Interview: “Addicted” Co-Screenwriter Christina Welsh

This interview was originally posted in September on whatwouldmoniquedo.com, which is now closed. It was subsequently posted on COLOR’s Tumblr page. 

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Christina Welsh is no stranger to the world of celebrities and film. But instead of covering Hollywood as a journalist, she’s getting ready for the premiere of Addicted, derived from Zane’s popular book of the same name. Welsh has turned in her microphone to focus on screenwriting full time, and now the screenplay, which features both Welsh and Ernie Barbarash with writing credits, will bring Zane’s book to life on the big screen.

 

I was very excited to talk to Welsh and learn more about her writing process, what it was like to adapt Addicted, and what it’s like to live between the worlds of journalism and screenwriting (two worlds we are both familiar with).  Addicted, directed by Bille Woodruff and starring Sharon Leal and Boris Kodjoe, William Levy, Kat Graham, and Tyson Beckford, comes to theaters Oct. 10.

Monique: How excited are you for the upcoming debut of “Addicted”?

Christina: I’m very, very excited [laughs]. I started work on this in 2006, so overnight sensation [laughs]. It’s amazing to get any movie made in Hollywood these days, but I’m just really, really proud we got this film made. The book was fantastic–when I read it, I said I’ve got to be involved in this. [There’s] terrific writing; Zane created such a rich world and a great lead character. I’m just so proud to be part of it and so excited to see it hit theaters. It almost went into production about seven years ago, but the timing wasn’t right. Everything happens when it’s supposed to and I think the end product is great. I’m very excited to see what happens.

Zoe Reynard (Sharon Leal) and Jason Reynard (Boris Kodjoe) in ADDICTED. Photo Courtesy of Lionsgate.

Monique: You researched sex addiction before writing the screenplay. How did that knowledge help with the writing process?

Christina: It was supplemental to me because Zane created such a rich world for this character and what she goes through in her personal experience and what drives her to her sex addiction. For me, I wanted to gain a general knowledge of the issue because it’s something a lot of people didn’t know about. I think we all know about drug addiction and alcoholism and other types of addictions.  But sex addiction is something that I think has really come to the forefront in recent years, that that is a very real problem, and it is a sickness…and it does need to be dealt with. So, I just read about the causes of it, some things that can happen in childhood that can lead to a sex addiction later in life, and just sort of wanted to immerse myself in that world before writing and then drawing mostly from her book.

Monique: The book the film is based on is written from a black perspective, but I read that you took the approach of what it would be like to be a woman experiencing sex addiction. How did that approach work for you when adapting this book?

Christina: I think it worked very well. Obviously, I’m white, so I couldn’t come from that perspective. Zane’s voice is so strong in her book and her perspective and her characters are so strong, I was able to draw so much from that…But for me, being able to relate myself was finding that part of me [that] can dive into this, and that was the woman’s story. Obviously, I can relate to being a woman, and as somebody who has seen a lot of stories and articles about sex addiction and most of them deal with men, like the movie Shame, which was terrific[.] I thought it was very interesting to come from a female point of view on this. We view sexuality so differently between men and women. There’s still this stigma of a woman being sexually adventurous or a very sexual being and it’s still viewed differently than men. Men are supposed to be, women are not. There’s still that odd stereotype, but that’s how I wanted to approach it, looking at it from the female point of view.

Also, just to add to that, two African-American women were very instrumental to me in this process. One of them was Zane. I talked to her a lot on the phone, emailed her back and forth, and she was very supportive, very helpful, very informative in terms of me keeping things authentic [and] being true to her story. She was very accessible, and also Charisse Nesbit–she was the executive of Lionsgate at the time, executive of this project, championed it from the beginning. I talked a lot with her and sat down with her a lot…The perspective from both of them really helped me in terms of that world.

Tyson Beckford stars as ‘Corey’ in ADDICTED. Photo Courtesy of Lionsgate.

Monique: This reminds me of when I was writing about About Last Night, and I read that the screenwriter was a white woman who was hired to write the remake of the classic film for black audiences. I read the interview she did and she said mostly what you said about not looking at the story as a ‘black thing’, but to look at it the characters for who they are and how they would act in certain situations. I say that to ask what advice would you give to those who are writing about characters outside of their race?

Christina: Obviously for me, what helped was already having that source material. I was not creating a world of black characters from scratch. I was drawing from a book that existed from an African-American author who knew that world well and I could extrapolate from that. I think it’s a little different [when working from scratch]. When creating something from scratch, you need to do your research, you need to spend some time in that world, whatever that means, and for me, the book the was very helpful because it already laid out much of that.

I also think, as an addendum, especially the last year, audiences seem a little more color blind. I think  younger audiences are growing up without these delineations of ‘Oh, it’s a black film, it’s a white film, it’s a Hispanic film’ I think they just want good stories and the faces can be white, brown, black, it can be a variety of actors on screen and  I think they’ll respond to a good story.

Monique: You started out as a journalist before becoming a screenwriter. As a person that’s following the same path, how did your love of screenwriting come about and how did you make the leap from journalist to screenwriter?

Christina: I always wanted to be a writer; when I was a child, I was writing little books and short stories…When I was in high school, my father had gotten me into a screenwriting class. I had seen Rocky, which I loved, and I was also doing some acting, so I wanted to write my own Rocky…and star in it. I loved that story of how [Sylvester Stallone] wrote his own script and called out to the other stars and, of course, launched his career that way.  So, I wanted to write my own script and I was taking these classes–these adult education classes, which was great–and I studied screenwriting in college.

