Actors turned novelists: The good, bad and the terrible

Which fiction-penning celebrities have bagged a book deal- and how was their work received?

There’s a long list of actors who have turned their hand to fiction – and it makes perfect sense. Lots of us have ideas for a book rattling around in our head, but it would take years of blood, sweat and tears to get a publisher’s attention. If you’re Tom Hanks, it’s a just a bit easier. 


So here are the seven of the best, worst and downright strange story-writing attempts from famous actors…

James Franco

What: Palo Alto, a collection of short stories about bored and troubled Californian teens

When: 2010

What the critics said: “Vacant”, “flawed but fascinating”, “a promising start, and the Hollywood hunk has definite talent”

Verdict: Try as some critics might to write Franco off as a pretentious literary wannabe, pop-culture loves him too much to ignore…

Marlon Brando

What: Fan Tan, a novel about bloodthirsty pirates and unscrupulous warlords co-written with the late British film director Donald Cammell

When: 2005

What the critics said: “This can’t be identified as good writing – at least not in the narrow, technical sense of the term – but it’s certainly rambunctious wordplay”, “utterly fascinating and horrifically bad”, “the only prize it is likely to win is the Literary Review’s annual ‘Bad Sex’ award”

Verdict: Strange and awful yet entertaining

Molly Ringwald

What: When it Happens to You, a novel about a Southern California couple whose marriage dissolves amid revelations of infidelity

When: 2012

What the critics said: “When It Happens to You is sort of bad. But! It’s not so bad that you don’t think she might get there someday. She did it once. Why not again?”, “Ringwald’s storytelling succeeds as much on the page as her acting has done on screen”

Verdict: Forget The Breakfast Club, Ringwald can join the writer’s club…

Macaulay Culkin

What: Junior, a semi-autobioghraphical novel about child stardom

When: 2007

What the critics said: “Junior turns out to be oddly, unwittingly . . . compelling”, “200 pages of mostly incoherent rant”, ”self-indulgently infantile”

Verdict: No Nobel literature prize for Culkin, but an intriguing insight into the Home Alone star’s psyche

Ethan Hawke

What: The Hottest State, a novel about a young actor called William who falls in love with a young woman called Sarah


What the critics said: “Tempting as it is to take a pot shot at any golden boy who thrusts his head so far above the parapet, it is my duty to inform you that Hawke is a cracking writer”, “an extended hissy fit”, “skip the movie, if there is one”

Verdict: Depends on your taste but it looks like acting isn’t his only talent

Nicole Richie

What: The Truth About Diamonds is not an investigative work looking into the brutal reality of the diamond trade, but instead a novel telling the story of a popular Hollywood socialite named Chloe Parker, who is the adopted daughter of a music star and his glamorous wife (sound familiar?)

When: 2005

What the critics said: “Allegations that Richie hired a ghostwriter have been floating about the Internet… but the writing, despite the fancy words, is so rife with cheesy clichés and heavy-handed metaphors, there’s little chance a respectable writer could have allowed them to find their ways into any manuscript”, “incredibly awkward”

Verdict: Probably one to put in the loo for bored guests

Steve Martin

What: A novella about a 28-year-old artist in huge debt from doing a Masters at a California college, who works at the glove counter at a high-end department store in Beverly Hills

When: 2000

What the critics said: “elegant, bleak, desolatingly sad”, “its confidence and nuance indicates that it’s probably time for him to try a novel”


Verdict: Top marks, Steve