The image of a swashbuckling cavalryman valiantly grasping his steed’s reins, wind whipping through his hair as Catherine the Great’s palace looms in the distance graces the cover of Randall Wallace’s latest novel, Love and Honor. Wallace will be speaking about the novel at the College on Monday, 27 September, at 7:30 p.m. in the University Center Commonwealth Auditorium. The film version of the story, starring Angelina Jolie as Catherine the Great, written and directed by Wallace, is set to be released this Christmas.
“What isn’t there to like about his movies?,” asks College freshman Sarah Gowen, who attended Wallace’s book signing Sunday afternoon at the College Bookstore.
Best known for writing the screenplay for the Academy Award and Golden Globe winning movie Braveheart and the novel on which it is based, Wallace is also the writer and executive director of Pearl Harbor and the writer, director, and producer of We Were Soldiers and The Man in the Iron Mask. Following these successes, Wallace returned to the 1600 pages of manuscript he wrote between 1983 and 1987 that would eventually become Love and Honor.
“When I started with Love and Honor I only had the vaguest sense of where the story might go. I had no sense of how it was going to get there,” Wallace said. “So I got up every morning and let it unfold. I kind of learned to write with that process. I learned to love to write with that process.”
The story that Wallace wove during those four years is that of an American cavalryman who is sent to Russia by Benjamin Franklin to stop Catherine the Great from supplying England with aid in crushing the American Revolution. Adventure, romance, and victory ensue.
“Virginia was the leading colony in the revolution,” said Wallace. “I wanted him (Kieran Selkirk, the protagonist in the novel) to be educated in the best possible institution, and at that time that was William and Mary.” There are several references to the College in the novel, which Clay Harrison, a Williamsburg resident, appreciates.
Harrison and his wife and son were among the Wallace admirers who attended the book signing. Harrison notes that the first forty pages of the book are full of action and information about the American Revolution.
“The opening I think is the best opening I’ve ever written because it’s exciting and effective in introducing the characters and the danger that they face,” said Wallace.
He described his favorite scene in the novel, apart from the introduction, to be a passage in which the characters find harmony together as they celebrate Christmas in St. Petersburg. The scene is intensely personal to Wallace. Because it reminds him of the death of his father three years ago (in the passage, Selkirk misses his father, who is thousands of miles away in America), he has not yet succeeded in reading the entire scene aloud for an audience.
Indeed, family is a priority for Randall Wallace. He is a self-proclaimed homebody, and he admits that like the movie industry itself, touring is a lonely occupation. Because of the hostility of the business, Wallace formed his own production company, Wheelhouse Productions.
“They say if you’re not a liberal when you’re young, you don’t have a heart, and if you’re not conservative when you’re old, you don’t have a brain,” Wallace said. “I think it’s my duty to educate [the people who work for Wheelhouse Productions].” The company is completely staffed by employees under thirty years old, with the exception of Wallace, who explained that he does not like labels, and that being an American is more important than the party with which one affiliates.
Emotionality is not unusual for Wallace. When struggling with the short story form in a class, he was told by one of his professors that he was “trying to fit an ocean of emotion into a teacup,” Wallace said. After overcoming his initial hesitation towards an undertaking as daunting as writing a novel, Wallace found that this venue, and the movies and screenplays that followed, satisfactorily expressed his taste for the epic and romantic.
“I think that every person is the hero of their own life, and life does matter. Each of us so often feels insignificant. The profoundest moments in life are the ones that make us understand that we matter to someone, and that to me is the essence of faith and the essence of love,” he said.
One such profound moment for Wallace came during his visit to St. Petersburg, where Wallace was directing the filming of Love and Honor earlier this year. Wallace described the fascination of seeing the castle of Catherine the Great, which had recently been rebuilt when Wallace visited. Wallace compared the feeling of experiencing history at the palace with the time warping quality of Colonial Williamsburg.
Randall Wallace’s talk on Monday promises to be in keeping with his grand style. Wallace plans to speak about his own college years, as well as his stint as a singer/songwriter in Nashville before becoming involved in movies and television.
“I approach talks about the way I do writing. I want it to be alive and spontaneous,” he said. “I believe young adults are eager to be passionate in their lives and in their work. They’re eager to find something authentic within themselves and within the world, and I like to connect with them on that basis. It sounds corny, but it’s the way I feel.”