Tolkin, Michael 1950-

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Tolkin, Michael 1950-


Born October 17, 1950, in New York, NY; son of Mel (a writer) and Edith (a lawyer) Tolkin; married Wendy Mogel (a psychologist). Education: Middlebury College, B.A., 1974.


Worked variously as a journalist in New York, NY, and as a television story editor in Los Angeles, CA. Screenwriter, novelist, and film director.


The Player (novel), Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1988, adapted as a screenplay of the same title, Fine Line Features, 1992.

Gleaming the Cube (screenplay), Twentieth Century-Fox, 1989.

(And director) The Rapture (screenplay), Fine Line Features, 1991.

(With Henry Bean) Deep Cover (screenplay), New Line Cinema, 1992.

Among the Dead, Morrow (New York, NY), 1993.

(With others) The Burning Season (teleplay), HBO, 1994.

(And director) The New Age (screenplay), New Regency, 1994.

The Player/The Rapture/The New Age: Three Screenplays (screenplay), Grove Press (New York, NY), 1995.

Steven Pippin, F.R.A.C. Limousin (Limoges, France), 1995.

(With Bruce Joel Rubin) Deep Impact, DreamWorks, 1998.

(With Michael R. Perry, and director) 20 Billion, Paramount, 2001.

(With Chap Taylor) Changing Lanes (screenplay), Paramount, 2002.

Under Radar (novel), Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 2002.

The Return of the Player, Grove Press (New York, NY), 2006.


Screenwriter, novelist, and film director Michael Tolkin grew up in Hollywood, California, where his father, Mel, was a television comedy writer, and his mother, Edith, was senior vice president of legal affairs for Paramount Studios. The family lived comfortably. Tolkin told Bernard Weinraub in the New York Times that his father's success as a writer led him to believe it was easy to make a living through writing. "And it was a shock for me to find out that it was actually hard to make a living as a writer," he said.

Tolkin is best known as the author of The Player. A story of murder set in the author's familiar Hollywood, the book has been critically acclaimed for its unique, darkly comic view of the film industry. Tolkin tells the story of Griffin Mill, an upper-level executive at a major film studio. Mill, power-hungry and aggressive, becomes overwhelmed by the pressure and fast pace of his career, and the fear of losing the affluent lifestyle afforded by his job propels him into a paranoiac tailspin. Frustrated by a series of harassing telephone calls from an anonymous screenwriter, the mentally unstable Mill lures his suspect to a parking lot where he strangles him. Janet Maslin, reviewing the novel for the New York Times Book Review, commented that Tolkin sees Mill's transformation into a murderer as "a somewhat logical extension of Griffin's executive personality." Maslin found that The Player has "everything to do with today's bottomline mentality, carried to a calmly illogical extreme…. One needn't share Griffin's scruples to be impressed by his pragmatic style."

Tolkin used his expertise as a film writer—the screenplays Gleaming the Cube, The Rapture, and Deep Cover are also to his credit—to adapt his novel into a feature-length film that has achieved great critical success at the hand of noted film director Robert Altman. Richard Corliss comments on the film version in Time: "A [film] executive will go to A.A. meetings not because he is an alcoholic but because "that's where all the deals are being made." Michael Tolkin's script abounds in such cynical wisdom, but it never loses an appreciation for the grace with which these snakes consume their victims." Author Tolkin also took a turn in the director's chair during the filming of his screenplay, The Rapture, released in 1991. Tolkin described the film to Matthew Carnahan in Premiere as "a sincere exploration of God and faith and … the end."

Changing Lanes tells the story of two New Yorkers, Gavin Banek and Doyle Gibson, whose lives intersect when they hit each other in an automobile accident. Banek is a rising young lawyer in a Wall Street firm, and Gipson is an insurance company phone representative and alcoholic who has recently been divorced from his wife. The two men fail to resolve their dispute about the accident when it occurs, setting off a cycle of vengeance and revenge.

