1 Sep 2022

Matthew Reilly on writing action thrillers and making his directing debut

From Nine To Noon, 10:05 am on 1 September 2022

When his first novel was rejected by Australian publishers, Matthew Reilly did the ultimate DIY job - he took out a loan, published it himself and convinced Sydney bookstores to stock it.

The book, Contest, was picked up by a commissioning editor at Pan MacMillan - and the rest is best-seller history.

Reilly has written over a dozen books and short stories since - including his Jack West series - and sold over 7.5 million books worldwide.

He recently directed the Netflix film Interceptor and his new book Cobalt Blue is out now.

Matthew Reilly

Matthew Reilly Photo: Supplied

Matthew Reilly acknowledges that back in the late 1990s, he happened to be the right writer in the right place.

“Here I was with [his second novel] Ice Station just at the time that Pan Macmillan, my publisher, were looking to reinvent their thriller list.

“They had some authors who they felt their time had passed, and they were looking for something new. I did not know that. That was just me coming along at the right time. So, you're never to know, you don't know what you don't know.”

As a child, Reilly adored action movies.

“I always loved action stories and to make action movies is very expensive. And so, what I discovered is that books like Contest and Ice Station, they were better done as novels because I didn't have to pay for the giant special effects or action scenes", he tells Kathryn Ryan.

With Interceptor, Reilly not only wrote the script, he also insisted on directing the film.

“We had one company that wanted to buy the script, as long as I did not direct it, and I said no and I took my bat and ball and went home.

“And luckily Netflix stepped up and they didn't mind me doing it.”

He enjoys the collaborative nature of filmmaking.

“As a novelist, it's you, by yourself, you don't have to work with others and making a movie like Interceptor, you have to collaborate. And I loved that collaboration.

“The thing I learned is I actually enjoyed working with actors and having them bring something which I hadn't thought of, I loved working with set designers and costume people.

“It was a really wonderful experience in that regard.”

Reilly enjoys getting creative input from other members of the crew.

“There's a moment in Interceptor … it's quite a grisly moment. My villain does a horrible thing. He paints a sad face in some blood on a window.

“That was an idea from my director of photography, he came into my office one day and said, ‘Matt, I've got this idea. It's really, really gross.’

“And he told me the idea. And I said that's fantastic. And it's in the movie, and it makes my villain more villainous.”

In his latest book, Cobalt Blue, the United States and Russia have each had a national superhero for 35 years.

When America's hero Cobalt dies, the Russian hero yearns for vengeance.

“He's going to come to America. And he's going to kill the children of Cobalt who all have call signs, Cobalt Green, Cobalt Red, Cobalt Gold and the youngest of these children is Cobalt Blue.

“This bad Russian superhero, with all these powers, is going to go on a rampage.”

This idea started as a screenplay but became a novel, Reilly says.

“I decided to make it into a book because I was having such fun with it.”

So, after 25 years of success what keeps him at the keyboard?

“I love telling stories, I love taking people away and letting them escape. And the fact that I get paid to do that, professionally, is just a gift. And I'm always mindful of that.”