An Interview with Laila Nabulsi

Editor’s Note: Gonzo Today’s Saira Viola speaks with Laila Nabulsi, the executive producer of the film, Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas. Nabulsi is also known for her work on Saturday Night Live, Prizzi’s Honor and Enemies: A Love Story.

Laila Nabulsi will be participating in a Panel Discussion Saturday night April 16, 9:20 to 10pm in The Gonzo Today Tent. Chaired by Douglas Brinkley will also include Juan & Jennifer & Will Thompson & Deborah Fuller.

A screening of ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ will be held Sunday, April 17 at 6:00pm at Baxter Avenue Theaters 1250 Bardstown Rd, Louisville, KY. Laila will give an intimate look into the film’s production and answer questions from the 200 lucky fans who get to be a part of this very special GONZO presentation. Tickets: $20 available here (click Buy Tickets button for options)

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Saira Viola: Welcome to Louisville: home to the Kentucky Derby, birthplace of Abe Lincoln, 95% of the world’s premier bourbon, and of course GonzoFest. Have you ever been to Louisville before? If so, what for, and when?

Laila Nabulsi: I first came to Louisville with Hunter to visit his mother Virginia Thompson, probably 1979 or 80. He wanted to call the preacher in the middle of the night and get married but I thought my mother would be upset not to be there so we didn’t do it. I have fond memories of that trip. The second time was when Hunter received the keys to the city and became a Kentucky Colonel. His son, Juan, also attended, as well as Johnny Depp. This was a key moment as I was able to strategize with Hunter and Johnny on how to proceed with the Fear and Loathing film, which had not yet been made. We had a lot of fun and Hunter was especially happy to return to his hometown to be celebrated. Now I will be returning for a third time for GonzoFest. It’s a bittersweet feeling to be coming to Louisville without Hunter, but it is very touching to be part of an event that honors him and to be with so many people who loved and appreciated his work.

SV: Can you tell us where you first met Hunter?

LN: I met him in John Belushi’s dressing room at Saturday Night Live before a show, probably 1977 or 8? It was, for both of us, what the French call “a coup de foudre,” which translated means “‘a bolt of lightning’ or ‘love at first sight.'” From that moment on, my life was never the same, and no matter how our relationship evolved and changed form, we remained confidants and collaborators – or co-conspirators, I should say. Ho ho.

SV: Can you explain a little about how you came to produce the movie, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas?

LN: There was a stage adaptation done in London by Lou Stein and Hunter and I went and saw it. That’s when I realized that it could work as a play or a film. However, Hunter had sold the film rights previously for ten grand in perpetuity! I hunted down the guys who had it (Shark Productions) and re-negotiated so Hunter would get the rights back in 7 years and I would get a movie made and they would finance some development costs. It took me a bit longer but It got done in the end! I’ve joked that having the rights was cheaper than palimony, but truthfully, I did it professionally and Hunter trusted me to see it through the right way. We had a wonderful creative partnership.

SV: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the novel, is such a unique work. What was the greatest challenge adapting the novel to the screen?

LN: The story is episodic – and staying true to the book in the face of that and not compromising it was hard to convince people of. There were many times that people argued for very traditional formulaic solutions to that. I didn’t want to do that in the end. I felt if the actors delivered we would take the ride with them and be on their side. Even if they seemed, on paper, to be somewhat reprehensible outlaws. I argued they were based on real counterculture people, a journalist, and a lawyer. Serious people who were fighting the good fight. There’s no need to rewrite Hunter’s dialogue. It’s comedically brilliant. It’s a dark comedy with a lot of irony in the dialogue and a fierce political heart. I tried to stay true to the book and to that end, even though the movie is its own monster. I’m proud of the work we all did.

SV: You’ve said making the film was a valentine to Hunter. What did you mean by that?

LN: Ah well, it was a labor of love for me, as well as for so many others who worked on the film. I wanted to make him happy. Make him proud. Luckily, he liked it. So I didn’t have to change my phone number or leave the country.

SV: Hunter said the Fear and Loathing film was like, “An eerie trumpet call over a lost battlefield.” Can you explain what he meant by that?

LN: He’s talking about the “Death of the American Dream”. The movie was an attempt to illustrate what he wrote about so poignantly in the “wave speech”. A moment in time when he realized that all the dreams of his generation to change things might not work out the way they had hoped and fought so hard for.

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Photos: GonzoFest 2015, into the night (top) ; bottom GonzoFest 2015 early on
Photo Credits: Doc Jeffurious Higgason, David Pratt, Kidman J. Williams & Clayton Luce