Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Andrea MacPherson's "Beyond the Blue"

Andrea MacPherson is the author of four books: two novels, When She Was Electric (Raincoast, 2003) and Beyond the Blue (Random House, 2007) and two poetry collections, Natural Disasters (Palimpsest Press, 2007) and Away (Signature Editions, 2008).

Earlier this year she put the Page 69 Test to Beyond the Blue; here she imagines the dream cast for a film adaptation of the novel:
I’ve always thought about novels in a cinematic way: pan to the long, lingering sun-bleached fields. Tight focus on the way the loom whirs and spins, how the hand is acutely aware of the possibility of danger. But, in most cases, I don’t think about the characters as actors. Why? Because I imagine them as the characters they are — who they appear to be on the page.

So, I've thought a lot about who might play my characters in Beyond the Blue. First, it takes place in Dundee, Scotland in 1918. I need actors who might be chameleons, able to slip into eras and countries with ease. Then, who resembles them the most, in appearance, yes, but also in spirit? I have a relatively large cast, so my mind was whirring.

Morag: matriarch. Full of quiet, dignified hope. Older, but still handsome, well-spoken. Strong. More than anything, strength of character and vision. So it had to be Meryl Streep. I can imagine her in one of these bleak weaving rooms, tending looms but looking off in the distance — in that way she has — and you could see below the surface, all the shimmering hope just there.

Caro: eldest daughter. The ‘pretty’ one who wants, more than anything, a different sort of life than her mother has. Smarter than she lets on. Unafraid. Ambitious. Here, I see Rachel McAdams or Claire Danes. For their mix of beauty, intelligence and something that edges close to shyness, something that might be surprising.

Wallis: younger daughter. She is the one who most searingly feels the burdens of family and responsibility. Who is caught in the past, in the years when she felt she was really, truly happy. Still in love with a childhood friend, long gone to Ireland. I’d love to see Sarah Polley here. She’s beautiful, but not in the expected way; she seems determined, which is essential to Wallis’ character.

Imogen: orphaned, abandoned niece. Ethereal, haunted, distrustful of her own perceptions of the world around her. Imogen is having visions of her dead mother, and is uncertain how to cope with this grief. Who might play such a character? Dominique Swain or Thora Birch. Either has that quality — the only word to capture it, quality — that so defines Imogen and her journey.

Brigid: Morag’s dead sister, Imogen’s dead mother. Incredibly beautiful, fragile, complex. Brigid appears to Imogen as a ghostly essence, and appears in the earlier years of the story. This would have to be someone as ethereal as Imogen; a character certain of her wants; someone who changes the world around her. Cate Blanchett, Cate Blanchett, Cate Blanchett.

And then there are the men.

Oliver: Morag’s brother-in-law; Brigid’s husband; Imogen’s lost father. A man who walks away from a life he no longer recognizes. Handsome, charming, liked by almost everyone (not Morag, who is wary, aware of his flaws and his abandonment). The prodigal who returns. I think Clive Owen or Patrick Dempsey would be good fits — both have the ability to project emotion, to keep things bottled in in that inarticulate way, which would suit Oliver perfectly.

Desmond: mill owner. Destined-to-be-doomed lover of Caro. Callous. Unconcerned. Aware of his power and unafraid to exploit it, often. Gabriel Byrne would be lovely here: you can believe that women would flock to him, not only because he is attractive, but, more importantly, because you believe in his status, his ability to control any situation.

Godfrey: traveling healer. Slick. Untrustworthy. Something just off centre. A perfect match to Willem Dafoe.

There are other characters as well — again, that unwieldy cast: children; a dark, tragic woman who puts her head in a stove, a stray lover or two. But these are the ones who cement the novel for me, the ones I see in those sweeping glances of the cobbled streets of Dundee.
Read an excerpt from Beyond the Blue and learn more about MacPherson's work at her official website.

Read Linda L. Richards' 2007 interview with MacPherson in January Magazine.

The Page 69 Test: Beyond the Blue.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Allen Wyler's "Deadly Errors"

Allen Wyler is a neurosurgeon and author of two thrillers, Deadly Errors and Dead Head.

