Fate brought author and MIT card counters together
Constance Droganes, entertainment writer, CTV.ca
Published Saturday, April 5, 2008 7:08AM EDT
Selling more than one million copies to date, "Bringing Down the House" isn't the first book by this 1991 Harvard graduate. Mezrich launched his writing career in 1996 with "Threshold," a fictional work about a medical student who helps an ex-flame investigate her father's death.
Other books followed such as 1998's "Reaper," a tale about a virus that spreads through TVs and PCs, and 1999's "Skin," a story about skin harvesting that inspired an "X-Files" episode.
His move to nonfiction with "Bringing Down the House," however, catapulted the 39-year-old, magna-cum-laude grad into a new kind of fame game.
The basis for the movie "21," Mezrich's engrossing tale about six card-counting MIT mathletes who fleeced Vegas out of millions came up aces at the box office, raking in $23.7 million with its North American debut.
"I think the appeal of '21,' and of my book, has a lot to do with the revolution in Vegas that is going on today," Mezrich told CTV.ca from his home in Boston, Mass. "Nowadays every 21-year-old college kid or high school student wants to go to Vegas for their birthday. That didn't happen 10 years ago. Vegas was a little seedier back then. It wasn't the young hangout that it is today."
"Bringing Down the House" also helped fuel North America's current card craze, says Mezrich. "My book was published just as poker was gaining new momentum in the U.S. The two kind of worked together, but the book made the idea of being able to beat the casino popular."
A Hollywood gamble?
The world of high-stakes gambling is nothing new to Hollywood. From "The Cincinnati Kid" to "Ocean's 11" and "Casino Royale," scoring cool cash off a hot deck of cards holds perennial allure for film fans.
But Mezrich's film deal has a touch of magic to it. With a fairy tale twist of fate, "21" star Kevin Spacey and producer Dana Brunetti contacted Mezrich in 2002 after reading an article about the book that he had published in "Wired."
"I was sitting at home and the phone rang. Kevin was on the other end saying he wanted to make the movie," says Mezrich.
Fate also directed Mezrich's first encounter with the legendary MIT card counters. Meeting them at a party, Mezrich says, "I knew nothing about these kids, except the fact that they had lots of money. That in itself was weird because they were MIT geeks. But every weekend they went to Vegas."
Meet the geeks
Mezrich soon found himself accompanying these number-savvy nerds, playing with them in Vegas casinos for six months. As he says, "I was carrying the money on my body like they do. I did everything they did to get into it."
That rare insider's take into high-stakes Vegas gambling turned "Bringing Down the House" into a pop culture phenom. "Readers lived vicariously through the book. I lived vicariously through the research and writing it. That's what made it so much fun." says Mezrich, who penned the bestseller while staying in different Vegas hotels.
"The truth is I've lived with these characters for six years," says Mezrich. "To see my book become a big Hollywood movie with Kevin Spacey and Laurence Fishburne, and hit No. 1 at the box office was amazing."
With three other movie projects in the works, Spacey's Trigger Street production company has secured the rights to Mezrich's 2007 book, "Rigged: The True Story of an Ivy League Kid Who Changed the World of Oil, From Wall Street to Dubai." Spacey also nabbed the rights to Mezrich's 2004 hit, "Ugly Americans: The True Story of the Ivy League Cowboys Who Raided the Asian markets for Millions." Mezrich will act as an executive producer on the project.
"When you have a relationship with Kevin Spacey and his production company a lot of doors open up. So we'll see what happens," says Mezrich.
Using his newfound Hollywood heat to pitch his first original screenplay and build the buzz around his next book about avian flu, Mezrich says, "I don't know if I'll ever have another "Bringing Down the House. A story about MIT kids taking Vegas for millions was so compelling. But we'll see."