Danny Strong is recognizable from numerous noteworthy projects: Jonathan on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Paris’ paramour Doyle on Gilmore Girls, Albert Fekus on Justified, and Danny Siegel, the guy who punched Roger Sterling in the crotch on Mad Men. But all that time on camera also motivated his prolific pursuit of screenwriting: “I just write things because I spent so many years as an actor trying to get any job I could get,” he explains. “Literally anything to pay my bills and to get my health insurance. So when I started writing, I made a decision really early on: ‘I’m just going to do things I think are cool.’” His writing resumé now possibly surpasses his acting one, including his Emmy-award-winning Sarah Palin campaign movie Game Change, the also politically themed Recount, and two Hunger Games: Mockingjay movies. He also co-created Lee Daniels’ Empire, where he’s scripted and directed several episodes.
We recently ran into Danny Strong at the busy Fox party at the Television Critics Association press tour. He sat down with us for a few minutes to tell us about his biggest project yet: His next film, Rebel In The Rye, about a young J.D. Salinger, is his directorial feature debut. It premieres at the Sundance Film Festival on January 24.
Even though J.D. Salinger was a notorious recluse, Strong explains, “He didn’t start reclusive. He was this really outgoing man of the town in New York City in his early 20s. Lived on the Upper East Side, going to the Stork Club and jazz clubs and dated Oona O’Neill. So there are many sources on this era of his life.” The movie is based on Kenneth Slawenski’s 2012 biography, J.D. Salinger: A Life, but Strong stresses, “It’s sourced from multiple sources about that era of his life, and it takes you up to when he goes away [into World War II].” He says the film is “very much centered” around Salinger’s relationship with his writing teacher at Columbia, Whit Burnett, played by Kevin Spacey. Nicholas Hoult plays Salinger, and Sarah Paulson plays his agent, Dorothy Olding.
Strong is now a Hollywood screenwriter in demand, at one point tied to various projects like a Da Vinci Code sequel and a revival of Guys And Dolls. About the latter, Strong says, “Yeah, I wrote it,” but “sometimes it takes a long time to get these things going. Michael Grandage is attached to direct it, who directed Genius with Colin Firth and Jude Law, and is a really acclaimed theater director.” The current pro-musical climate steered by the success of La La Land, he says, is “certainly not going to hurt” Guys And Dolls’ chances of getting in production sooner rather than later.
Speaking of revivals, we couldn’t let Strong get back to the party without asking him about the recent Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life series on Netflix. Strong came back to portray Doyle, who is now-estranged husband from wife Paris, but is, in a bit of a meta nod, a successful Hollywood screenwriter. Strong says, “I loved it. I love Liza [Weil] so much, who plays Paris. And so to get to work with her again—and I’m a huge fan of Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino—it was just wonderful going back to it.” Still, he found the revival’s success somewhat surprising: “It was so crazy how huge it was. It was never that big when we were on the air. It’s bigger now than when we were on the air, so it was wild.” But he’s not too broken up about Paris and Doyle being the two rare Gilmore Girls characters who didn’t wind up with a happy romantic ending. “It’s fictional,” he shrugs. “I thought it was very clever.”