Friday, October 31, 2008

Colin Cotterill's "Curse of the Pogo Stick"

Colin Cotterill is the author of The Coroner’s Lunch, Thirty-Three Teeth, Disco for the Departed, and Anarchy and Old Dogs, featuring seventy-three year old Dr. Siri Paiboun, national coroner of Laos. He and his wife live in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where he teaches at the university.

Here he considers several casting approaches for a film adaptation of Curse of the Pogo Stick, the latest novel in the Dr. Siri Paiboun series:
It’s my own silly fault. I know that now. How am I ever going to break into Hollywood without a western protagonist? My sin, you see, is that all my characters are Lao. There have been, so far in the series, only one direct and one peripheral role for honkies and one of those was a Soviet circus performer. How can I get my movie made without any A-list actors queued up to play the main role of Dr. Siri Paiboun?

We could use makeup I suppose. In fifteen movies, Charlie Chan was played by a Swede, Warner Oland, and nobody noticed he was a Norseman. (I hesitate to suggest there was any racism involved in the fact that audiences could so happily accept him as an émigré from mainland China.) When poor old Warner passed away, who took over the mantle of the most famous Chinese in the west? Sidney Toler, a Scot. When they were looking for an actor to play Kentaro Moto, in a popular series about a Japanese secret agent they needed to look no further than Peter Lorre, the world’s most famous Hungarian. And after Lorre had made a Japanese name for himself in eight feature films, when it came to a remake, The Return of Mr. Moto, even as late as 1965, who did they call? (Sidney Toler was busy), good old Henry Silva, a New York Sicilian. It looks like there just weren’t any real Asians around in them days.

So, assuming we go with the clothes pegs behind the ears method, who should I ring in? I figure if they could make Dustin Hoffman look a hundred in Little Big Man, surely they could make him Asian. But if we’re going American, I suppose we’d have to look at the box office hotties first and work our way down. Tom Cruise has the height requirements but Siri would be a franchise and Tommy doubles his fees for sequels. Bruce Willis couldn’t make a movie where he doesn’t take off his shirt. No, I think I’ll go with Will Smith. He’s on a rocket these days, and I saw what those special effects wallah’s did with the Wayan brothers in White Chicks. So, good, we have Will as Dr. Siri. From there it should be easy. Even when I was writing the first book I had Paris Hilton pegged for Nurse Dtui. All right, she’s on the light side but she’s a method actress and for the opportunity to win a role like this I’d bet she’d eat her little heart out. And the bonus is she already has that pinched, lemony oriental countenance. I’ll go with Will Ferrell as inspector Phosy just for the whimsical hell of it. We need a ‘serious actor’ to bring some legitimacy to this project, so, of the available Oscar winners, I’m going with Sir Anthony Hopkins whose Comrade Civilai would be the perfect foil for Smith’s Dr. Siri.

Of course there will be certain pressures from the studio. They might argue that with all these non-Asian actors in key roles, wouldn’t it be more economical in the long run to just relocate the story to Los Angeles? I’d make feeble arguments about sense of place and history, they’d offer me lots more money, and the next thing you know, the Mahosot morgue is a road-kill clearing center just outside Santa Monica. (I’ve already started this adaptation just in case.) Siri, now Sol Prospero, of African /Nicaraguan descent, trained in New York as a classical dancer now finds himself reluctantly running the road kill center. But the flattened animals talk to him and he sets out to find who ran them over…that sort of thing. Unless it became really popular I’d disclaim all responsibility for it and say Hollywood destroyed a perfectly good book.

That’s the path you’re inevitably led down if you start messing with your ethnicity. But I’m just as buggered if I try to tap into the tiny pool of Asian actors who have been let in through the tradesman’s entrance of Hollywood. I suppose another one of my faults is that I’ve created an Asian character who doesn’t perform martial arts. Really, what use is he? If I’d only had the foresight to give Siri a black belt in something, I know we’d be on the big screen already: Yun-Fat Chow as the wise, brooding, Kung Fu kicking, Dr. Siri Paiboun. Ken Watanabe as the swarthy, dark-browed, samurai sword swinging, Comrade Civilai. Gong Li as the lithe, pert-breasted, karate chopping, nurse Dtui. It really is the only way we’ll get on the screen in North America. I mean, who’s going to find a bunch of non-arse-kicking, wall-climbing, impossible-somersaulting, tree-flying Asians credible?

