The actor/writer came to Buckhead Friday night to share tales from “One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories,” his latest book that is as funny as the comedic roles the actor has played on TV and in movies.
Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd at the Atlanta History Center’s McElreath Hall, Novak read from his book, a collection of short stories which ranks sixth on the New York Times’ hardcover fiction best seller list. He also dispensed advice during a question-and-answer session afterwards.
“Be great. …. Write the best screenplay ever written, and then lock it in a safe. If it’s as good as it’s supposed to be, directors will be trying to crack open that safe,” he told an aspiring female writer who asked what advice he could give. “The reason [many] movies are so bad is the actors have to do something and would kill for a good script. Be very hard on yourself.”
Novak, who was not available for an interview after the event, part of the center's winter/spring lecture series. He is perhaps best known for his role as Ryan Howard on “The Office,” where he also was a member of the show’s writing team. The Massachusetts native has a bachelor’s degree in English and Spanish literature from Harvard.
In “Saving Mr. Banks,” released late last year, he played Robert Sherman, who with brother Richard formed the songwriting duo for some hit musical films, including “Mary Poppins” and “The Jungle Book.”
In “One More Thing,” Novak’s stories range from a tale of John Grisham’s latest book being released with the wrong name to a follow-up on the “Tortoise and the Hare,” in which the Hare gets a rematch.
“[Before the race] the Hare whispered to the Tortoise, ‘I’ve never told anyone this, but I’m actually a rabbit,’” he said. “This wasn’t true. The Hare just said it to [mess] with him.”
During the Q&A, someone asked about how Novak handles the creative process as a writer.
“It’s very difficult on a personal level and very easy on a group level,” he said. “You can sit in a room with nine or 10 people and not say anything but one joke and that joke becomes a classic joke [on ‘The Office’] even though [actor/writer] Mindy [Kaling] wrote almost the entire episode.”
Then a sixth-grade girl asked, “Everyone in school is interested in Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus. Do I go to school and bring a picture of you and say ‘Look at this picture’ and have them say, ‘Who is that guy?’”
Said Novak, “Points for honesty. I think you just tell them you saw Justin Bieber. We’ll know. … Stay true to yourself and know that you have good taste, and the others will grow into it.”
Later a 17-year-old Georgia State student who is aspiring to be an actor/writer/director/producer asked about writing.
“Writing for an audience is very important,” Novak said. “If your friends want to see what you’re writing next, that’s good. [Growing up], I did write to make my friends laugh.
“I had never written anything in this format until two years ago but I had good training from my background. … Most of these stories do come from a personal place.”