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“American Fiction ”movie director reveals book author Percival Everett's reaction to 'frightening' screening

Writer-director Cord Jefferson's storied journey to bringing American Fiction to the big screen included a "frightening" chapter involving original book author Percival Everett.

Speaking Saturday at the Toronto International Film Festival, Jefferson — who previously worked on TV series like Succession and The Good Place — and The Farewell and Expats filmmaker Lulu Wang discussed the difficulties of adapting screenplays from popular works of literature, including screening their finished product for the creators of the original stories.

"It's scary, [you think] that you're going to destroy this piece of literature that people love," Jefferson said, referencing Everett's 2001 book Erasure, upon which American Fiction — a satire about an author and professor (Jeffrey Wright) who intentionally writes a successful book riddled with clichés about Black people — is based.

TORONTO, ONTARIO - SEPTEMBER 08: attends the "American Fiction" premiere during the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival at Royal Alexandra Theatre on September 08, 2023 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images); Jeffrey Wright in American Fiction. COURTESY OF TIFF /ORION RELEASING
TORONTO, ONTARIO - SEPTEMBER 08: attends the "American Fiction" premiere during the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival at Royal Alexandra Theatre on September 08, 2023 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images); Jeffrey Wright in American Fiction. COURTESY OF TIFF /ORION RELEASING

Robin Marchant/Getty; COURTESY OF TIFF /ORION RELEASING Director Cord Jefferson at TIFF 2023 and actor Jeffrey Wright in 'American Fiction'

"Percival has really rabid fans, and reasonably so," Jefferson continued. "That, to me, was the most frightening screening I did of the movie.... Percival came to my house and watched a cut with his wife."

Jefferson said Everett had a reassuring reaction to the film, though.

"I was just drenched in sweat by the time it was over. The nicest thing he said was, 'The thing that I like about it is that it feels like you made it your own, it feels like a different piece of art.' That was the highest praise you could get."

American Fiction — also starring Tracee Ellis Ross and Issa Rae — will be released on Nov. 3 in a limited number of theaters, followed by a nationwide rollout on Nov. 17.

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