15Q: Lawrence G. Wright



Lawrence G. Wright has traveled all over the world, but he still speaks with a Texas twang. On Jan. 31, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author spoke at the Brattle Square Theatre about his latest book, “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief.” Between several book talks and a trip to London, FM caught up with Wright over the phone to ask him about his career and the controversies surrounding his new book.



Lawrence G. Wright has traveled all over the world, but he still speaks with a Texas twang. On Jan. 31, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author spoke at the Brattle Square Theatre about his latest book, “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief.” Between several book talks and a trip to London, FM caught up with Wright over the phone to ask him about his career and the controversies surrounding his new book.

1. Fifteen Minutes: How did you first become interested in pursuing writing as a career?

Lawrence G. Wright: It happened when I was in ninth grade in Dallas, Texas. I had an English teacher who would write little essays, which I thought were delightful. It was the first time I really considered the possibility that writing could be my life.

2. FM: You’ve written magazines features, screenplays, stage plays, and books. How does your writing style vary throughout each medium?

LW: Fundamentally, it’s all storytelling. For me, it’s very helpful to have the experience of writing in different mediums. Each form enriches the other. What I learned from writing non-fiction was how to research. What I learned from writing plays and movies was the importance of theme and character in telling a story.

3. FM: What was it like conducting research for “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11”?

LW: Writing “The Looming Tower” was more of a mission than just taking on a book. I had co-written a movie called “The Siege” with Bruce Willis and Denzel Washington and it prefigured a lot of what happened on 9/11. I had lived in the Arab world, so in some ways I was not uniquely qualified, but unusual in terms of my experiences. I thought I should go and try to find out what had actually happened. I really wanted to get it down and get it right. Writing that book taught me a lot about journalism and how to write that kind of book.

4. FM: You taught in Cairo for two years when you were much younger. Did your experiences in Egypt influence your writing of “The Looming Tower”?

LW: The culture wasn’t that exotic to me; I’d lived in it. I felt like I could write more authentically about the personalities, especially Al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s number two guy at the time. I felt like I was much more acquainted with those personalities than a lot of people would have been because I had taught there, had a lot of Egyptian friends, and loved the culture.

5. FM: What was it like to perform your one-man show, “My Trip to al-Qaeda”?

LW: When I finished “The Looming Tower,” a lot of people asked me, “What was it like to talk to those people and what were your experiences?” I realized I hadn’t processed that thought myself, and I hadn’t really had time to sit down and think about how the experience had changed me. I decided that this would be a way for me to explore these questions as well. I like the intimacy of theatre. I call what I did nonfiction theater. This was really a blending of documentary filmmaking with the actual theatrical experience.

6. FM: Summarize your new book “Going Clear” in 15 words.

LW: Why do people join Scientology? What do they get from it? Why do they leave?

7. FM: What prompted you to write about Scientology?

LW: In America we can believe anything that we want, and in a lot of countries that’s not true. In America we have so many different religions, and we are constantly inventing new ones. I had written a good deal about religion in the past. I’ve written about the Amish and the Mormons, the Southern Baptists and the Pentecostals. I’ve really done a lot of writing about religion because I think that religion is much more accountable than politics in terms of shaping actual behavior and changing society. I was interested in Scientology for years, and I was looking for a way to get into the story. When Paul Haggis talked out, I thought there—that’s my way in.