Deadly Errors has been translated into several European languages. Originally published as a hardcover, it will be re-release in April 2008 as a mass market paperback. Here’s what the author has to say about a film adaptation of the novel:
Apparently, after listening to how other writers build their stories, I do mine backasswards. Meaning, instead of building the story around the character I start with the core idea and then figure out the ending, then work backwards outlining a series of scenes that logically lead up to the climax. Once this is done, I decide the actual location for each scene and photograph them with my digital camera so I can view the picture as I write.

Once this stage is reached, I ask, “Now, what about the characters?” I visualize actors who fit my characters’ physical attributes and then I begin creating their quirks and mannerisms.

So basically, I don’t do the film-to-book thing (or vice versa) until I’m ready to leave the outline stage and actually start writing. Only then do I develop each scene as I see the film play out.

Deadly Errors employs four main characters:

I envision Dermot Mulroney playing the main character and protagonist, Tyler Mathews, a neurosurgeon piecing his life back together after being falsely accused of drug abuse. Once he discovers that a flaw in the medical center’s new computerized records system is causing patient deaths and he tries to report this, he finds himself fighting for his life.

Jill Richardson, the beautiful VP of Risk Management for Maynard Medical Center (and female lead) could be played nicely by Rosamund Pike. Her allegiances remain ambiguous (is she helping Tyler or one of the enemy) until a scene leading up to the climax.

Arthur Benson is Maynard Medical Center’s CEO and ultimately the person responsible for covering up the problems with the computer. I believe Jeremy Piven would be a perfect fit for him.

Finally, there is Bernie Levy, the Bill Gates wannabe who coded the flawed computer program. Guy Pearce would fit the bill well.
Read more about Deadly Errors at Allen Wyler's website.

The Page 69 Test: Dead Head.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Louise Penny's "A Fatal Grace"

Louise Penny's first Three Pines mystery, Still Life, won the Arthur Ellis Award from the Crime Writers of Canada and the New Blood Dagger from the British Crime Writers' Association. In the United States, it received the Dilys Award for the book that the members of the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association most enjoyed selling over the past year. It was named one of the Kirkus Reviews' top ten mysteries of 2006 and received the most votes for the best mystery of the year from the online community DorothyL. The Cruellest Month, the third novel in the series, is out now in the U.K. and Canada and scheduled for release in the U.S. in early 2008.

I asked Penny what a film adaptation of the Three Pines novels might look like. Her reply:
What a great question, though a hard one to answer, since I never ever sit on planes imagining various stars thanking me for the luminous characters, the sparkling dialogue, the thrilling plot. I never practice my Academy Award speech or congratulate George Clooney on his Oscar win, playing Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. (An egregious miscasting I originally protested, but upon seeing the rushes I came to appreciate he understood the depth and compassion of Gamache. I eventually apologized to Mr. Clooney over an intimate dinner.) I never imagine the private jets landing at my village airport (built especially for them) to take me to P. Diddy’s yacht in St Tropez or having to lie to JK Rowling because she just won’t let the whole rivalry thing go and accept it really doesn’t matter that I’ve made way more money than her. After all, it is unfair to compare my Chief Inspector Gamache to a boy wizard. But really, some people.

However, as a personal favor to Marshal, I’ve agreed to this stretch.

The pivotal role in the Three Pines series, and certainly in A Fatal Grace, is Chief Inspector Gamache, a man in his mid-fifties, large and comfortable. His body speaks of engrossing reads by the fireplace, of café au laits and croissants, and quiet walks through Parc Mont Royal with his beloved wife and dog. His power comes from his stillness, his calm, his great presence. When he walks into a room people know the leader has arrived. He is kind, content and compassionate.

So you can see how George Clooney might be miscasting. Actually, while I was writing it I had two actors, or perhaps more characters, in mind. One was Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean Luc Picard. But the main imagine and feeling I had for Gamache was Lorne Greene, as Ben Cartwright.

So, I’d cast the late Lorne Greene. Of living actors I might, oddly enough, cast Kelsey Grammer. I know, it seems improbable, but he has an unexpected presence, as well as a smart sense of humor.

For Clara Morrow, a struggling artist and the main female character I’d cast Jennifer Saunders from Ab Fab. For her husband Peter, a deeply conflicted, brilliant artist I’d go with John Travolta – though he might make a great Gamache too. He probably shouldn’t play both roles, though.

