This past weekend at Wondercon, I had the privilege and honor of interviewing Vivek J. Tiwary, the writer of the graphic novel and soon to be film “The Fifth Beatle,” the story of The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein. The interview quickly turned into a conversation between two Beatle fans that shared their love for the Beatles. So what I will do is share with you guys some bits and pieces of the conversation and I hope you get as much out of this as I did.
The interview opened up with me asking Vivek why he chose to tell Brian Epstein’s story. Pretty much, what was it that sparked his interest in Epstein? He answered by saying, “I’m a life long Beatles fan. My parents were huge Beatles fans. I often say that I’ve been listening to the Beatles since before I was born cause they played the Beatles while my mom was pregnant, so I’m certainly coming from that place and incidentally, I’m a life long comics fan. I’ve been reading comics since I was a little kid. I often say that I learned to read by reading comics. So those were the two things I grew up with.” He continued by saying, “I went to business school, this was 21 years ago, and I was dreaming about working in entertainment. Doing what I’m doing now, working for myself and I thought if I’m going to be a entertainment entreprenuer, I should study the lives of the great entertainment visionaries. So being a life long Beatles fan, I always thought that the Beatles and Brian (Epstein) were the team that kind of wrote and re-wrote the rules of the pop music business.” This is the point my phone had run out of memory from recording the interview and when the interview went from interview to conversation.
So continuing with the conversation and his answer, he continued with saying that Brian Epstein was the ultimate outsider. Being Jewish and homosexual when it was a time where you would be thrown in jail in England for being homosexual, Epstein had a lot of obstacles to overcome. He literally had to “hide his love away.” That’s where Vivek felt that he could relate to Epstein. Vivek had his own obstacles to overcome. He said that his obstacles may not have been as hard as Epstein’s but nonetheless they were challenges. Being first generation American and a part of an Indian family were people would expect you to be the sterotypical engineer or doctor, Vivek wanted to breakout of that sterotype and go his own route. So that was the main reason that he felt a connection to Epstein.
When it came to the type of research Vivek had to do for the book, he stated that he read any type of books, articles, watched any documentaries he could find that mentioned Epstein and the Beatles. This took Vivek about 20 years to do. He took names from the books he read, which were some of Epstein’s closest friends and just called them up. He explained to them what he was doing, and they were more than kind enough to share their stories with Vivek, some of which were never told before of Epstein.
I had then asked Vivek about the dialogue in the book. I asked him if they were actual conversations or if he had to kind of use his imagination for scenes like the famous holiday in Spain in which John Lennon and Epstein shared together or the meeting between Epstein and Elvis’s outspoken manager Colonel Tom Parker. Vivek said he based the dialogue on things that he has read in books because obviously no one knows what was exactly said between Lennon and Epstien or Parker and Epstein because they were they only ones there. So when it came to scenes like those, he cross referenced his research and added quotes or phrases that were said by Lennon and Parker, and added them into those scenes. For instance, he knew that Epstein had a fascination with matadors, which Vivek thought was both weird and interesting. So he had asked some of Epstein’s closest friends, what was it about matadors that Epstein was in love with. Vivek took what Epstein’s friends said and felt that the reason that Epstein had this obsession with matadors was because it was almost like a “dance with death.” It was the danger and knowing that any moment could be your last and because of that, the matador would become “the killing machine.” Meaning that in the matador’s last moments, he gives people something to believe in. “He gives them hope.” Vivek took that and ultimately used that story in the holiday in Spain scene.
In the book, Epstein was front and center, leaving the biggest band in history in the background and as supporting roles for the first time ever. I asked Vivek how hard was it to have the Fab 4 in the back, while making sure the focus was on Epstein. He said, “it was tricky.” He knew he had to include very famous events the Beatles had but tried to keep the focus on Epstein’s story, which was “difficult.” What Vivek did was write a scene, and see if he could leave the word “Beatles” out of the scene and see if the scene would still work. If it couldn’t work, then he knew that he needed to go back and change the way he wrote a certain scene to where you could leave out “beatles,” and still know what was going on.
