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