Monday, July 7, 2008

Timothy Hallinan's "The Fourth Watcher"

Timothy Hallinan has lived off and on in Southeast Asia for more than twenty years. He is the author of eight published novels and one nonfiction work on Charles Dickens. The Fourth Watcher is the second book in the Poke Rafferty novels of Bangkok that began in 2007 with A Nail Through the Heart.

Here Hallinan develops some ideas about the directors and cast should the Poke Rafferty novels be adapted for the big screen:
The Fourth Watcher is the second in a series of Novels of Bangkok (as the people at William Morrow subtitle them), so there are really two challenges: casting the continuing characters and casting the people who show up only in one novel.

One of the most important continuing characters is the city of Bangkok itself. The film(s) would need a director with a strong feeling for this most dizzying of Asian capitals, with its unique blend of spirituality and carnality, its extensive population of ghosts, its invisible circles of power and influence. I think Oxide and Danny Pang, two very stylish Hong Kong brothers and directors who have made several films in Thailand, would capture the city in all its gold-leaf-and-rough-concrete complexity, and they'd be great with the action sequences, although God knows what they'd do to the stories.

The most important person in the books is the protagonist, Poke Rafferty, an American whose 25% Filipino ancestry is evident in his features. I actually had Johnny Depp mind when I started to write Poke, although now, two and a half books later, the identification isn't so strong. But I think Depp would be wonderful, especially because of the intelligence he conveys. Poke is a writer and only a reluctant action hero, so it's important that the actor who plays him seems at least marginally comfortable with the activity of thinking.

Poke's family – his former bar-girl wife, Rose, and his adopted street-orphan daughter, Miaow – are Thai and would best be cast with Thai actors, as would his best friend, the honorable policeman named Arthit. Any movie made from these books would have to feature some Thai actors, and there are some excellent ones to choose from.

The main “one-off” roles in The Fourth Watcher are Poke's morally equivocal and somewhat treacherous father, Frank and half-Chinese half-sister, Ming Li; the shady former CIA operative, Arnold Prettyman; and the way-too-tightly-buttoned Secret Service Agent, Richard Elson. At one point, a film company was fooling with the idea of actually making a movie from the book, and they wanted Gene Hackman as Frank. I personally think Gene Hackman could play Heidi if the makeup people could make the braids work, so I can't improve on that.

Prettyman is an unwillingly retired spook who never, ever volunteers the truth and seems always to be evaluating half a dozen potential parallel realities. Kevin Spacey would be splendid. And Elson is a tightly wound straight-arrow with a byzantine and highly guarded sexual life who would be both menacing and hilarious in the hands of Michael C. Hall of Dexter and Six Feet Under.

Casting Poke's half-sister is more difficult, but the world's most beautiful human being at the moment is the Chinese actress Xun Zhou. She's older than Ming Li, but we could all forget that and just look at her.

Together again for the first time: Depp!! Hackman!! Spacey!! Hall!! Xun Zhou!! Under the direction of the Pang Brothers!! The Fourth Watcher!!! I wouldn't even need popcorn.
Read an excerpt from The Fourth Watcher, and learn more about the author and his work at Timothy Hallinan's website and his blog.

The Page 69 Test: A Nail Through the Heart.

The Page 69 Test: The Fourth Watcher.

--Marshal Zeringue