While reading the book, I had noticed that as the emotion of the story changed, so did the art. For example, in a moment of chaos, the art drastically changed to where it went from being beautiful to being something that was kind of all over the place and cartoony. This was something that was brilliant and that I have never seen before in a comic. If you’ve read the book, you may have noticed that the colors also change from black, grays, and whites, to bright, lively colors. I asked Vivek how he came up with that idea. Vivek said that he and artist Andrew (Robinson) spoke about it a lot. They constantly went back and forth thinking of ways that they can express emotion in ways that you could tell what was going on just by looking at the art and not having to use any words (which is how the book opens up). Vivek felt that in a weird way, the arch of Epstein’s story, mirrored the era of black and white to technicolor, so that’s how the color scheme came about in the book. Vivek also put full trust into Robinson that Robinson would know how display the emotion of the story and that he would know how to capture the era. Vivek gives full credit to Andrew C. Robinson when it came to the art and what it did for the story.
I then asked what exactly made Brian Epstein “the fifth Beatle,” to Vivek. He responded by saying that as the Beatles played their instruments and wrote the music, Epstein’s instrument was the business aspect, the music business. He changed the way people seen the music, if you will. He saw the Beatles as a way to put love into the world. Epstein believed in them and made sure that by putting the Beatles out there for the world to see, that the world would be inspired by love and inspired to give love. Which was something Epstein really wanted himself, love.
Now here’s where the upcoming film adaptation comes in. I asked Vivek about the film and where they were as of now with production. Vivek said that this film has been in the works for about a decade and that it’s finally in the casting process. He said that he couldn’t quite tell me which actors they have narrowed the cast down to but he did say that they are looking at a small group of actors that are “fanboy friendly” actors from the age group of 28-32 that have been in big sci-fi type films and films with a big fanboy fan base that are well known. Vivek will be co-producing the film along with Bruce Cohen who has produced films such as “Big Fish,” “American Beauty,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” and “Hook.” Which will work well with the type of film they are shooting for. Also directing the film will be Peyton Reed who has directed films “Yes Man,” Bring It On,” and “The Break-up,” to name a few. Vivek also mentioned that “The Fiifth Beatle” film is more of an an expansion to the story rather than an adaptation. The reason for calling it an adaptation is because it’s just easier to say to someone. The film will show the relationship between Brian and his father, as well as include Pete Best, former Beatles drummer before Ringo Starr joined the group. These were people that Vivek could not include into the book for the reason of wanting to make the book a shorter read and “something you could pick up at an airport and read during the flight.” “The Fifth Beatle” film will be the first film to be approved by the Beatles meaning that the last two remaining Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr have signed off on the project and so has Yoko Ono (widow of John Lennon) and Olivia Harrison (widow of George Harrison) have also signed off to give their approval for the project. The film will start shooting “by the end of this year or early next year.”
Finally I asked Vivek who his favorite Beatle was and which song is his favorite. He said that “it’s really not fair to have a favorite Beatle. Not that there’s anything wrong with someone that does have a favorite” but for him, he sees the Beatles as a whole. They all played a part in the group and brought a different aspect to the band. Which to me, totally made sense. He then said that it’s hard to have a favorite song because every song is so great and different but the song that he feels most represents him is “With a Little Help From My Friends,” because with all of the struggles and obstacles he had to face in his life, he really was able to get by those obstacles “with a little help” from his friends. Which is something that I could also relate to.
Our conversation went on for about an hour as Vivek and I shared our life experiences and our love for the Beatles. Vivek J. Tiwary is a very kind man that makes you feel like you have been friends for years. If you have not checked out the book, please do. Being a passionate Beatles fan, I would tell you the absolute truth if any Beatles related book, movie, or documentary was worth the time. My honest opinion is yes, “The Fifth Beatle” is definitely worth the time. When I first looked at the book I loved the art and thought to myself, well we all know how the story ends. But I’ll be the first to tell you that I was absolutely blown away by the stuff I had learned about Brian Epstein and the Beatles and how the book ended. It’s one of the most beautiful and saddest endings you will see anywhere.
A big THANK YOU to Vivek J. Tiwary for this wonderful interview/chat.