Monday, October 12, 2009


Who should play this character?

There is a “book club” supplement in the novel I read recently (The Black Hand, Will Thomas). A few questions intended to spark discussions. One of the questions: “If this was made into a film, who would you cast as the characters?" Interesting, and one I sporadically contemplate when reading a book for the 2nd time.

One of my favorite authors in the past couple years has been Martin Cruz Smith. (Why do people insist in using all 3 names? What would be wrong with simply Martin Smith? I don’t recall ever seeing another author by that name. Sharon Kay Penmann? Lois McMaster Bujold? ... anyway ...)

Smith wrote Gorky Park, and several sequels. Arkady Renko is central, yet never deeply described physically beyond tall, thin, serious, pale and black haired. Who would I cast? I saw a chacter in The Bourne Supremacy and - pop - I thought, that’s who I would cast. Given the actor, Karl Urban, is a Kiwi I would likely not have contemplated it, other than that he was playing a Russian cop in Bourne. Tall, slender, black hair, pale skin and about the right age for the initial books.

William Hurt played the character in the '80s movie, which I just don't see. But, how much of the character's description influences our perception of the character as a person? The Black Hand has a central character, Thomas Llewelyn, who is repeatedly described as being short. The description actually reminds me heavily of my friend Calum, who matches it fairly well.

Sometimes one changes the character’s sex between source material & movie. Either specifically or generally. The Bourne Identity had a female assistant (Julia Stiles): if the character was in the book (I don't recall), it would assuredly have been a man. Ditto Bourne Supremacy (I never read) with Joan Allen. Ludlum in 1970 simply wouldn’t have made a Deputy Director of the CIA a woman. Puck in Midsummer Night’s Dream as a man or woman? Would that choice effect the interpretation?

Sometimes casting one character can force other casting. A production of The Marriage of Figaro at MSU had Figaro played by a black man. Should that influence the rest of the cast’s color? This particularly intrigues me. Watching the Bourne movies (1st & 2nd) this week, I wonder why the entire cast is white. What difference would it have made to have at least the extras be black, brown, purple, whatever...? I’ve never been to Moscow, but Berlin is certainly not monochromatic these days. Even if one only considers the Turks.


Anonymous said...

There were characters and many situations in the Bourne movies that did not exist in the books. In fact, after The Bourne Identity, the movies bore no resemblance to the books, in my opinion. But you're right about Ludlum although Bourne's wife in the books is equal to Bourne in almost every way.....

Sometimes authors/writers write in a specific timeframe in which it wouldn't be appropriate to mix races. I saw a production of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" at the Guthrie cast with almost all Black actors. It worked fine. Could we cast Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" with all Black actors? Wouldn't work in a million years. I once saw a Kabuki production of Shakespear's "MacBeth." That didn't work either, but the sword fights were terrific.

A rule in screenwriting: never describe a character's physical appearance. It won't be relevant in the casting process. What's important is characterization -- what kind of a person the character is, etc. That has little to do with physical appearance unless one is dealing in stereotypes.....

Gopher MPH said...

MacBeth as Kabuki ... now that sounds really intriguing.

I realize mixing races/ethnicities can be problematic in a way with historical pieces. White Man's Burden (Travolta & Bellafonte) tried to put this in an intriguing way, which I found too heavy handed.

I'm glad that Hollywood has finally decided to cast people with a little less regard to their reproductive organs or skin color. Unless it's really important to our understanding of the character (e.g., Samuel Jackson in A Time to Kill), I don't see how it matters one way or another.

Felix Leiter in the recent Bond Casino Royale is black; I suppose being a Bond movie, they wouldn't have cast a woman. However, they did make M a woman (and Judi Dench is just stunningly powerful in the role in a way I don't think a man could have done).