Actually, I think Travolta would make a fantastic Ruth Zardo – an embittered, insightful poet. Winner of every major poetry prize and a real piece of work. She says what she thinks, and what she thinks is invariably uncharitable. Her saving grace is a sense of humor and an insight into herself. She knows how screwed up she is.

For Myrna, the retired psychologist from Montreal who now runs the New and Used Bookstore in Three Pines, I’d cast Oprah. (my new best friend, who begged for the part, even sending her private jet, not realizing I now have my own. Bought JK Rowling’s, during her now infamous and ill-fated hanger sale.)

A Fatal Grace also features three elderly women, the Three Graces, who hold a strange sway over the peaceful village. I’d cast Helen Hayes, Mildred Natwick (both of Snoop Sisters fame) and John Travolta. Or Eve Arden. If forced to use living actors I’d go for Elaine Stritch, Ginette Reno (in makeup) and Elizabeth Taylor (without).

For Olivier and Gabri, the wonderful owners of the Bistro and the B&B – who else but Ben Affleck and Matt Damon?

It’s gonna be big. It’s gonna be bigger than big!
Read more about Louise Penny and her books at her website.

The Page 69 Test: Still Life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Whitney Gaskell's "Mommy Tracked"

Whitney Gaskell is the author of five novels including Testing Kate, to which she applied the Page 69 Test earlier this year.

Her latest novel is Mommy Tracked, which Publishers Weekly praised as a "sparkling example of 'mom lit'."

Gaskell took the novel through the "My Book, The Movie" exercise and came up with these casting ideas for a film adaptation:
The great thing about being able to fantasy cast the movie for my new book, Mommy Tracked, is that there are four protagonists and four love interests. That means there’s lots of room for all of my favorite actors!

So here’s my perfect cast for Mommy Tracked:

For Anna, who’s trying to figure out if she can balance a personal life with all of the demands of single motherhood ... it would have to be Reese Witherspoon. She brings so much talent and charm to every movie she’s in. I can’t think of anyone better to play likeable, down-to-earth Anna.

Noah, the owner of a local wine store who has a rocky record when it comes to relationships ... Patrick Dempsey. It wouldn’t be hard to understand why Anna would ditch her no dating policy for him!

Juliet, the workaholic lawyer who contemplates having an affair with her boss ... the coolly elegant Gwyneth Paltrow. She’d perfectly capture Juliet’s inner turmoil as her successful career causes tension at home.

Patrick, Juliet’s stay-at-home husband ... Mark Ruffalo, who would bring strength to the role of the domesticated dad. Plus, I’d love to see him opposite Gwyneth Paltrow in a movie; I think they’d have amazing chemistry.

Grace, the stay-at-home mom who’s obsessed with losing her baby weight ... the funny and charismatic Toni Collette. She’d keep the audience rooting for Grace, even while she diets her way into health problems.

Louis, Grace’s husband ... Ben Stiller. He’s funny as hell, and his grounded sex appeal would be a great match for Grace.

Chloe, new mom and part-time kleptomaniac ... Anne Hathaway. She has a vulnerable quality that reminds me of Chloe, who becomes overwhelmed with the challenges of a new baby and a husband who doesn’t want to grow up.

James, Chloe’s husband and the new dad with a Peter Pan complex ... Topher Grace from In Good Company. He has an exuberant personality that would make James likeable even as he screws up time after time.

So there’s my dream cast. Any takers out there in Hollywood?
Read an excerpt from Mommy Tracked and learn more about the book and author at Whitney Gaskell's website.

The Page 69 Test: Testing Kate.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Claire Cameron's "The Line Painter"

Claire Cameron was born in 1973 and grew up in Toronto. She studied history at Queen’s University and then worked as an instructor for Outward Bound, teaching mountaineering, climbing and whitewater rafting in Oregon. Moving to London in 1999, she founded Shift Media, a consultancy with clients including the BBC, McGraw-Hill and Oxford University Press. Cameron now lives in Toronto with her husband and son.

Here she explains both the relationship between the movies and her writing process and who she would like to play the main characters in The Line Painter, her first novel.
It's not hard for me to think of The Line Painter as a movie, because it was a film before it became a book.

When I write, I play a movie in my head. I stare at the wall while my characters mark their spots and rehearse their lines. I watch each scene on small screens that I store on the inside of my eyelids.