In Under Radar, Tolkin depicts the retribution that falls upon a man who commits a senseless murder. Insurance fraud artist Tom Levy takes his ill-gotten earnings and sends his family to Jamaica, but he quickly becomes bored there. He flirts with Debra, but when his four-year-old daughter dances with Debra's husband Barry at a party, he is infuriated, and kills Barry. Naturally, Levy ends up in prison, and spends many years in silence after another prisoner tells him a secret story—a story that affects him so deeply that it turns his hair white. Eventually he remembers the story, and tries to reclaim his family, which has moved on without him. A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that Tom was an extremely unsympathetic character, and that the novel's allegorical, existential tone is "belabored." New York Times writer Janet Maslin wrote: "The book's allegorical aspect is as integral as it is cryptic, and none of its story can be taken quite literally." In another New York Times article, Charles Taylor commented: "Under Radar is [Tolkin's] most explicitly religious work since The Rapture. It is also the strangest thing he has ever done, its meanings hanging just out of reach." Taylor also noted: "Under Radar leaves us like puzzled pilgrims, struggling with the meaning of the cruel fable that has been so enticingly told."

In an interview in UnderGroundOnline, Tolkin said of Under Radar: "I wanted to incorporate a number of stories without writing a book of short stories. The more I thought about why these stories were grabbing, the more I wanted to keep the experience of living with the stories as the experience of reading the novel."

More than fifteen years after first creating the character Griffin Mill, Tolkin brought his antihero back in The Return of the Player. Many critics found this sequel well worth the long wait. Now in his early 50s, Mill is divorced and remarried, paranoid about impending global doom, and worried about running out of money—he is down to his last six-million dollars, not enough for him to buy a private island where, he hopes, he will survive world apocalypse. His plan to get the necessary money results in a story that, according to a Kirkus Reviews contributor, is not only "funny, absurd and hopeful" but also "surprising." The novel received similar praise in Publishers Weekly, where a reviewer described it as a "powerful dark comedy that transcends the shopworn genre of Hollywood satire." Booklist contributor Ian Chipman, however, considered the book mostly "skin-deep," despite some well-aimed barbs at Hollywood targets, and Susan Clifford Braun, writing in the Library Journal, found Mills's plight "bizarre" and utterly implausible. Observing that Tolkin's focus in The Return of the Player is more diffuse than in his earlier book, Janet Maslin wrote in New York Times that the sequel demonstrates an uncertainty and "more deep-seated sense of doom" that mellow its satiric edge. "The Return of the Player does what it means to," she concluded. "It reanimates Griffin Mill and sends him straight from Mr. Tolkin's darkest daydreams into your own. What it does not do is strike at the heart of Hollywood in the way the first book did, because both its interests and its fears have expanded."



American Heritage, November 1, 2006, Allen Barra, "Novel: L.A.'s Scariest Product," p. 24.

Booklist, April 1, 1993, Mary Carroll, review of Among the Dead, p. 1412; May 15, 2002, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Under Radar, p. 1580; August 1, 2006, Ian Chipman, review of The Return of the Player, p. 44.

Entertainment Weekly, September 30, 1994, Lisa Schwarzbaum, review of The New Age, p. 38; March 10, 1995, J.R. Taylor, review of The New Age, p. 78.

Guardian, May 23, 1993, review of Among the Dead, p. 20.

Harper's Bazaar, September 1, 1994, Polly Frost, review of The New Age, p. 256.

Hollywood Reporter, January 5, 2007, Anne Thompson, "Tolkin's New ‘Player’ in Everyman Territory," p. 2.

Houston Chronicle, October 13, 2006, Steven E. Alford, "A Showbiz Shark Pool."

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 1993, review of Among the Dead, p. 95; April 15, 2002, review of Under Radar, p. 523; May 15, 2006, review of The Return of the Player, p. 14; June 1, 2006, review of The Return of the Player, p. 544.

