Jeanne Heidler is Professor of History at the United States Air Force Academy where she is the senior civilian member of her department.
Here the Heidler's dreamcast an adaptation of their new book, Washington’s Circle: The Creation of the President:
Portraying the characters in Washington’s Circle: The Creation of the President would be a formidable challenge for the most talented cast. The wide ranges within the epic span of the story would require something more than mere physical resemblance to the people. The problem is laid bare in many films that transform such characters into Olympian caricatures or, just as bad, try so hard to avoid lionization that they produce a caricature of ordinariness. The people of Washington’s Circle were not flawless godheads, but neither were they undistinguished Everymen. They were extraordinary people who did extraordinary things, but the trick of portraying history and playing the makers of it is to convey the sense of uncertainty, surprise, hope, and anxiety that marks the human condition among all people, regardless of their talent or circumstance.Learn more about the book and author at David S. and Jeanne T. Heidler's website.
This is especially so for Washington, whose iconic image has frozen him in the public mind as forever old and inscrutable. Perhaps Liam Neeson would have the physical presence and somber authority as well as Washington’s stoic impassivity that made him quietly charismatic.
Robert Downey Jr. matches Alexander Hamilton’s height, coloring, and intensity. Tom Hiddleston is perfectly suited for Thomas Jefferson in both form and figure. Moreover, Hiddleston could leaven Jefferson with the whimsy that was as much a part of Jefferson’s personality as his intellect but sadly and seldom shows up in portrayals of him. Daniel Radcliffe’s size and manner would make him a good James Madison, and Michael Keaton has with age developed features that could approximate those of John Adams, especially his eyes. Keaton also could provide the nervous energy that made Adams both endearing and exasperating to friends and foes alike. Martin Freeman rather looks like Washington’s indispensable secretary Tobias Lear, and he would be able to depict Lear’s modesty, competence, and devotion to Washington and his family.
As for the family, Blair Brown’s ability to convey strength with sweetness recommends her for Martha Washington. Eleanor Parke Custis, always called Nelly, would require several actors to portray her from age 11 to 18, but the adult Nelly’s charm and beauty could be well represented by Bella Thorne, with the appropriate coloring. The great Brock Peters has passed away, but his bearing and commanding presence would have perfectly captured the proud Hercules, Washington’s cook who responded to the indignity of menial labor at Mount Vernon by escaping from slavery, never to be found. The quiet dignity and gentle goodness of William Lee, Washington’s principal manservant for many years, could be movingly portrayed by Cuba Gooding, Jr.
It is a partial list, of course, and merely a start, because as we point out in our introduction to the book, the mere fact of George Washington’s existence in such a pivotal time of world shaping events makes the story of the people around him an epic that would dwarf the power of the most sterling depictions. As Shakespeare noted in the prologue to the exploits of Henry V, one would need more than a talented cast armed with a grand script and under solid direction. A muse of fire would possibly suffice. Possibly.