting. She went online and started reading the scripts of all the films she loved — everything from “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” to “Alien.” Her varied writing background helped too: Not only did Moyes have almost a dozen books under her belt at the time but she’d also spent years working as a journalist. Until 2000, Moyes was a reporter at the British newspaper the Independent, where she’d covered the death of Princess Diana and sectarian violence in Belfast.
“I ended up loving the process and went on set every day,” said the writer, who is married to a journalist and has three children. “My favorite thing was punching up the scenes with the director. It was a bit like being in a newsroom, with all the adrenaline and camaraderie.”
Moyes took to screenwriting so well that she’s already adapted another of her novels, “One Plus One.” Still, the impending release of “Me Before You” is keeping her up nights. It’s “far scarier,” she said to release a movie than a book — fans have expectations, there’s more money at stake and, of course, at least 70 percent of the audience has to cry.
“This book — more than any of my books — is important to me because it’s the book that changed my life,” she said. “And I’m the parent of a disabled child. What I want to convey with the story is that a disability is the least important part of a person. You can fall in love with them, be irritated by them, laugh with them — what someone is physically able to do should be unimportant.”