Translating the film in my head into a novel involves selecting small details that will bring the story to life on the written page. Instead of watching a character smoke, I describe how his fingers grip a cigarette. Rather than pan across a magnificent sunset, I focus on the one moment when the rim of the sun dips down.

This to say, I've thought a lot about who might play my characters.

I'd want Sarah Polley to play the main character, Carrie. After her boyfriend dies, she takes off on a road trip across Canada and her car breaks down in the middle of the night. I need a strong actress to portray a risk-taker who has a hunger for life, but also show the mix of emotions that are part of grieving. Polley's combination of intelligence and fragility would be perfect.

Joaquin Phoenix should play the male lead. Frank is the guy who paints the lines on the highway. He rescues Carrie from the roadside. Phoenix can morph into someone who wears his past on his sleeve. He can also evoke compassion from an audience. That mix is what I need in an actor, someone who looks like trouble from the outside, who somehow draws you in.

Polley and Phoenix would be an odd couple together, which is perfect for Carrie and Frank. The screen tests would tell, but I bet they would have a certain chemistry that would make them irresistible to watch.
Read an excerpt from The Line Painter and learn more about the novel.

Visit Claire Cameron's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 5, 2007

Catherine Ryan Hyde's "Love in the Present Tense"

Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of: the novels Funerals for Horses, Pay it Forward, Electric God, Walter’s Purple Heart, and Love in the Present Tense; a collection of short fiction, Earthquake Weather; and the Young Adult novels, Becoming Chloe and The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance.

Here she shares her thoughts about casting for the adaptations for her books, with particular reference to Love in the Present Tense:
If they made one of my books into a movie, who would I want to see cast in the major roles? An unusually dicey question in my case. Or so it seems to me. Dicey because they did make one of my books (Pay It Forward) into a movie. And I certainly would not have chosen Kevin Spacey for the role of the African American Vietnam vet. That was a surprise.

Electric God is well on its way to film, but I see no such issues hovering around it, so I’ll just wait and see what they do.

Potentially next in line would be Love in the Present Tense. Here it gets interesting and dicey all over again.

In Love in the Present Tense, we have three major characters: Mitch, a white guy; Pearl, who is half black and half Korean; and her son Leonard, who is one quarter black and one quarter Korean, and whose father is an Italian cop.

So far we have a hardcover and paperback edition of the work in which Leonard is thoughtfully depicted in the cover art. His face doesn’t show, but the color of his skin is just about the way Mitch described it in the book: coffee just the way Mitch takes it (with a generous splash of half and half). Then there’s the UK edition (it hit the bestseller list in the UK due to its selection for a major TV book club) and the large print edition. And on these covers, Leonard is a white boy.

Sounds like I’m not answering the question, but I swear I am. Just in a roundabout way.

I don’t care who they get to play Mitch. Someone like Jake Gyllenhaal would be lovely, but I’m flexible. I just don’t want them to cast a white girl as Pearl, and a white boy as Leonard.

Maybe they will, and maybe they’ll say, “We just thought it didn’t matter. That it wasn’t important to the story.” Well, here’s a question. If it doesn’t matter, why can’t these characters be something other than white for a change?

When asked, I many times repeated that the casting of Kevin Spacey was done simply because of what it meant to get Kevin Spacey. In other words, all economics. Certainly economics plays the lead in every Hollywood movie. But it doesn’t account for two editions of Love in the Present Tense depicting Leonard as a white boy. If it happens again, I’m not going to say it’s something other than … I won’t say racist, because it’s such a powerful and ugly word. It implies hate. I don’t think the people who whiten my characters are full of hate. I just think that, on a level they don’t even know exists, they like white better. So I’ll say … Eurocentrist. I won’t go in front of groups or out in the press and claim it’s anything other than Eurocentrism. Because I’ll no longer believe it.

So, that’s my answer. Actors of color. I don’t care which ones. I only ask that they not have blonde hair and blue eyes. Many of my characters don’t. Because many people in the world around me don’t.

And, you know what? It does matter. It matters to the story and it matters to me.

So, Hollywood. Consider yourself challenged to create coffee-colored Leonard. What do you say?
Visit Catherine Ryan Hyde's official website.

--Marshal Zeringue