Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Robert J. Sawyer's "Rollback"

Science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer, winner of Best Novel Hugo and Nebula Awards, has a brand new novel -- Rollback -- in bookstores this week.

Here the author offers some casting ideas for a film adaptation of the novel:
Rollback is a novel about rejuvenation, and so contains an interesting casting challenge. At the beginning of the book, the main character, Don Halifax, is 87 years old, but as the story progresses he ends up having his body rolled back to the way it was when he was just 25.

An elderly man, no matter how skilled an actor, can't move with the vigor and grace of a young person, so you can't have a senior citizen play both parts. And having different actors play young and old Don reminds me too much of the 1970s series The Incredible Hulk, in which Bill Bixby played Dr. Banner and Lou Ferrigno played the alter-ego: it was impossible for me to suspend disbelief and think of them as the same person.

No, let's go with a young actor and use makeup and appliances to make him look old in the early scenes. My choice would be Topher Grace, who played Eric Forman on That '70s Show. He's 28 right now but has that amazing combination of a really youthful smile and those soulful eyes that look like they've seen a lot.

The other lead role is Sarah Halifax, Don's wife. She's an astronomer who, in her youth, decoded the first-ever radio signal received by aliens; as the novel opens, a reply to the message she sent them is finally received. She's the one who was really supposed to get the rollback -- Don was just along for the ride -- but the process fails for her while succeeding for him, and the tragedy of that tests their marriage to the limit.

If one wanted to go for stunt casting, Jodie Foster in makeup would be excellent, as she played a SETI researcher once before, in the film version of Carl Sagan's Contact. But there are so many fabulous elderly actresses doing the best work of their careers right now that I'd go for one of them: Helen Mirren would be my first choice, followed by Judi Dench, and then maybe Rosemary Harris, who has been brilliant as Aunt May in the Spider-Man movies.

The book's other significant role is the real 25-year-old who catches Don's eye: a free-spirited red-headed astronomy grad student named Lenore Darby. Kirsten Dunst would be fabulous in the role, but so would Katrina Bowden, who is beguiling in her minor part as Cerie on NBC's 30 Rock.

There's also one meaty supporting part: Cody McGavin, the president of a robotics company, who is a bit of a Bill Gates character. Paul Giamatti would be my choice.

My own idol as a science-fiction writer is Arthur C. Clarke, and he has a cameo in 2010 -- he's the guy sitting on the park bench feeding pigeons outside the White House while Roy Scheider and James McEachin are talking. And since we're day-dreaming about making a movie of my book, I suppose I can day-dream about having a cameo in it. Don has a souped-up PDA/cellphone called a "datacom" that talks to him a couple of times. I'm a trained radio broadcaster, and people say I have a good voice; I'd love the chance to do the datacom's few lines.
Visit Robert Sawyer's website and blog, and read an excerpt from Rollback.

--Marshal Zeringue