Interview with Mark Seal

Interview by Magdalena Ball

How did you get involved with this story?

I received a call from an old friend, a young woman living in New York, who had met Clark Rockefeller at an Upper East Side art galley. She had just heard he’d kidnapped his daughter and was convinced that I had to write about him. I was skeptical at first, but as I learned more — he was all over the evening news — I would be eternally grateful to my friend for her call.

At what point did you decide your profile needed to become a full scale book?

When the trial was scheduled in Boston, and so many of the people who loomed large in his life were scheduled to testify.

Talk to me a little about the character of Clark Rockefeller. What draws you to him as a subject?

The notion that he turned the idea of the immigrant who comes to America with nothing on its head. Not only did he create himself anew in the new country — as so many immigrants before him had done — he created himself as a series of increasingly audacious personas. As I learned more about the audacity of his creations — a Chichester, a Rockefeller, etc — I became riveted to his story and wanted to know more about who he became an how he did it.

Talk to me about some of the research you did for the book. How deeply did you have to dig into Gerhartsreiter’s life to reconstruct him?

I dug as deep as I could, going to Germany to visit his family home and interviewing many of the people who knew him there, then traced his journey best I could through the places where he lived in America. I loved the people he met and befriended: they were all open and honest and willing to talk. As soon as I felt I knew almost everything, another person or another wrinkle in the story would surface — which continued to happen until deadline for the book, and then after deadline with the charge of murder being brought in California on March 15, 2011. So the story continues to unfold . . .

Where to from here? Are you keen to get stuck into another biography?

I am praying for another phone call from an old friend who has just met an unforgettable character . . .