At the same time in college, I was also the first female editor of my college newspaper, so I was juggling both. I was studying screenwriting, but I was also enjoying the journalistic aspect of things, being the Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper. So, to me, it was [always] writing–writing about real life and covering the events and the other was making something up and there was a meeting in the middle; you need to extrapolate from real life to create believable characters ad stories so I’m glad that they went together in that respect.

I did some more newspaper work and then was in radio for a while and became a reporter, interviewing celebrities and doing man-on-the-street interviews and movie reviews and all kinds of different things. I knew in the back of my mind that I’ve been covering the entertainment business, but I started out as a kid wanting to be part of it and creating something someone else could see, so I think I got back into screenwriting while maintaining journalism and once I sold my first movie…If Only, I was able to concentrate on this full time.

Monique: It sounds like we are the same person.

Christina: Oh yeah?

Monique: Yeah, I’m basically following the same roadmap you did. I worked at my college newspaper and now I cover entertainment news, but my goal is to also write original scripts.

Christina: Writing’s writing, isn’t it? If you love language, if you love playing with words, if you love communicating ideas through your words than you do that journalism. You do that through blogs, writing a script, writing short stories…I knew from the age of five that I wanted to be a writer, so it’s just a little bit of journalism, a little bit of screenwriting and kind of all-over, but to me it’s been putting the words out there, which I love, and it sounds like you do too, which is great.

And for someone like me–I didn’t have any connections in the business, I didn’t have relatives. I didn’t know anybody. I just kinda started completely on my own, so I look back every once and awhile and…with the ups and downs in the business, I look back and say I didn’t do too badly for someone who didn’t have an entree into the business. I had to fight my way in and make things happen. That’s probably another reason why I’m so excited about Addicted coming into theaters because that was a long process and I’m proud of how it’s turned out. Anything you go out and try to make happen, when does happen, it feels like a miracle and it’s an amazing experience.

William Levy stars as ‘Quinton Canosa’ in ADDICTED. Photo Courtesy of Lionsgate.

Monique: You mentioned how long it took getting Addicted from script to screen, starting in 2006. How do you feel about the journey this movie took?

Christina: [It was a] very interesting journey. I received a call from my agent that Lionsgate had an open writing assignment to adapt their book calledAddicted. I hadn’t read it–they sent it to me, I read it, loved it. I thought the voice was so unique and what was great about the book was that it was dramatic and thrilling and very sexy and very erotic, but also very funny. Zoe telling her story through first person narrative is so funny becuase she can’t believe some of the things that are happening, so you get to experience the range of emotions with her as she’s going through what she’s going through and knows what she’s doing is wrong, but is seeking help from the therapist. I think that’s another reason why the book appealed to me; she does seek help for her problems. She knows this is something getting out of control; she’s knows it’s not just some heodnistic behavior that she doesn’t care about. She knows [she] could lose everything and that’s the part I could relate to in the story, the person who knows they’re getting out of control and that [they] need some help.

That was 2006…I went in and had several meetings and I was hired. Zane was part of the group who selected me, so I felt very, very good about her giving me her blessing and I spent the next couple of years working on it. The strike in 2007 delayed some of the momentum we had going for it, but we picked it up again in 2008 and for logicical reasons, it just wasn’t meant to be that year, so they set it aside.

I knew that they loved it and I knew–finger’s crossed–that they’d return to it…Then in 2011, I heard from Charisse Nesbit, ‘I think we’re reviving that one,’ so that was great news. In 2012, they had a director and then they were shooting. So when this movie opens, it’ll be two years since they wrapped shooting. So you see these things–they take time, it’s amazing. Then all of a sudden it’s here and it’s [like] ‘Wow, this just happened overnight,’ but it takes all this time for something to suddenly be in theaters.

Zoe Reynard (Sharon Leal) and Quinton Canosa (William Levy) inADDICTED. Photo Courtesy of Lionsgate.

Monique: What do you hope audiences learn from Addicted? How do you hope they view the film?

Christina: Addicted is a very entertaining and sexy movie, so it’s not going to be a harsh docudrama about sex addiction. It’s a very exciting film and I think, as with any addiction, the early days of the addiction are very exciting. The drug that makes you feel great until you need more and more and then it doesn’t make you feel great anymore. So I think this movie does a great job of having terrific actors who are also extremely good-looking, so it makes it very sexy and provocative. It’s entertaining and it’s a fun movie, but…at the end, it’s a story about what can happen when something gets out of control. The last 20 minutes are very, very powerful and what this woman goes through with her addiction. It’s this great mix of provocative, sexy, exciting, then boom, it’s the lesson of the movie and what can go wrong and it’s very powerful emotionally, in the end. I hope audiences can walk away saying, ‘That was a lot of fun and I got something out of it, too.’

Monique: Last question, and I just have to ask as a journalist because I’m just wondering: How weird does it feel to be on the other side of the interview as the interviewee:

Christina: Very weird, thanks for asking! [laughs]. I’m not used to talking about myself…It is very strange. I was looking at old pictures of  interviewing Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood and standing on the other side of that rope and thrusting my microphone out and always asking them the questions, so it is an odd reversal, but it’s interesting because…I think this is Zane’s baby. This is her book, the movie wouldn’t exist without her words on the page. She did a great job with that book and she has an excited fan base who I hope turns out opening weekend. It’s been great being a part of it, so I can at least answer questions about her work and why it is pivotal, so it doesn’t all feel like, ‘I’m talking about myself!’ But that’s fun too [laughs].