Prof. Tom Cobb’s novel becomes major motion picture

“Crazy Heart,” starring Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal, opens locally Jan. 29.

Tom Cobb (Photo: Stella Johnson)
Tom Cobb never expected his debut novel “Crazy Heart” to become a movie with an all-star cast or to claim numerous awards and nominations, including two Golden Globes. Cobb, a RIC English professor, originally wrote the book as his doctoral dissertation in 1985, and first published it in 1987.

IMDB list of awards and nominations for "Crazy Heart"

“Crazy Heart” opened nationally in cinemas on Dec. 16, with limited showing in selected theaters. The film will begin showings locally on Jan. 29.

The movie stars four-time Academy Award nominee Jeff Bridges, who for his performance in “Crazy Heart” received this year’s Best Actor award from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Bridges also garnered a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance, and best actor nominations from the Screen Actors Guild and others. He is considered a strong contender for an Oscar nomination.

Bridges plays Bad Blake, a run-down, alcoholic country-western musician who has been reduced to performing in bowling alleys. The movie follows Blake’s road to redemption and his involvement with a journalist, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Cobb said he came up with Blake's character when he was a PhD student living in Houston, Texas. Needing to write his doctoral dissertation, Cobb became fixated on the sentence “Bad’s got the sweats again.” Who is Bad? Why does he have the sweats? These questions formed the beginnings of Bad’s character, and later the beginnings of Cobb’s debut novel.

“Bad has treated me well over the years,” said Cobb, “he has given me pocket money over the years, built my house and this year remodeled it.”

Cobb and his wife Randy flew to Los Angeles for the "Crazy Heart" premiere. He also met with Bridges and Gyllenhaal.

Though Cobb enjoyed the movie, he said there were several changes from the book to make the movie more upbeat, turning it into a story of redemption rather than a tragedy. “Hollywood likes things that are generally positive,” said Cobb.

Cobb was particularly impressed with the music in the film. “One of the things that really pleases me about the movie is that T-Bone Burnett is overseeing the music,” said Cobb, who has been a fan of the country singer/songwriter for over 25 years. The film’s theme song, The Weary Kind, is a Golden Globe nominee for Best Original Song.

Overall, Cobb felt the movie was “a very respectful adaptation,” and the film was very true to his characters. Cobb was impressed at how much of his dialogue was used in the film and how the screenplay captured the flavor of his novel.

Next year will be a busy one for Cobb. His latest novel, “Shavetail,” released in 2008, is coming out in paperback after a reprint of “Crazy Heart,” which is being reissued to coincide with the movie. Cobb is also hoping to finish his next book, “Blood in Their Eyes” by the end of the spring.

Cobb started his literary career as a poet in the late 60s and started writing novels by the late 70s. “I just couldn’t remember why I wrote poetry anymore. Fiction I knew about, everyone likes to hear a story.”

Adds Cobb: “When writing, there is a resonance for something. The process of writing is finding out what that is. Like, ‘Bad’s got the sweats again.’”

Ironically, this line was cut from the final edit of the book and never appeared in print.