Thursday, June 21, 2007

Matt Haig's "The Dead Fathers Club"

Matt Haig is the author of a new novel for young readers Shadow Forest (in the U.K.; Samuel Blink and the Forbidden Forest in the U.S.) and two novels for adults: The Last Family in England, which tells the story of Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1 with the protagonists as dogs, and The Dead Fathers Club, which is based on Hamlet and is a "hilarious and touching novel narrated by an eleven-year old boy who is visited by his father’s ghost."

While The Dead Fathers Club may well be coming to a cineplex near you in the not too distant future, Haig was good enough to share his thoughts on who might direct and star in such a film:
Okay, well this is a little tricky as the book is already optioned by David Heyman’s Heyday Productions, and I have supreme confidence that David knows far better than I do the kind of movie it would make.

But I’m pretty sure every writer daydreams about how what once existed solely inside their own head could be projected onto the screen, and I’m no exception.

The tricky thing with The Dead Fathers Club is how to do the ghost of the father, whether just to have him standing there free from any special effects, or to actually give him a transparent hologram feel which would be closer to Philip’s description of him as ‘pale and see through like the ghosts at the Haunted Mansion in Disney World’ with ‘blood running down from his hair’.

The ghost experiences great terror though, when it flickers out, and I always pictured these moments as being like those anguished portraits by Francis Bacon of screaming Popes – ‘flickering and screaming but with the volume down’.

As for the setting it would be great if it could be filmed where it is actually based, in the market town of Newark-on-Trent in Nottinghamshire, England, where I grew up. It’s a strange town, which looks quite pretty and historic, but which I considered to be the seventh circle of Hell as a teenager. It would be a vengeful kind of fun to see my interpretation of the place up on the screen.

Lee Hall, of Billy Elliot fame, would be the perfect screenwriter, and I would be confident he could get inside Philip’s mind.

As for directors, that’s difficult. I was extremely flattered and dumbstruck when I found out Stephen Daldry had not only read but had also enjoyed the book. He’d be great. But there are so many directors I love, and there are probably at least thirty out there who could do it justice.

Now, for my fantasy cast. Well, the perfect Philip would be an unknown 11-year-old, who wouldn’t make the audience think of any other movies he’s been in. And as for the apparently slimy Uncle Alan I’ve said before that Ray Winstone is how I view him, physically, but Tom Wilkinson, from In the Bedroom and loads of other films (one of my all-time favourite actors) would be an equal top choice.

The ghost would have to be someone who can do ‘blank’ very well. A Kevin Spacey-type, but with an English accent. Ben Kingsley twenty years ago would have been perfect.

Philip’s mum would be someone quite attractive but who wasn’t afraid to look haggard, so Charlize Theron or her British equivalent.

And in the Dead Fathers Club there’s also a film within the book. It’s called The Murder of Gonzago, the same title as the play within Hamlet, and it stars Joaquin Phoenix, Mel Gibson and Tobey Maguire, for the different connotations these actors have. (Joaquin Phoenix reprising his Gladiator role; Mel Gibson because he once played Hamlet in a movie; and Tobey Maguire because Philip is obsessed with Spiderman).

But I think to get all three of them just to be in one scene might be stretching the budget, even a fantasy budget, a little too far.
Visit Matt Haig's website and MySpace page.

The Page 69 Test: The Dead Fathers Club.

--Marshal Zeringue