Jim, I understand you were reluctant to sell the film and television rights. What convinced you?
JAMES COMEY Shane Salerno, one of the producers, turned me around. He said, “Tell us why you wrote this book.” I said, “Well, I wanted to be helpful, especially to young people, and try and offer a vision of these institutions and what leadership can be.” And he said, “If your book sells a million copies, it’ll be a huge nonfiction success. If a TV show has a million viewers, it’s canceled today.” He let that sink in and then he said: “Look, man, I know you’re uncomfortable. But if that’s your mission, get over your discomfort. Because kids aren’t going to read your book, but they will watch a show.”
What was your discomfort?
COMEY It was never one of my career goals to be a B-list celebrity. At first I wasn’t going to write a book. Then I wasn’t going to include the Trump chapters until my literary agents told me, “You’re crazy.” I just wanted the whole thing to go away. And the idea of a movie or TV show meant it was just going to be back in the public eye forever.
As it turns out, I’ve decided to stay in the public eye until the election, so it didn’t make that big a difference. But that was my discomfort. I just thought, “Oh, God, do I really need that?” And also, look, I’m sensitive to criticism, and one of the criticisms of me that I think is wrong but still hurts a little is this notion that I’m a showboat or that I want the attention. And I thought it would just feed that narrative.
Why did you trust Billy Ray to tell this story?
COMEY He asked me to watch “Shattered Glass,” to go back and watch “Breach” again. He said, “I’ve told difficult stories and I can tell them in a fair way.” And I was convinced he was right. Also, Patrice and I met him. Her verdict was, “Look, he’s a fair person.”
Jeff, what sold you on the role, especially coming off a year of eight shows a week on “To Kill a Mockingbird”?