Author Interviews


"The Spy Who Jumped Off the Screen" is a new novel by Thomas Caplan, his third work of fiction. As the title suggests, Mr. Caplan attempts to flip conventions. His hero is a movie star who is called Ty Hunter. You have to be a certain age to get that joke.

But movies are Ty Hunter's second career. His first in real life was top secret, Delta Force, Navy SEAL sorts of adventures. In this book, he's called back to that kind of action again by no less a person than the commander-in-chief.

Thomas Caplan joins us now. Welcome, Mister Caplan.

THOMAS CAPLAN: Thank you very much, nice to be here.

WERTHEIMER: Now, I understand that you are also personally acquainted with a commander-in-chief.

CAPLAN: That is true because of the luck of the alphabet. I was a student at Georgetown University when we arrived as heady freshmen in 1964. Because of the alphabet, I was assigned room next to Bill Clinton and we've remained friends ever since. And we later became roommates.

WERTHEIMER: The former president wrote an introduction for your book.

CAPLAN: I was going to say he actually helped to edit an earlier draft, 'cause I knew he's a great fan of thrillers and sort of reads them, one after another, and knows an awful lot about them. And when I had done this, which was my first thriller, I asked him to read it and he made some wonderful comments.

WERTHEIMER: Well, one of the scenes is where the movie star, who used to lead a thrilling life, is reactivated by the president. Maybe you could read just a tiny portion of that scene for us.

CAPLAN: Right. This is a conversation with the president, Garland White, Ty Hunter - we've talked about - and a man called George Kenneth, who is the president's national security adviser.

WERTHEIMER: And this takes place in one of the...

CAPLAN: At Camp David.

WERTHEIMER: ...lodges at Camp David?

CAPLAN: In Aspen Lodge, to which Ty has been summoned. Aspen Lodge is the cabin which is the president's house, where he and his family live.

(Reading) You're the man on the ground, Ty, the person we all agree we've been lacking. You're not what we call an invisible, exactly. Rather you're invisible precisely because you're so damned visible. You have a reason to be anywhere, everywhere. Ty could no longer contain his laughter. What's so funny, George Kenneth asked? Ty inhaled a deep breath. In my line of work, you get used to being pitched, he said, but not by the president of the United States.

WERTHEIMER: Now to ridiculously simplify your plot, you've written about loose nukes and people who are trying to negotiate a sale of supposedly decommissioned nuclear weapons to the highest bidder.

CAPLAN: That's correct.

WERTHEIMER: So, did you get any assistance on what might be real or not about such a plot, from your very high-level editor?


CAPLAN: it's funny because when I showed President Clinton the early draft, the first thing he said to me was: Who told you all this about nuclear weapons.


CAPLAN: I said now, no one really. I just, you know, read all of the available books on and chatted to people. But obviously I have no access to such things. And he said, well, it's completely right. And including, interestingly, which satisfied me in a way, the motivations of the people who might be trying to do this, and the rationalizations they have for their own behavior.

WERTHEIMER: You're talking about the villains, especially the arch bad guy whose name is Philip Frost.


WERTHEIMER: You spend a lot of time with him in the book. Did he interest you more than the good guy?

CAPLAN: No, I think it was much more about the good guy. But each stands in relief to the other. I mean they're both roughly the same age. They both have promising careers. And one has chosen to sort of do the right thing. And another person has chosen, really, to be only interested in gain or perhaps power.

WERTHEIMER: To make a huge amount of money doing one awful thing and then vanish, isn't that his plan?

CAPLAN: Well, I think that's one of his plans. I think the interesting thing is in the psychology of somebody like this. He is looking for ways to tell himself that it's not a bad thing that he's doing. Very few people act, in my experience, out of the evil motives. At least they may do evil things, but they try to tell themselves that what they're doing is the right thing. And that's what I've tried to give that character, a sense of being very acute at fooling themselves.

WERTHEIMER: So, are you getting any interest from the movies? I mean any chance that the spy might jump back on the screen?

CAPLAN: A lot of people have expressed some interest and my agent...


CAPLAN: in charge of this, not me. Yeah, I'd love to see it happen. But I'd like to see it happen in the right way.

WERTHEIMER: One problem that I see, of course, is that you'd have an actor playing an actor who's playing a spy. I mean that's a complicated thing to be doing.

CAPLAN: You think so? I – an actor can play anything. I mean there have been other actors who, at various times in their careers, were engaged in espionage of one sort. Well-known Leslie Howard - "Gone with the Wind," everyone remembers - and Sterling Hayden. There've been a lot who at, one time or another, who have done this.

So I think I have a certain vision of Ty in my mind. I suspect readers will have slightly varied impression. But I think, I can think of a lot of people who could do it.


WERTHEIMER: You're casting it already, huh?



WERTHEIMER: So, do you see a potential series here? Do you think you'll return to this character?

CAPLAN: I'm sure I will, yeah. In fact, I'm almost through the sequel...


CAPLAN: ...of books. So, I've very much liked the character. I mean there may be a bit of fantasy involved, because I'm not either a movie star nor or a covert operative. But it's fun to sit down every day and write about, not yourself, but write about your characters as though you were putting yourself in the mind of the world's number one film star who, you know, has to fight off every beautiful woman and is staggeringly lucky in his work.

I had an editor who I was working with at Viking, who is just terrific. And I was discussing one section of the book, and she suggested that I change one line of dialogue. And I said, well, I think he'd say that. She said, I don't think he would. We went back and forth. And I said, well, I'd say it. And she said, But you're not Ty Hunter.


CAPLAN: And I said, Allison, don't ever say that to me again.


CAPLAN: But it is fun. I have to say I'm enjoying it enormously.

WERTHEIMER: Tom Caplan, thank you very much for coming in to talk to us.

CAPLAN: Thank you very much for having me, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Thomas Caplan's new book is called "The Spy Who Jumped Off the Screen."

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from