Is Leonard in 'A Million Little Pieces' Based on a Real Person?

Momentum Pictures

Despite controversy and backlash over how much of it was actually true or not, the film adaptation of James Frey's 2003 novel A Million Little Pieces will premiere in theaters on Dec. 6. With its release will surely come curious new audiences who may be left wondering just how much of the film is based in truth. Ostensibly a story about Frey's time in rehab, the film also includes some fascinating characters, not the least of which being mafioso and fellow addict Leonard, who, as it turns out, might not actually exist.

A Million Little Pieces follows Frey (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who is sent to rehab by his brother, Bob (Charlie Hunnam), after an especially terrible bender. There, he meets Leonard (Billy Bob Thornton), a mafia boss who becomes a kind of father figure for Frey. Over the course of the film, Leonard proves to be an invaluable part of Frey's recovery, and despite his sordid background, is shown to be an affable and easygoing person.

While the movie only covers the events of Frey's first book, Leonard has such an impact on Frey that their friendship forms the basis for the novel's sequel, My Friend Leonard. And even though Leonard is shown to have this massive impact on Frey's life, there just isn't any evidence to suggest that he ever existed.

It's an especially jarring discrepancy as A Million Little Pieces was initially presented in 2003 as a non-fiction memoir. At the time of its publication, it resonated with audiences, so much so that it earned a spot on Oprah's Book Club list. But after a Smoking Gun investigation turned up glaring discrepancies in Frey's story, that resonance turned sour. The Smoking Gun's article says Frey "wholly fabricated or wildly embellished details of his purported criminal career, jail terms, and status as an outlaw 'wanted in three states.'" It goes on to say, "Frey appears to have fictionalized his past to propel and sweeten the book's already melodramatic narrative and help convince readers of his malevolence."

Following this investigation, Oprah brought Frey back on to her show to comment on the lies and half-truths. According to USA Today, Frey said, "All the way through the book I altered details about every one of the characters," which includes the character based on himself. Given this comment, and the fact that Frey hasn't ever confirmed one way or another whether Leonard actually existed, it's hard to believe that the Leonard, as presented in A Million Little Pieces, was ever a real person.

While none of those half-truths and lies stopped the film from being made, critics have commented on those fabrications in their reviews of the film, blaming them for weakening the story overall. The Independent's review reads: "The director’s take is straight, and earnest in tone, but the film is inevitably undone by Frey’s own fabrications," while IndieWire's points out another glaring fact: "Sam and Aaron Taylor-Johnson completely ignore the scandal that followed the heavily embellished memoir, and the film is worse for it." Only time will tell whether audiences will agree with these critics' assessments regarding this fraught, embellished story.