Alan Hruska (left) and a production still from Laugh it Up, Stare it Down (photo by Richard Termine) ()
Most Big Law partners take up golf, sailing or traveling the world when they retire. They might rekindle old passions for self-expression. Chances are they will just dapple in those pursuits.
But Alan Hruska, 82, has gone whole hog on a new career—several, actually—since he retired from Cravath Swaine & Moore as a partner in 2001. Currently, he has a new play out: “Laugh It Up, Stare It Down” at New York’s legendary Cherry Lane Theater in Greenwich Village.
After seeing the darkly humorous play (New York Times calls it “quaintly absurdist,” as “if an existentialist philosopher ever attempted a light romantic comedy”), I caught up with Hruska to talk about his career and the tensions between law and creativity.
I read your bio and fell into total exhaustion. You were a big trial lawyer at Cravath. You trained David Boies. You wrote novels and plays that got produced in New York or London. You founded Soho Press. And you’re now directing plays and independent movies. And I’m leaving a lot out. So how did you do it all?
I didn’t need much sleep! [When I was practicing] I dictated everything—opening briefs, closing statement, notes, sometimes even my novels—and it went faster. In those days, secretaries were highly skilled. Mine won a speed [typing] contest.
But you were at Cravath! That’s not the kind of place where you can indulge in time-intensive extracurricular activities.
Well, you give up things that aren’t that important. I gave up TV and dinner parties.
You published your first novel in 1985 when you were already partner. Did you write on the side as an associate?
I would always write one or two hours before going to work. When I was writing [a novel] as an associate, my writing was erratic and not cohesive enough to be publishable.
And what finally made you publishable?
The way to do it is to just write. You have to find your own voice.
Were people at Cravath shocked that you had this sideline?
They knew once my novel was published! Maybe they weren’t completely surprised because I wrote briefs that no one else would write. I always wrote a story, which is the secret of advocacy.
Did you ever feel being a lawyer was not your true calling?
Not at all. I had a great experience. I did about 400 cases, won 200 and settled 200. I’m particularly proud of the settlements because they can put people in a much better position than winning a case.
So what was your retirement plan?
When I retired in 2001, I thought about going into film school and got an application for NYU. But I decided against it. I decided to find people who knew how to make films. I had written a screenplay that I wanted to direct. I felt directing actors shouldn’t be that bad—it’s a lot like prepping witnesses. I made my last film in 12 days—The Man on Her Mind—which is available on Netflicks..
You make it sound so easy. How did you get credibility as a director? ?
It’s hard, particularly hard with reviewers—but you just do it. I directed Waiting for Godot off Broadway and got good reviews, and that boosted my credibility.
How do you finance your projects?
It’s something that I usually don’t talk about but I’m fortunate that there are a number of people who believe in my stuff.
And do you put your own money in them?
You seem to be at a very comfortable place now. You’ve made your mark in law and now you’re getting recognition for your creative work. Do you ever wonder if you would have achieved your creative success without the law?
That’s a question I’m currently exploring in one of my works.
Your current play Laugh It Up, Stare It Down deals with infidelity, mortality and the randomness of life. Though it’s a comedy, it’s pretty dark.
Thank you! Not many people see that. It’s an existential work. Comedy comes from the darkest subject.
Any advice for lawyers who want to be serious writers? Is persistence the key?
Persistence is nice but obsession is more like it. Why am I obsessed? God knows. I just get up every morning and I write.