Coelho, one of the world’s most popular authors whose books have sold nearly 40 million copies in 56 languages, spent a decade sifting through film scripts before finding a screenplay for his seminal work that pleased him.
“For the first time, in Fishburne’s case, I liked what I read,” 56-year-old Coelho said in an e-mail interview.
Laurence Fishburne, who starred in “The Matrix,” will write, direct and appear in “The Alchemist” which tells the story of a Spanish shepherd boy during the Roman Catholic Inquisition, who travels to the Pyramids in Egypt in search of treasure.
Drawing on Coelho’s turbulent life, the book is also a voyage of self-discovery that captured the imagination of readers across the world, and has sold more than 27 million copies.
The first edition, in 1988, sold only 900 copies and its publisher decided not to reprint. But a larger publisher picked it up two years later.
First and last
Warner Bros. Pictures, which bought the film rights in the early 1990s, plans to start filming in Jordan by the end of this year for scheduled release in 2004.
“Since 1993, I’ve been rejecting scripts. I don’t think Warner Brothers wanted to use a text if the book’s author publicly criticized it”
British actor Jeremy Irons and US pop icon Madonna play leading roles in the film, which has an $80 million budget.
“Since 1993, I’ve been rejecting scripts. I don’t think Warner Brothers wanted to use a text if the book’s author publicly criticised it,” said Coelho.
He added that this would be the only one of his books to be adapted for the cinema.
“I decided not to sell any more film rights after ‘The Alchemist’ deal with Warner Brothers,” he said, noting that his agent received weekly proposals.
He said he had no regrets or fears about how “The Alchemist” might be portrayed on cinema screens.
“What’s done is done,” he said.
Coelho, with a neat, white beard and penchant for black clothes, has always held strong views.
In the 1960s, he clashed with his middle-class Rio de Janeiro family and the former military government, resulting in spells in psychiatric hospitals and prison.
The military imprisoned and tortured him for publishing allegedly subversive comic strips, calling for more freedom.
Towards the end of the 1960s, Coelho met Brazilian rock star Raul Seixas and became his songwriter. The second disc sold 500,000 copies and their lucrative partnership lasted until 1976.
Coelho wrote his first book at age 40, about a pilgrimage he made to Santiago in northwest Spain, during which he discovered magic in the lives of ordinary people.
Last year Coelho, who has been panned by critics for pseudo-philosophy and superficiality, was elected to the prestigious Brazilian Academy of Letters for writers and philosophers.
For Coelho it was a signal to his readers, “You are right and the critics wrong.”