"Anyway, at some point during the next shot, Pat must have cottoned on to what was happening, because I looked around to see that she had literally pinned Jonathan, by the lapels, against the wall."A moment later, she stomped over to me and said, 'I have just questioned this young man and he admits that he is playing the part of Tom Ripley. ' After I had admitted that well, yes it was, she said, 'You're goddamn fucking lucky – he's perfect.'" Later, Highsmith said that Kent was the best Ripley she had seen since Alain Delon.
Indeed, the third in the series, Ripley's Game (directed this time by Liliana Cavani), has also been made before, as Der amerikanische Freund by Wim Wenders.
Highsmith approved of the casting of Delon in Clément's film – which she described as "very beautiful to the eye and interesting for the intellect" – but she was less sure of the Stetson-wearing Dennis Hopper in Wenders's 1977 film. Friends recall how Highsmith would often talk about Ripley as if he was a real person.
The sequence involved Highsmith arriving at Gatwick airport, closely followed by Ripley.
"I told Jonathan to get behind her as she was moving down the travelator, but the cameraman wasn't happy with the first, second or third tracking shots and finally Pat stormed up to me and said, 'I don't know whether I should mention this or not, but there's a young man who keeps following me.'"Bond did not tell her the truth – that this was Kent as Ripley – and insisted that he must be a fan.
But why – 50 years after Hitchcock's adaptation of Highsmith's first novel, Strangers on a Train – are filmmakers still drawn to the novelist described by Graham Greene as "the poet of apprehension" and by Gore Vidal as "one of our greatest modernist writers"?
Although Highsmith's novels may give the impression that their narratives race along, according to playwright Phyllis Nagy – who has adapted Found in the Street and Carol for the screen and The Talented Mr Ripley for the stage – on closer inspection, it is clear that they are character- rather than plot-driven."So much of what occurs depends upon how behavioural nuance or gesture is received by the novel's characters – and thus Highsmith provides the literary equivalent of 'reaction shots' throughout her work, which is perfect for film," says Nagy, who was a friend of the author.
Highsmith maintained that she did not mind filmmakers freely adapting her novels, yet some of the final movies did not live up to expectations.
Just before starting to shoot a dramatised segment of Ripley Under Ground for a 1982 South Bank Show on the American writer, director and producer Jack Bond received a call from Highsmith's French editor asking whether he had told the novelist whom he had cast as Ripley.
"I had cast Jonathan Kent in the role, but had not informed Highsmith," he recalls.
"He's a wonderfully complex, ambiguous character who can be read on many levels," says Spottiswoode.
The Talented Mr Ripley – the first of the five Ripley novels – has been adapted twice, first by René Clément in 1959 as Plein soleil, starring Alain Delon as Tom Ripley, and then again by Anthony Minghella in 1999 with an all-star cast including Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett.