A quick chat with Nantucket’s own bestseller, Nathaniel Philbrick.
N MAGAZINE: Ron Howard recently wrapped up filming the big screen adaptation of your bestselling book about the whaleship Essex. Did you ever dream that In the Heart of the Sea would become a major feature film?
PHILBRICK: I actually sold the movie rights to the book back in 2000. But I must admit, after more than a decade of not much happening, I had begun to have my doubts about the story ever becoming an actual movie.
N MAGAZINE: What was it like collaborating with such a legendary director?
PHILBRICK: Ron Howard is a very down-to-earth, straight-shooting guy; I feel very lucky that he decided to take on the story. It’s been fun talking to him about the challenges of translating the book to the screen.
N MAGAZINE: You had the opportunity to play an extra during filming. How did you feel being transported back to the Nantucket of old? As a history buff, would you prefer to live in that era?
PHILBRICK: It was truly surreal, stepping onto a set with several wharves and a bunch of old buildings, one of which looked almost exactly like the Pacific National Bank — all of it surrounded by a giant water tank. I might be a history buff, but I’m quite content living in the 21st century. It’s easy to romanticize the past and forget just how brutal, dirty, smelly, and exploitative whaling was in the nineteenth century.
N MAGAZINE: What is the latest news on Ben Affleck directing the film adaption of Bunker Hill?
PHILBRICK: Not much to report at this stage. Given how long it took with In the Heart of the Sea, I’ve learned to be patient.
N MAGAZINE: You are an advocate of reading Moby-Dick. Is there a character you most connect with in Melville’s novel? Who would you be if you were on the Pequod and why?
PHILBRICK: I would definitely be Ishmael — not only is he the character I most identify with, he’s the only one who made it out alive.
N MAGAZINE: What are you working on now?
PHILBRICK: Bunker Hill is going to be the first in a trilogy about the Revolution, so I’m now deep into the research and writing of a book with the tentative title of Saratoga.
N MAGAZINE: There are so many festivals on Nantucket. How is the Nantucket Book Festival different than anything else on the island?
PHILBRICK: One of the great things about the Book Festival is that it happens in June, before the summer gets too crazy. For me, someone who spends most of his time alone in a room with his word processor, it’s really wonderful to have the chance to hang out with not only the other authors but all the readers. It’s amazing how quickly the Book Festival has become such an important and vibrant part of the community.
N MAGAZINE: How does Nantucket continue to inspire your writing?
PHILBRICK: The sense of community on Nantucket — particularly in the offseason — is unlike anything I’ve experienced anywhere else. Maybe it’s the isolation and the and the proximity of the ocean, but there is an edgy intensity about this place that I begin to miss after just a few weeks away — even in February.