You wrote a book that was on the New York Times Best Sellers list for three and a half years, and now there’s a movie adaptation starring Greg Kinnear as you. And it all started because you cheated on your wife?
[laughs] I have never exactly had it put to me that way, but you’re absolutely right. She said, “This is all I’m asking from you. If you never do that again, I’ll never bring this up again, and you are welcome to come home.” I said to her, “If you will do that, I will do anything that you ask me the rest of our lives together, to show you that I love you.”
And so she asked you to befriend a homeless man named Denver Moore?
Ten years later, she said, “I had a dream about a man who was poor but wise, and by his wisdom our city will be changed.” She said, “If you will go with me into the inner city, I want to see if we can find this man, because I believe that our lives will be changed as a result of it.” I had promised her I’d do anything.
Ron, you have to forgive me. It all sounds just a little—
You want to call bullshit? Listen, I would have, too, if it hadn’t happened to me. My wife, you have to understand, she was an absolutely brilliant woman. She had a spiritual connection like no person I have ever known. And it just so happens that the man that she had the dream about, this poor wise man who was going to change our lives, was also a spiritual savant.
Debbie died in 2000. Then Denver moved in with you, and that’s when you and he began writing Same Kind of Different as Me.
We buried Debbie at our ranch out in Palo Pinto County, on the Brazos River, just west of Fort Worth. Denver and I went out to build a proper cemetery. One day, he started laughing. He said, “Mr. Ron, ain’t nobody ever gonna believe our story. We got to write us a book.”
Had you written anything before?
You kidding me? I cheated to get through college.
Denver died in 2012. Did he know about the movie before he died?
He did, because we had been under contract with Disney. Denver wasn’t excited about a movie being made about his life. He was afraid he might go back to prison. One day he asked me, “Mr. Ron, can you tell me about that statue they call the lamentations?” I said, “You mean the statute of limitations?”
How strange is it to see Greg Kinnear and Renee Zellweger playing you and your wife on the big screen?
It’s still such a disconnect. It’s so overwhelming when I see this film that it takes me five to 10 minutes to recover before I can even get up out of my seat.
In a few places online, especially in the Guardian, there have been some savage reviews of the movie trailer. They’ve criticized the “magical Negro” cliché and the white savior stuff.
He was not a magical Negro. He was a spiritual being who added greatly to our family. I’d rather kill my kids than have them watch another film about a magical Negro. That Guardian article, I thought, If he had met Denver and he had met Debbie and he had spent one day with us—he did not have any idea what he was talking about.
With all this, surely you’ve quit your day job as an art dealer.
I quit my job as an art dealer because people quit calling me. I would love for somebody to offer me a great Picasso for sale or something that I can make some money on. I didn’t really make money from the first book. Denver took half, and he used his half to support people, his friends in the homeless community. My half went to the Union Gospel Mission in Fort Worth to build the mission of Debbie’s dream. That’s how that went.
Ron Hall and Djimon Hounsou, who plays Denver in the movie, will be part of a fundraising dinner for Union Gospel Mission on January 17. Visit ugmdifference.org for details. Same Kind of Different as Me hits theaters February 3.