John Grisham Talks Hit Storylines, Morning Writing, and His First Reaction to Matthew McConaughey

The bestselling author also discusses his new book, The Exchange, in a candid G&G Reads conversation


Before a conversation with John Grisham at the Garden & Gun offices in Charleston, South Carolina, this week, contributing editor Jonathan Miles only slightly exaggerated when he introduced Grisham as the author of some forty-eight consecutive number-one bestsellers “which have sold an estimated thirty-three zillion copies worldwide.”

Their discussion, before a packed house, launched G&G Reads, the magazine’s new book club. The club’s first title is Grisham’s new The Exchange, the long-awaited sequel to his 1991 breakout hit The Firm. During the interview, Miles peppered in questions submitted by G&G Reads members, and chatted with Grisham about his early struggles to get published, some of the secrets behind his success (waking up early every morning to write, for one), and the film adaptations of some of his books. “I’ve been very lucky with Hollywood,” Grisham said. “I’ve had nine movies, and we’ve enjoyed watching all of them.”

A crowd watches John Grisham and Jonathan Miles seated on a stage

Photo: MKMC Photography

Grisham and Miles chat at the G&G offices in Charleston, South Carolina.

With his wife of more than forty years, Renee, sitting in the front row, Grisham told the story of casting a young Matthew McConaughey as the lead of Jake Brigance in the 1996 movie A Time to Kill. “I retained some controls over casting,” he explained, “because I was very concerned about who they would cast to be Jake. And it got to be really, really contentious because they had this full-blown budget, they had a really good screenplay, they had Samuel L. Jackson and Sandra Bullock, and both the Sutherlands, and Oliver Platt, all these really great actors. Great cast. They had no star.”

A person holds a copy of The Exchange

Photo: MKMC Photography

Attendees received a copy of The Exchange. See more photos of the event.

Grisham recalled that a handful of big names were thrown around. “I said, ‘Those guys are never gonna make it in a Southern courtroom with a coat and tie and fake a Southern accent, it’s just not gonna work.’” As the audience laughed, he described how lawyers even got involved. “I said ‘Go back and read the contract. I have the absolute, ultimate veto right over the casting of Jake.’ Which I could get back then.”

The film was almost ready to start shooting when director Joel Schumacher had an epiphany. “He says, ‘Wait a minute. Time out. I know a guy. He was on the set of another movie, and have you heard of, have you seen…’ [Grisham turned to his wife and asked] What was the movie, Renee? Dazed and Confused.”

Schumacher then pulled McConaughey for a screen test and overnighted the tape to the Grishams. “So Renee and I are waiting at the door for FedEx to show up,” Grisham said, “and we get the cassette, we plug it in, and there’s Matthew in the office, perfect accent—he didn’t have an accent, he has a perfect way of speaking—and he’s smoking a cigar, and I said, ‘This kid’s got it.’ Renee said, ‘I think I’m in love.’”

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