The friendship between Ed Harris and writer Robert Knott extends far beyond their work on the 2008 western.
Bestselling writer Robert Knott and actor Ed Harris first met on the roof of a community theater in Los Angeles in the 1990s, when they found themselves installing an industrial air conditioner. Harris, already a success in Hollywood, was part of the group running the theater, and Knott, an aspiring actor at the time, happened to have some professional carpentry skills. The two men worked for several days and bonded over their back stories, as both Knott’s and Harris’ parents are from Oklahoma.
In the writer’s younger days, he’d worked for more than a dozen years in the dangerous world of oil drilling at a Tulsa, Oklahoma-based company. He’d worked in Oklahoma, Texas, Alaska, and ultimately Kuwait. “It was a wild and crazy time, and, yeah, it was dangerous, but it was what we did,” Knott says. “Like the old saying goes, ‘Danger is my business.’ ”
But as the oil business started to slow down, Knott began to have other dreams. He decided to follow in the footsteps of his parents and grandparents, who had worked as actors. That’s what brought him to the theater where he met Harris.
Their friendship continued to prosper through the years, and Knott eventually landed a small role in Harris’ 2000 directorial debut, Pollock, a biopic on artist Jackson Pollock starring its director in the titular role.
The men teamed up later to coproduce and co-write the script for Appaloosa, the first film adaptation of Robert B. Parker’s acclaimed Cole and Hitch book series. Knott also served as a producer on the movie, which saw a wide release in 2008.
“Ed and I adapted the novel Appaloosa, and I was not a real Robert Parker fan at that time,” Knott says. “I was not a real Spenser or Jesse Stone fan — characters in so many of his other books.
“Parker had written a few books in the Virgil [Cole] and Everett [Hitch] series before he passed away, and when Ed and I went to Robert’s memorial, several years after we made Appaloosa, the Parker family asked us if we wanted to perpetuate the Cole and Hitch story in books going forward.
“Ed wasn’t interested, but I was, even though I’d never written a novel before. So, I wrote 30 pages, gave them to the publishing house Putnam, who represented the Parker estate. I guess they liked what they read, and asked for another 30 pages, which they also liked.
“I finally said, ‘Why don’t you give me a contract and I will write the whole book?’ Robert B. Parker’s Ironhorse by Robert Knott became a New York Times bestseller. .... The characters were there, but I created the stories from scratch.”
While there’s no official word on whether more Cole and Hitch stories will be made into movies, Knott does express sadness that today’s audiences don’t get to see as many authentic western stories and characters on the silver screen as in the past.
He’s hoping his collaborative relationship with Harris will help to bring more western projects to fruition, including one that plays on their shared geographic roots.
“Ed and I have a project called Tulsa, where the Old West meets the oil boom in Oklahoma. The story goes from horsepower to engine power in the 1920s when the Osage Indians were sitting on the largest oil field in the country.”
From the January 2018 issue.