Jake Tapper on His New Novel and Taking His Talents to Tinseltown With a TV Adaptation

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The news never stops, but for Jake Tapper, it does occasionally share time with other creative pursuits.

Today, what’s lured him away from the CNN studio (temporarily) is the promotion of his new book. He’s seated on the patio of The Pendry, a West Hollywood social club meets hotel, drinking the first of several iced coffees, dressed casually — comparatively speaking, for a person whose day job requires suits pressed within an inch of their life — in a breezy button-down shirt and Air Jordans. He arrived early for the breakfast interview, due in part to the habits of a longtime live news anchor, but also because he’s on East Coast time, rising hours before most of Los Angeles.

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Tapper is releasing a third novel in his budding literary empire, which began with 2018’s The Hellfire Club, a political thriller that followed young Congressman Charlie Marder, and his wife, Margaret, after a car accident thrusts them into a conspiracy theory. In All the Demons Are Here, which hits shelves July 11, the now-grown Marder children take center stage in the late ‘70s: Ike is a Marine gone semi-AWOL in order to join up with Evel Knievel’s pit crew after a traumatic incident on the ground of the Lebanese civil war, and Lucy is a young reporter at a tabloid paper run by a Murdoch-like family intent on sensationalizing a string of local murders.

Tapper pulls a lot of his material from real life, and he says he wanted a way to talk about the rise of tabloid journalism, and how the Murdochs have exploited people’s most base fears for their own financial gain. “You look at how far they go to when they cover immigration in this country, even though Rupert himself is in favor of immigration reform and has said so many times,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “And we’ve seen what they’re capable of in terms of the Dominion settlement; they knew [the story] was a lie and they just kept going because they were afraid of losing viewers. It’s nuts.”

The idea for the alternating chapters on Evel Knievel came from a decidedly less fraught scenario: An annual trip to Jimmy Kimmel’s fishing lodge. The late night host is something of an aficionado, and two years ago Tapper was there with Johnny Knoxville, Adam Scott, Dax Shepherd and Jason Bateman. (“I don’t really know how the hell I got invited into this group,” he says. “It’s really Hollywood, and I’ll just be there like, ‘Does anybody want to talk about the debt ceiling?'”) After writing about the ’50s (Hellfire) and the ’60s (2021’s The Devil May Dance), he was in search of a good B-plot for the 1970s-centric novel that was due to his publisher. Several of the A-listers at the lodge were Evel Knievel obsessives and encouraged Tapper to learn more about the stunt performer — he was fascinated by what he describes as Knievel’s “snake oil salesman”-like tendencies — and the book came together.

Despite what Tapper’s self-deprecating jokes might suggest, he’s actually becoming quite a fixture in Hollywood. His first foray into the business came when Danny Strong bought the rights for his nonfiction book that became The Recount (“which nobody can watch now because it stars Kevin Spacey,” he quips), and in 2020 his nonfiction book The Outpost became a feature film starring Orlando Bloom and Scott Eastwood. He’s had cameos in Pitch Perfect 2, Late Night, The Politician and Glass Onion (to name a few). And he’s currently in the process of adapting Devil for television. There’s an attached showrunner — whose name he can’t announce because the writers strike hit before they’d prepared the official announcement, though he promises it’s someone known — with a deal at a prominent streamer. But he can share the origin story, and that Christian Slater is attached to play the lead (Charlie Marder).

After Tapper published Hellfire, he came out to Los Angeles to pitch it to streamers. HBO bought the rights and worked on a pilot script, and then, as he puts it, “everybody who was in love with the project got fired.” HBO was merging with Warner Media at the time, and the series never moved forward. Then, after The Devil May Dance hit shelves, he was filming a cameo for the FX miniseries Fleishman Is in Trouble; the scene involved Tapper (playing himself) interviewing Christian Slater (playing a fictional famous author). The two hit it off, and Tapper sent Slater his novels. “I thought he would make a great Charlie,” he says. “And he loved them, and his wife loved them, and then I met this showrunner person and sent him the books, and he loved them, too.”

The series is in “purgatory” right now, but they plan to proceed as soon as the WGA strike is over. Tapper won’t be part of the writers room, but there is talk of him co-writing the pilot script, and he plans to “pop in” every now and then, when he can. But mostly he’s learning to be patient with the whole process; a few elements of the business have taken him by surprise, and chief among them is the slow pace, especially as compared to the machinations of newsgathering. “I live in a world of deadlines, we have to do the show every day at 4 EST and there’s no, ‘Can we do this next week?'” he says. He’s also been taken aback by a vibe that can often feel like a high school personality contest — “Everything is about, ‘This person is really hot right now,’ regardless of whether or not the person is good” — and harsh audience feedback that can quickly cross a line. “I’m friends with Damon Lindelof, and I know that shit hurts people,” he says. “They hear it, and it bothers them, you know? It would bother me too.”

Both the new novel and the television adaptation are coming at a time of great upheaval for the media industry at large, and CNN in particular. The channel recently lost its embattled CEO, Chris Licht, after an explosive profile in The Atlantic, and WarnerMedia has been struggling to regulate itself under the hand of chairman David Zaslav. Tapper admits he doesn’t know what the cultural landscape is going to look like for news, television, movies or books in the future, and that the writers strike is only adding to a questionable long-term plan (“Is this just a way for CEOs to sit there and not have to pay for anything?” he wonders). It would be easy to assume that these forays into adjacent industries are a way to diversify his résumé — putting his eggs into as many baskets as possible — but he is quick to note that these are simply extracurriculars. “I love doing the news,” he says. “This stuff is just fun for me, I actually just enjoy doing it. And I know there’s always going to be a need for news.”

Tapper is a fixture on television screens each day, and when the book publishes, he’ll head off on a book tour, the first chance in years he’ll have to meet readers and viewers IRL. He feels a lot of pressure to market the novel, especially without being able to rely on the late night shows to get the word out. He even bought a burner phone to download TikTok and start building a BookTok presence (he’s not supposed to have the app on his main cell because of national security reasons). “I don’t feel like I have to promote my show, because CNN does that and people tune in not for me, but because they want to know what’s going on in the world,” he says. “Fiction is like, ‘Hey, I built this little world, do you want to come with me?'”

When he’s out on the road, he expects a certain line of questioning. People often want to ask him about Fox News, about Trump, and he says that in general they have lots of opinions about politics and media to share. His nature is to be more responsive than the CNN public relations team would prefer, so he’s working on being better about using his rote dinner party response to similar lines of questioning. As breakfast wraps up, he offers a run-through of what might happen if someone takes a line of questioning a bit too far.

“I give a noncommittal smile,” he starts. “And say, ‘That’s a conversation I’d love to have with you at some other time, but I’m not really here to talk about that.'” The line delivery is excellent — something his fishing lodge buddies would be proud of.

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