Saturday, April 26, 2008

Craig Johnson's "The Cold Dish"

Craig Johnson is the author of The Cold Dish, Death Without Company, Kindness Goes Unpunished and Another Man’s Moccasins.

Here he shares some ideas about the cast and director of a film adaptation of the first Walt Longmire mystery, The Cold Dish:
I once got asked on Utah Public Radio who I thought should play Sheriff Walt Longmire in a motion picture version of my novels, and I responded, “Gary Cooper, but he’s not returning our calls.” That’s pretty much the way it is in Hollywood, nobody ever dies; they just stop returning your calls.

I decided in the interest of self-preservation, since there seems to be a current interest from Hollywood in my writing, that I would only cast The Cold Dish from the past, and in that, I’d be hard pressed to come up with somebody better than Gary Cooper. Raised on his father’s ranch near Helena, Montana—feeding 450 head of cattle and freezing his ass off at 40 below, he was what I call, the old-fashioned ideal of the pre-war era; a quiet, self-effacing humor with an eye to the horizon that was evident in The Virginian, Sergeant York, The Pride of the Yankees, not to mention High Noon.

Some of the physical qualities I had in mind when I was constructing Walt were as far flung as Athos from The Three Musketeers, to Jean Val Jean from Les Miserables, specifically the scene where the ex-convict reveals himself by lifting a wagon off of an injured man. Marine investigator and USC offensive tackle, Walt Longmire is a big man simply for the reason that I wanted him to be capable, but not studied. Personally, I’ve had enough of the seventh-degree black-belt types, and just wanted a sheriff who could put a bad guy up against the wall if need be. Cooper was tall enough, and I would have enjoyed telling him that he had to start eating more donuts. The other major ability would be a sense of humor and timing—which Coop showed in spades in such notable features as Ball of Fire, Meet John Doe, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (the good one), and The Westerner.

For deputy Victoria Moretti you’d have to have a phenomenal Italian actress to hold her own against Cooper, so I’d go with a North Carolinian from the same period; Ava Gardner. From all reports, she could out drink and out cuss the Marine 1st Division which makes her perfect for the role of a character with the body of Salome and the mouth of a salt-water crocodile. She was intelligent, down to earth, and oh so easy on the eye. A one-of-the-guys, gal.

Henry Standing Bear would be a sticking point, especially since I confined my selections only to performers who have passed. The history of Hollywood is strewn with very capable actors who’ve portrayed Native American characters without ever having been actual Indians. It’s a shame, but true. I guess I’d go with Jay Silverheels of Tonto fame, and rejoice in the hopes of future productions that there are so many capable, Indian actors working today.

At the helm, it would be hard to resist John Ford; but I will. Instead, I think I’d go with John Sturges. With an oeuvre that includes Gunfight at the OK Corral (the good one), Bad Day at Black Rock, and The Magnificent Seven, Sturges’ clean and uncluttered style would suit contemporary Wyoming, and his taut, tension-ridden pacing would provide the ticking clock that the movie of The Cold Dish would require. One of the only criticisms that I could levy against him would be the weakness of his female characters…. But I bet Ava could bring him around.
Read more about the Walt Longmire mysteries and the author at Craig Johnson's website.

The Page 69 Test: Kindness Goes Unpunished.

--Marshal Zeringue