The ‘Challengers’ Screenwriter on Adapting ‘Queer’

Justin Kuritzkes has back-to-back adaptations in the works.

The screenwriter has been one of Luca Guadagnino’s closest collaborators of late. His “Challengers” just premiered to rave reviews and he’s already set to adapt “Queer,” the novel originally written by William S. Burroughs, for the director as well. At the Los Angeles premiere of “Challengers,” the screenwriter spoke with us about adapting the novel as well as “City on Fire,” the first of a bestselling novel trilogy from Don Winslow, which Austin Butler will lead.

Adaptations are challenging, but Kuritzkes has a method to the madness. In our conversation, he teased what he’s working on and how he approaches IP. He revealed that “Queer” is something Guadagnino has wanted to make since he was a teenager when the book came out in 1985, “I was so touched and honored when he asked me to read it and to see if I wanted to write it for him.”

Kuritzkes says it was a “no-brainer” for him to write it but admits that the original piece is “really crazy in it’s structure and its characters.”

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 16: Writer Justin Kuritzkes (L) and director Luca Guadagnino attend the Los Angeles Premiere of Amazon MGM Studios' "Challengers" at Regency Village Theatre on April 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Stewart Cook/Getty Images for Amazon MGM Studios)
Justin Kuritzkes and Luca Guadagnino at the Los Angeles premiere of ‘Challengers’Getty Images for Amazon MGM Stud

So how exactly does one seamlessly adapt legendary literature? Here’s the Kuritzkes method:

“Remember what the impulse of the book [is], or whatever it is that you’re basing it off of,” he explains, “you try to remember what the spirit of that is.” Now, that’s easier said than done — just ask Steve Buscemi who’d been trying to develop “Queer” with Oren Moverman about 15 years ago. He recently said in a public Q&A at the 2024 Sarasota Film Festival with Rolling Stone’s David Fear that “we had a reading years ago here [at a previous Sarasota Film Festival] of this William Burroughs book that Oren adapted, ‘Queer,’ but for one reason or another, I mean it is hard to get films off the ground.”

Back to Kuritzkes. While he makes it look easy, he knows the temptation to over-analyze text, “you try to honor it while not being too obsessed with doing it exactly the way that it is.”

It’s clear that Kuritzkes has a busy season ahead of him as he said it’s been “a wild time” between promoting “Challengers” and other approaching work, such as on “City of Fire.” When asked about award season buzz, he humbly notes “I’m just so excited that we get to share the movie with everybody. That’s all I can really think about right now.”

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