09/19/2010 01:57 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Lawrence Wright's New Journalism: "My Trip to Al-Qaeda" and "The Human Scale"

Lawrence Wright, New Yorker staff writer and Pulitzer Prize winning author of "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11" is also a performer/ playwright. Wanting to tell the backstory of writing his book, he created "My Trip to Al-Qaeda," a one man stage play performed at The Culture Project. The film version directed by the Academy Award winning documentarian Alex Gibney premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and is now airing on HBO-timely programming for the anniversary of 9/11.

Speaking about his attraction to this interesting and provocative story, Gibney noted that Lawrence Wright's journey into the Middle East shows the threat that we face: how dangerous it is in facing that threat that we are becoming more like the terrorists than we imagine.

"My Trip to Al-Qaeda" begins with Wright's travels to Cairo, and with a history of violence involving a movie Wright scripted, "The Siege," starring Denzel Washington and Bruce Willis. In early September, I had the opportunity to talk to Lawrence Wright about his work.

Q: You have a strange destiny to have to tell this story from "The Siege" to "My Trip to Al-Qaeda." Do you see the provocation in these films as relevant today?

The current mosque controversy echoes the controversy about "The Siege." I was proud of the movie, which was, by the way, a box office failure. Just as there was a campaign against "The Siege," now there is a controversy with more heat around it. Poor Muslims. I find myself in an oddly neutral spot. As in the case of the cartoons in Holland depicting Mohammed like pig having intercourse with a dog, the character of the people involved is distorted by the right wing.

[Wright's makes this comparison in the "Talk of the Town" section of the current New Yorker.]

Islam is religion of peace, and both sides on the mosque controversy are reprehensible because they have created a self-defeating strife where there should be a bridge for understanding. There is room for flexibility. The Muslim center has a perfect right to be there.

Q: What about the Wikileaks?

As a reporter aware that documents have been hidden, I am glad that the information is coming out. I am concerned that the information is inadequately vetted and people may die or go to prison. Afghan lives are in danger.

Q: Can you tell me how the film evolved from the stage play to film to television?

I was performing the play at the Kennedy Center. Alex Gibney had an idea about how the play could become more cinematic, could go out into the world. HBO is the best possible place for this film. They have courage.

Q: So, are you more writer or actor?

When Matt Damon and Robert DiNiro came to see me in the play, I felt that I was blessed by the tribe. I know I am not an actor in the way that they are. I was working in a novel form, non-fiction theater, communicating what I learned and experienced as a journalist.

Q: Is your new play in the same genre?

Yes, I'm doing it again. I am writer and performer of "The Human Scale," part of the New Yorker Festival on October 2. A co-production with The Public Theater, the work is interesting and gratifying. Print. Stage. Film. Each has a unique domain. This play derives from my New Yorker story on Gaza and the capture of an Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and how that event has led to war and a blockade. It would be a great thing for Israel and Hamas to be pressured to make a deal. Of course Hamas wants 1400 prisoners, some of them murderers, to be released in exchange for the one Israeli soldier.

Q: Are you working on anything else?

My band Whodo played in Washington on Sept. 11 at a club called Madame's Organ. It's a rockabilly and blues band. I am on keyboard. The fiddler is 15 year old and tours with Willy Nelson. Daunting.

Q: Would you call yourself a Renaissance man?

Restless, I guess.

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