No, I admit, I’ve done it all wrong. It’s back to the drawing board for me. I mean, how difficult can it be to write about a black superhero alcoholic or a kung-fuing panda? Really, I’m just making all this getting rich and famous a lot more difficult for myself than it really is.
Visit Colin Cotterill's website and his Crimespace page, and learn more about Curse of the Pogo Stick at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Steve Brewer's "Lonely Street"

Steve Brewer is the author of the Bubba Mabry mystery series and the Drew Gavin mystery series in addition to a handful of stand alone crime novels.

Here he reveals which actors are starring in the forthcoming film adaptation of his novel Lonely Street, and identifies a few actors who might have played some of the roles in a different production:
An author may have a movie star in mind when he's writing his book, but it's practically guaranteed that Hollywood will choose someone else.

The director and producers have their own favorite stars. There are myriad business reasons that actors get picked for roles and those reasons may have no relation to how well-suited they are. Even if the author gets a chance to speak up (which is rare) and if someone is listening (even rarer), actors often are unavailable or too expensive or not interested.

Those are facts of life in Hollywood, but many of us still picture particular movie idols when "casting" our stories. It's a nice shortcut in thinking about characters.

My first novel, Lonely Street, was recently made into an independent movie, and virtually none of the actors resemble the people I pictured when writing the book more than 15 years ago.

Lonely Street features Bubba Mabry, a low-rent private eye in Albuquerque, NM. I've written eight different comic mysteries about Bubba, and have a very solid picture of him in my mind. The actor who would most closely resemble my balding, hangdog detective would be Nicolas Cage. So naturally, Bubba is played in the movie by blond, buff comedian Jay Mohr, who's currently starring in the new CBS sitcom Gary, Unmarried. Couldn't be farther from my vision of the character, but I'm not complaining. Mohr's production company helped make the movie happen.

In Lonely Street, Bubba is hired by what appears to be the living Elvis, long after the King is dead. Robert Patrick of Terminator 2 and The Unit plays the aged Elvis, thanks to a crack makeup team.

Bubba's love interest (and eventual wife in the series) is a hotshot reporter who's a dead ringer for Tina Fey. The casting director tried to recruit Fey, but she'd just signed up to do 30 Rock on TV. Instead, we got Lindsay Price of Lipstick Jungle.

I pictured the villainous concert promoter as a weaselly David Paymer type. Instead, the filmmakers cast Joe Mantegna of Criminal Minds and dozens of great movie roles.

The blond bombshell in the book is played by Nikki Cox, a redhead.

A fast-talking redneck drug dealer is played by fast-talking African-American comedian Katt Williams.

The stern, brainy Hispanic police detective in all the Bubba books, Steve Romero, is played in the movie by comedian Paul Rodriguez.

Don't get me wrong. I wasn't disappointed with any of these casting decisions. They're just not the way I pictured these characters.

At this writing, I still haven't seen the finished film (and don't know yet when it'll be released), but in the few clips I've seen, the actors do a great job. Jay Mohr is very funny as Bubba. Robert Patrick makes a great Elvis. Lindsay Price is priceless. Joe Mantegna, one of my favorite actors, is wonderful, as usual.

So, have I learned a lesson? Do I no longer picture movie stars when I'm creating characters? Nah, I write the way I always have. But I do so with the knowledge that, if I get lucky again with Hollywood, they'll pick different actors. I'm okay with that.

But, um, Jason Statham, if you're reading this, please check out my latest thriller, Cutthroat. Boy, have I got a role for you.
Learn more about Steve Brewer at his website and his blog.

The Page 69 Test: Cutthroat.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Humphrey Hawksley's "Security Breach"

Humphrey Hawksley's latest novel Security Breach has been acclaimed as the international thriller of the new Cold War.

