What began with a chance encounter on an airplane could end with an acceptance speech at the Academy Awards. Author Walter Kirn ’83, in a recent interview with Studio 360 host Kurt Andersen, said that making small talk with the man in the seat next to him -- a constantly roaming business consultant -- provided the inspiration for the lead character in Kirn's 2001 novel Up in the Air. Last week, director Jason Reitman released his film adaptation of the book, starring George Clooney, and reviewers praised the movie, with more than a few noting its potential as an Oscar nominee for best picture.

Those who have followed Kirn's career may recall that he has some sour memories of his days as a Princeton undergraduate (most vividly described in his 2009 memoir Lost in the Meritocracy). But PAW's Tiger of the Week is designed to honor noteworthy alumni; love of alma mater is not a prerequisite.

Reitman and colleague Sheldon Turner wrote the screenplay for Up in the Air, and Kirn spent time on the set in a consulting role. That opened the door for another role -- an on-screen cameo in which the author portrays one of Clooney's business associates.

"That was a worst-case scenario for me in which I had to sit next to George Clooney, providing an objective comparison between our faces for my own girlfriend," Kirn joked in the Studio 360 interview. "I never want to appear on screen again."

Read about other alumni books that have become movies in PAW's online feature From printed page to silver screen.

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