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‘Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke to star in silver screen adaption of J-school prof Joe Sharkey’s ‘Above Suspicion’

Courtesy Don Camp

Joseph Sharkey and “Game of Thrones” star Emilia Clarke on the set of “Above Suspicion” in Harlan, Kentucky on Thursday, July 7. Sharkey’s true-crime novel is being adapted into a movie, set to release next year.

A UA Journalism adjunct instructor will finally see his true crime book developed into a movie next year, over two decades after it was published.

Joe Sharkey, a 69-year-old Vietnam War Veteran and former New York Times columnist, published his book, “Above Suspicion” in 1992, which will hit the silver screen in 2017.

“Above Suspicion” tells the grim story of rookie FBI agent, Mark Putnam, to be played by “Boardwalk Empire” alumnus Jack Hutson, and his involvement with his impoverished informant Susan Smith, who will be played by “Game of Thrones'” Emilia Clarke.

In a poverty-stricken, crime-ridden town in eastern Kentucky, Putnam and Smith begin an affair, ultimately resulting in Smith’s murder during an altercation in which she confronts Putnam with the news that she is pregnant with his child.

Sharkey said he hoped to shed light on the consequences of the FBI’s use of paid informants as well as the effects of poverty in the region.

“I wanted people to have an understanding of this kind of abject dystopian poverty in an environment like eastern Kentucky,” Sharkey said, adding that the book pushed the FBI to reform its policies regarding informants.

Sharkey initially feared the film would reduce the characters to “two-bit criminals.”

Listen to Joe Sharkey talk about “Above Suspicion” with Justin Spears on KAMP Student Radio: 

“The book was published 23 years ago and it’s finally being made into a movie,” he said, “and I was delighted to know that, but I was skeptical about whether they’d be able to make a movie out of what — to me — was a psychologically complex book.”

Sharkey said his first reading of the screenplay raised concerns because the adaptation had yet to capture the complexity of the characters, particularly Smith.

“I read the screenplay, and frankly, I thought it needed a lot of work,” he said.

As a consultant on the film, Sharkey has been able to use his notes and interview transcripts to inform the screenplay and clarify the depth of the characters.

Sharkey said the efforts of the director and actors, with the addition of his insight, helped ensure the movie would accurately portray the book. A visit to the film’s set in Kentucky earlier this month also helped to ease his concerns about the character’s depictions.

“I absolutely believe that this is going to be a true movie and not just do the book justice but do the characters justice,” Sharkey said.

Sharkey particularly praised Clarke’s understanding of her character.

“She just nailed it,” Sharkey said. “She ran away with the movie and the character — she made that character her own.”

“Above Suspicion” is the first of Sharkey’s books to hit the big screen, but it may not be the last.

Sharkey’s wife of 34 years, and UA journalism Professor of Practice Nancy Sharkey, said her husband has two other non-fiction books that have been optioned by Hollywood producers.

“He’s got some other works that are just as good that will also make good movies,” she said. “I’m hoping this may help unlock some of that.”

She attributes her husband’s success as a reporter to his research and narrative skills. She said he brings his experiences as a reporter into his teaching.

Danielle Fork, a journalism senior, praised Sharkey’s teaching skills and said he treats his students like his own children.

As a student in Sharkey’s Advanced Reporting class last year, Fork said Sharkey gave his students constant updates on the movie’s proceedings and she is happy to see it coming to fruition.

“It was kind of cool because we got to see the whole thing unfold with him,” Fork said.

Follow Meredith Morrissey on Twitter.

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