Here he develops some ideas for its cinematic adaptation:
Security Breach is a story of high-action and complex relationships – all of it revolving around the smart, vulnerable, kick-ass heroine, Kat Polinski.

I would like to develop the filmic style around the The Washington Post’s description of the book -- Die Hard meets 1984.

One idea would be to introduce two highly talented, but relatively unknown action actors into the lead roles, such as Livvy Scott or Emily Beecham as Kat, and James Layton as the superb, monosyllabic moral beacon of Mike Luxton. Alternatively, I would try to get Liv Tyler and Matt Damon for the same roles.

I have in mind George Clooney or Nicolas Cage, for Kat’s controller, Bill Cage; Bill Nighy for the veteran British spymaster Stephen Cranley; Frank Langella for Kat’s antagonistic family friend, Nate Sayer; and Ewan McGregor as her thoughtful, but dithering brother.

Uma Thurman would be perfect to play Yulya Gracheva, the epitome of the modern most evil villain; Meryl Streep as Kat’s god-mother, Nancy; and Francesca Martinez as the feisty Liz Luxton.

The movie is set in a surveillance society of the near future with scenes that move between Washington D.C., London, the English coastal country-side and the desolate land-scape of oil-rich Kazakhstan.

In London, the screen-play, cinematography and direction would build up an atmosphere of the most security-intense city in the world. Through the eyes of Kat Polinski, we would come face to face with a daily life of high-tech surveillance that George Orwell could not have conceived when he wrote 1984.

The actions starts as the world is preparing for the signing of Project Peace, a treaty between Russia, China and the United States. It claims to be a formula to end terror and guarantee global energy supplies. But like with the Iraq war and the global financial markets, it is not as we are told it is.

The movie would show much of our society as it is today, but infiltrated by growing trends that worry so many of us: the post Nine Eleven tightening of security, imprisonment without trial; power in the hands of international business consortia who have governments in their pockets; and a growing underclass whose opinion is forged through clever manipulation of the media.

Filming would be split between London and the Suffolk coast, where much of the action takes place, with the rest possibly being done in Thailand which now has excellent crews and post production sound stages on which the dramatic escape scenes from Kazakhstan would be shot.

With all that to play with, I can think of no better director than Vernon Layton, and if he is unwilling, I would head for the Oscar-winning writer/director, Paul Haggis of Crash.
Visit Humphrey Hawksley's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The History Book.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Lin Anderson's "Easy Kill"

Easy Kill is Lin Anderson's latest novel featuring the forensic scientist Dr. Rhona MacLeod.

Here Anderson speculates on which actor might best portray MacLeod, who the Guardian's reviewer called "a complex and engaging protagonist," in a film adaptation of the novel:
Easy Kill is the latest book in my crime thriller series starring forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod. Readers tend to stay with a series because they grow fond of the characters and want to know what happens to them next. The crime is important but essentially a crime book is about the character rather than the crime. Being asked to come up with someone to play Rhona is intriguing but fraught with difficulty. Let me tell you why. Nowhere in the books does it tell you what Rhona looks like. When I ask my audience at author events, everyone has their own Rhona MacLeod and they often argue with one another’s version. They’re all in agreement with her character traits but not what she looks like. That’s great, because if you give your readers room to put a bit of themselves in a character they make her their own. When Ian Rankin’s Rebus was first adapted for television it went spectacularly wrong with the casting of John Hannah as Rebus. A second series with Ken Stott proved a winner. As I said, its fraught with difficulty. Most readers seem to agree Rhona is sexy and arresting but not necessarily conventionally pretty (neither was Sophia Loren). In her thirties Rhona’s a woman with a lot of emotional depth. Helen Mirren made a wonderful job of such a character in the Prime Suspect series. I recently saw The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and thought Vera Farmiga’s performance as the mother was outstanding. She would make a great Rhona. The British actress Catherine McCormack who starred in the excellent thriller Midnight Man and was Mel Gibson’s true love in Braveheart would be ideal too. And last but not least Juliette Binoche who can portray strength and vulnerability so well.

