In 1993, Stephen Hunter published Point of Impact, the first novel in what would become a series of novels about Bob Lee Swagger and his family. In celebration of the upcoming premiere of Shooter, USA chatted with Mr. Hunter about his inspiration for creating Bob Lee, working with Ryan Phillippe, and the experience of seeing his book turned into TV.
USA Network: Can you talk about how Bob Lee Swagger was partly inspired by Marine Corps sniper Carlos Hathcock?
Stephen Hunter: I was drawn to the character of a sniper, but not just a sniper, a sniper with grief. Carlos lost his spotter in Vietnam. That somehow purified and sanctified Bob Lee as a very powerful dramatic figure. He was a war intellectual. He knew about war. He'd seen war. He'd done war. He'd killed a lot. He'd almost gotten killed a lot. He felt the grief of war, the exile of war. He'd learned so much, but at the same time, it cost him so much. Bob Lee was heavily influenced by Carlos, but I had to make a conscious effort to free him from Carlos. Invent a backstory. Give him a family that has nothing to do with Carlos, an explanation for his courage and for his solitude.
USA Network: Did you know right from the start what the book would be about?
Stephen Hunter: The idea of the book was to track Bob Lee's reentry into society and his ability to use the incredible skill, information, courage, and honor that he'd been given and to once again feel valuable and a participant. The whole arc of the ten books has been his return to what I would call his rightful place in society.
USA Network: I think the arc of the first season really captures that -- Bob Lee's plight to find his rightful place. Were you excited when you learned that your book would become TV?
Stephen Hunter: I just think that the longform TV cable series is a terrific medium. I was a film critic for close to thirty years and towards the end, I was driven out because the moves had become so generic, so infantile, so full of CGI. I look to serious cable as the new frontier of dramatic visual storytelling.
USA Network: Are you saying you're not a big fan of superheroes?
Stephen Hunter: I hate superheroes. To me, what was so interesting about Bob -- and why I've spent 20 years with him and his family -- is that they're not superheroes. They're real people with flaws who make mistakes, who miss things, who sometimes lose their temper, who feel sheepish, and they're not flying around with CGI saving the world three times in three hours. I prefer a slightly more realistic and believable universe that cable still believes in but the movies seem to have given up on.
USA Network: How did you feel about the pilot the first time you saw it?
Stephen Hunter: I was astounded at how good Ryan was. He was so expressive and believable. I've been extremely impressed with his performance. He really got the shooter's mentality. Universally, this is just an extremely well acted show. Obviously I'm biased, but at a certain point, it stopped being me watching my book being turned into cable TV and became just me watching really good cable TV.
USA Network: And you have a cameo in the pilot, as Henry the gun shop owner. What was it like being on set?
Stephen Hunter: It was a memorable experience. One thing I learned is that making stories on film is incredibly hard work. Those guys work like maniacs. I just stood there, astounded at how many of them there were, how busy they were, how much energy they spent, the whole intensity of the process for just a little scene where I say, "Hey, Bob Lee. Your usual order?" The actor's gift is to deliver lines as if they're not written, deliver them as if they're spontaneous, and I couldn't break through that barrier. But I found the whole process very interesting and just delightful. My career has provided me with so many very interesting memories, and that one goes right up there.
USA Network: Did you enjoy getting to work with Ryan?
Stephen Hunter: Ryan was great, very low key. He had no airs about him. In fact when they came to pick me up to drive me to set in the pouring rain in Vancouver, he came and wanted to meet me and wanted to establish a report. He made that extra gesture, which I thought was terrific, and I felt that we got along very well.
USA Network: You've written nine novels about the Swaggers. Any plans for another one about Bob Lee?
Stephen Hunter: I am fully committed to one more Bob Lee book. In recent books he's been more of an investigator, but I'd like to do a final book in which he is a sniper once again, even though he's old. But I'm old and I can still shoot, so he can still shoot.
USA Network: You still go to the range quite a bit?
Stephen Hunter: You've heard this theory of the third place: there's home, there's work, but for a healthy life you have to have a third place where you go. You're comfortable and you know everybody and you can be the person you can't be at work or when you're with your wife or family. Mine is this commercial shooting range in Maryland. I'm the oldest member. I've been going there 25 years. It's made my life really interesting, and I've been so fortunate in the interesting life I've led. So many people don't get that. They don't end up doing what they were born to do. They don't even get to figure out what they were born to do. I'm so lucky that I knew early that I wanted to write and that I was able to do it.
USA Network: So what do you think that last Bob Lee book will be about?
Stephen Hunter: I keep returning to the same plot, which is the restoration of the exile. The sniper, the shooter -- we need him, we love him, we respect him, yet we also fear him and we shun him. After he saves our lives we drive him out of our society. One of the things Bob has done in these books -- first for himself and then for others -- is to restore them to their position as warrior kings.