"A Million Little Pieces" Director Sam Taylor-Johnson Talks Addiction

By David Konow 08/26/19

Johnson described how she connected to the controversial addiction memoir in a recent interview. 

Image: 
 Director Sam Taylor-Johnson
Sam Taylor Johnson with the film's star, husband Aaron Taylor-Johnson ID 70465557 © Vonora | Dreamstime.com

A Million Little Pieces, written by James Frey, was a harrowing account of addiction that became a huge bestseller once it was anointed by Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club. But it wasn’t long before it all came crashing down around Frey, when The Smoking Gun website uncovered a number of untruths in his book.

Now A Million Little Pieces has been adapted into a film, directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, who also helmed the big screen adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey. Like millions of others, Johnson read the book in 2003, and it stayed strong in her memory.

“I remember reading it and being really overtaken by it,” she told The Guardian. “I was in the world with him and on the journey.”

Johnson, whose actor-husband Aaron Taylor-Johnson stars in the film, told Vogue the book “really shook my DNA. The years went by and that feeling never diminished, nor did the experience of re-reading the book… A Million Little Pieces is a book you can laugh and cry with in equal measure. This isn’t just the tale of recovery, it’s a story about hope, life and a community that supports each other through the process of recovery.”

Becoming A Feature Film

There were previous attempts to turn A Million Little Pieces into a film that fell apart, but as Frey told Vogue, when Johnson contacted him, he let her have the rights for free, and gave her free license to make the film however she wished.

“I did visit Hazelden (where I went to rehab) with Sam,” Frey explained. “I showed them all the real locations where the events of the book took place. They met a number of people who were at the treatment center when I was there 26 years ago and talked to them. But for the most part, I was exceedingly hands-off.”

When asked about the Oprah controversy, Johnson said, “It’s obviously something that’s part of its history and that history has been chequered, but it wasn’t anything that we were going to deal with. We did talk about whether we should address it within the movie, but I just wanted to make a film purely of the book, what that meant to me.”

“As a writer, I don’t feel a particular responsibility to do anything but write the best book I can,” Frey told Vogue. “I continue to work in that grey area between fact and fiction. The core of the story is what happened: I went to rehab, I’ve been sober for 26 years, and all my friends but one in that facility are now dead. I often draw the analogy of what I do and what painters do when they paint a self-portrait—it’s never a perfect photographic representation of their own image, and A Million Little Pieces isn’t the prefect photographic representation of my own image. But it’s true to who I am, it’s true to the experience I’ve lived and it’s true to my life.”

Johnson previously had a drinking problem, which is why the book "resonated with me on a personal perspective having lost people very dear to me through troubles with addiction. And the pain of the loss of friends never diminishes really.”

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.