The other members of the gang, Chrissy McInsch, Rhona’s sidekick – a gallous Glaswegian (a New Yorker would do just as well), Rhona’s mentor DI Bill Wilson, modelled on my own detective father and not unlike Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon and last but not least Sean Maguire, Rhona’s Irish lover who plays the saxophone as well as he plays his woman (Sean Bean perhaps?)…. I think I’ll leave their casting up to you.
Read more about the author and her work at Lin Anderson's website and the official Rhona MacLeod website.

The Page 69 Test: Dark Flight.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 10, 2008

Eric Stone's "Flight of the Hornbill"

Eric Stone is the author of the novels Living Room of the Dead and Grave Imports. Additionally, he wrote the non-fiction book Wrong Side of the Wall.

Here he develops some ideas for director and cast for a cinematic adaptation of his new novel, Flight of the Hornbill:
I don’t expect a movie of any of my books to actually be much like my books. I’m not sure I’d want it to be. I want different things from movies and books. They’d be welcome to add action and plot elements if they wanted, so long as they stayed true to the characters, settings and basic ideas. So I’ve never given much thought as to who would play who, or who would direct.

Flight of the Hornbill is certainly no comedy, but I’d love to see it directed by Preston Sturges, my favorite comedy director of all time. He’d have a very nice feel for the social, cultural and political nuances of the books, as well as the way the characters interact with those elements. A modern director would be tougher. Maybe John Woo. He has a nice way with stories involving loyalties among the characters and an excellent sense of place in his movies, and he could certainly spice up the action. Andrew Lau and Alan Mak – the directors of Infernal Affairs, the Hong Kong movie that was far better than The Departed, which was based on it – might also be good.

Spencer Tracy or John Garfield would make a great Ray Sharp, my protagonist; an everyman who manages to stumble his way into doing the right thing because of his loyalty to his friends and also to a rather complicated, and compromised, moral compass. As far as modern actors go, Brad Pitt could do a pretty good job if the makeup artist could make him look a little more like a regular guy. Chow Yun Fat would be good, too, and I don’t mind changing the race of the character.

Ray’s love interest would have to be smart, beautiful and strong, with an under layer of sadness. Veronica Lake would have done nicely. Angelina Jolie would be just fine with me, or Emily Deschanel from the TV show Bones. The main bad guy could be nicely played by Alan Rickman, but he’d need to put on a French accent.
Read an excerpt from Flight of the Hornbill, and learn more about the book and author at Eric Stone's website.

Flight of the Hornbill is the third Ray Sharp novel. See the Page 69 Test for Grave Imports, the second book in the series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Suzanne Kingsmill's "Forever Dead"

Suzanne Kingsmill is the author of Forever Dead, a fast paced murder mystery featuring zoology professor Cordi O'Callaghan who discovers a bear ravaged body in the wilderness and has her life turned upside down because of it.

Here she shares her idea of a dream cast, director, and producer for a film adaptation of the novel:
I had no actors in mind when I wrote my murder mystery Forever Dead. However, while watching TV my characters have sometimes jumped out at me after their creation. I saw Cordi O'Callaghan, my lead character and a university zoology professor, in Julia Roberts as she grappled with The Pelican Brief. Cordi is continually faced with obstacles and life threatening situations and handles them as Julia Roberts's character does - with smarts.

Martha Bathgate, Cordi's overweight and humourous lab technician and best friend leapt out at me as Lesley Boone from the TV show Ed where she played the fun loving, goofy best friend to one of the lead characters - just as Martha does with Cordi.

Duncan McPherson, a pathologist and Cordi's mentor, was more difficult as he has a trademark enormous nose, but when I discounted that from the equation Anthony Hopkins came to mind for his role in The World's Fastest Indian. Smart and likable and highly focussed. But Duncan lacks the naivete of Anthony Hopkins's character.

Patrick White, Cordi's love interest, matches Nick (George Eads) in CSI as a strong, sensitive good looking scientist. Jerry Bruckheimer could produce it if he wanted and Norman Jewison (Thomas Crown Affair) could direct it.
Listen to the Prologue from Forever Dead and learn more about the book at Suzanne Kingsmill's website.

The Page 69 Test: Forever Dead.

--Marshal Zeringue