Gene Wilder co-wrote
and stars in the A&E Original
Movie Murder in a Small Town. In the film, which is
set in 1938, Wilder portrays Cash, a former Broadway
director who flees to Stamford, Connecticut, after the
brutal murder of his wife. But instead of finding a
peaceful, bucolic life, Cash is reluctantly drawn into a
series of murder investigations. The following interview
with Wilder took place on the set in Toronto, Canada.
QUESTION: How did this project evolve?
Gene Wilder: Well, this is a strange thing.
Someone at A&E came to me and said, 'You think up a
character -- any character you like in a murder mystery.' I
immediately thought of the 1930s because I feel freer
writing if I remove it from present-day reality. I talked
to my partner in this, Gilbert Pearlman, and we started
thinking about what profession I might have and what the
story would be about. I'm very good with writing dialogue
and characters and Gilbert is very good with creating the
structure of a story, which is the hardest part for me.
Writing a comedy is murder.
It's harder than acting a comedy. Writing a murder mystery,
you have certain obligations, if it's going to be a good
one. But the audience should be intrigued all the time,
wondering, well, who did it? You know, who done it?
Are there clues that we can follow and is it a good story
and are there interesting characters? In a comedy, you
should have a good story and you should have good
characters, but it's got to be funny. You know, if you're
going to do a drama, there doesn't have to be more than two
laughs in the whole thing. But in a comedy, you've got a
couple of laughs on every page. So, it was easier for me to
write a murder mystery than it was to write a comedy.
QUESTION: You're known primarily for your comedic
work, but what many people may not know is that you are a
devoted mystery fan.
GW: I love murder mysteries. My wife, Karen,
and I, when we go to sleep at night, almost always tune in
to see if there's a murder mystery on the air. Sherlock
Holmes, with Jeremy Brett, who I think is the greatest
Sherlock Holmes I've ever seen, Miss Marple,
Silent Witness, Inspector Morse, A Touch of
Frost, Cracker -- they're some of my favorites.
I think that a huge chunk of America feels the same way
that my wife and I do. It just takes you out of the world
you've been in for the last fourteen, fifteen, sixteen
hours. You can let your mind go and involve yourself in
this murder that took place and try and figure out who did
it. And it's refreshing afterwards, if it's a good
QUESTION: What are some of the elements of a
GW: Well, if it's a two dimensional mystery --
that is, it has length and width, but no depth -- there's a plot
and you're trying to guess who killed the person. If it's a
three-dimensional mystery, which I hope this one is, you not only
see the people who are possible suspects, who might have killed this
person or these people, but they're so interesting in themselves
that you want to know more about their lives. If the story is coming
out of character, then it's what I'm calling a three-dimensional
movie. If it's just coming out of the action -- sock, slice, knife,
shoot, drown -- then it's two-dimensional. What Gilbert and I tried
to do is make this a three-dimensional murder mystery.
QUESTION: Is Cash like any other role you've every played?
GW: Cash is completely different from anything
I've done before. I'm not saying that there isn't comedy in
this. There is. There's humor. But this is not a comedy.
This is a murder mystery.
QUESTION: Describe the relationship between Cash and Tony.
GW: Well, when I write, I try to find someone
in life, living or dead, as a prototype, and in the case of
Tony I was thinking of a former mayor of Stamford,
Connecticut, Stan Esposito. We became good friends and we
worked on some projects together for the city. He's a big
man and cheerful, but when he's tough, he's tough. And
that's what I was thinking of for Tony. Then I saw Mike
Starr in Mad Dog And Glory and he was the essence of
everything that I wanted this character to be.
QUESTION: Do you give clues to the audience as to
whom the real villain is or do you want to keep them
completely in the dark?
GW: Well, I wanted to keep the audience
completely in the dark except that if they're really paying
attention, they might be able to figure it out. I don't
want to give anything away, but I think that it's in the
best tradition of murder mysteries that have to figure it
out. Which one did it? You know, a lot of people have
reasons, but which one did it?