Law Institute Journal, April 1, 1994, Richard Calver, review of Among the Dead, p. 309.

Library Journal, March 15, 1993, David Dodd, review of Among the Dead, p. 109; August 1, 2006, Susan Clifford Braun, review of The Return of the Player, p. 73.

Los Angeles Magazine, September 1, 1994, Rod Lurie, review of The New Age, p. 139.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 30, 1993, review of Among the Dead, p. 2.

Maclean's, September 26, 1994, Brian D. Johnson, review of The New Age, p. 56.

National Review, May 11, 1992, John Simon, review of The Player, p. 53; October 24, 1994, John Simon, review of The New Age, p. 70.

New Statesman and Society, June 4, 1993, Roz Kaveney, review of Among the Dead, p. 39.

Newsweek, April 19, 1993, David Gates, review of Among the Dead, p. 62.

New Yorker, April 19, 1993, "Hollywood Complex," p. 34.

New York Times, April 13, 1993, Michiko Kakutani, review of Among the Dead, p. C17; September 16, 1994, Janet Maslin, review of The New Age, p. 5; May 30, 2002, Janet Maslin, review of Under Radar, p. E9; June 16, 2002, Charles Taylor, review of Under Radar, p. G19; August 28, 2006, Janet Maslin, "A Man-Boy Thirsting for Really Savage Wealth," p. 1; August 31, 2006, David M. Halbfinger, "If Hollywood Is a Game, This Player Says It's Over," p. 1.

New York Times Biographical Service, May, 1992, Bernard Weinraub, "A Writer's View from the Edge of the Playground," author interview, p. 616.

New York Times Book Review, April 25, 1993, Fay Weldon, review of Among the Dead, p. 14; August 4, 2002, Scott Veale, review of Among the Dead, p. 20; October 8, 2006, Rick Marin, "Down to $6 Million," p. 38.

Observer (London, England), May 9, 1993, p. 59; March 27, 1994, review of Among the Dead, p. 22.

People, May 24, 1993, Pam Lambert, review of Among the Dead, p. 35; October 3, 1994, Ralph Novak, review of The New Age, p. 24; October 2, 2006, Lee Aitken, "Books," p. 61.

Premiere, September, 1991, Matthew Carnahan, review of The Rapture, pp. 55-56.

Publishers Weekly, March 8, 1993, review of Among the Dead, p. 67; July 4, 1994, review of Among the Dead, p. 59; April 8, 2002, review of Under Radar, p. 201; May 29, 2006, review of The Return of the Player, p. 33.

Rolling Stone, October 17, 1991, p. 100.

Spectator, May 15, 1993, David Montrose, review of Among the Dead, p. 36.

Time, April 13, 1992, Richard Corliss, review of The Player, p. 70; September 26, 1994, Richard Schickel, review of The New Age, p. 78.

Times Literary Supplement, May 14, 1993, Irving Weinman, review of Among the Dead, p. 22.

Variety, March 22, 1993, D.T. Max, review of Among the Dead, p. 67; September 5, 1994, Todd McCarthy, review of The New Age, p. 53; May 11, 1998, Todd McCarthy, review of Deep Impact, p. 57; April 8, 2002, Robert Koehler, review of Changing Lanes, p. 29; June 5, 2006, "Familiar ‘Player’ Back in the Game.," p. 7.

Wall Street Journal Western Edition, September 22, 1994, Julie Salamon, review of The New Age, p. 8.

Washington Post Book World, May 24, 1992, review of The Player, p. 12; October 25, 1992, review of The Player, p. 14; April 4, 1993, review of Among the Dead, p. 4; May 15, 2002, p. 1580.

West Coast Review of Books, Art, and Entertainment, April, 1993, review of Among the Dead, p. 22.


UnderGroundOnline, (August 21, 2002), Dan Epstein, interview with Michael Tolkin.