Thursday, November 27, 2008

Jason Goodwin's "The Snake Stone"

Jason Goodwin's Edgar Award–winning series set in Istanbul at the end of the Ottoman Empire--The Janissary Tree, The Snake Stone, and coming in 2009, The Bellini Card--features Investigator Yashim: detective, polyglot, chef, eunuch.

Here Goodwin explores some casting options for a cinematic adaptation of the books:
Orientalist painters in the 19th century fell over themselves to capture the Ottoman Empire on canvas. They painted the mosques and domes, the palaces and bazaars, and of course the naked odalisques, reclining with their pipes. They captured the tilework and the black eunuchs, the costume and the artefacts of an imperial civilisation that was, visually, utterly stunning. Here’s a curious thing: no-one has ever done it on screen.

But let’s face it: who’s man enough to play my central character, Yashim the Investigator?

He’s invisible. He’s active. He’s calm - and smart.

And he’s a eunuch.

I put this very question on my blog (the and the answer was: Tony Shalhoub. He’s a versatile Lebanese American actor whose roots are properly Ottoman, like Yashim. The good news for Mr. Shalhoub is that Yashim doesn’t have a squeaky voice – and even gets involved with women.

Yashim's great friend is Count Palewski, an exiled Pole who also happens to be the ambassador to the Sublime Porte in Istanbul. He’s dry but charming, a drinker, a voracious reader who dabbles with the violin. Bill Nighy, please.

Come back, Peter Lorre. You were the most sinuous and untrustworthy villain in movie history, and I was thinking of you when I wrote about the dodgy French archaeologist, Lefèvre. And do bring Claude Raines with you: he’d make a splendid sultan.

You don’t have to be camp to play Preen, the transvestite dancer – but Julian Clary has the right air of vulnerability. Julian Clary in a black wig.

The girls? The Validé, for a start: the sultan’s proud and acerbic French-born mother. A natural beauty, even in her seventies. Would Catherine Deneuve mind aging herself for the part? Or Tilda Swinton – a little line of chalk beneath the cheese.

A Russian countess – extravagantly beautiful, and brimming with youthful curiosity. Juliette Binoche, if she’d just step down from The Unbearable Lightness of Being - or Lauren Bacall, best of all, if she could take some time after shooting The Big Sleep.

In The Snake Stone a lovely French girl, Amelie, with a steel streak. Not Audrey Tautou of the eponymous movie, but Uma Thurman, maybe.

Telly Savalas as the bull-headed Seraskier of The Janissary Tree.

Sydney Greenstreet for the Soup Master.

All of it set in Istanbul and – lately – Venice. Clear the streets, please!
Learn more about Jason Goodwin and his work at his website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 21, 2008

Charles Cumming's "The Spanish Game"

Charles Cumming is a British spy novelist who has been hailed as the heir apparent to John le Carré. His most recent novel, Typhoon, was published in the UK to huge critical acclaim. Cumming’s first novel, A Spy By Nature, has just been released in the US in paperback. The sequel, The Spanish Game, is available in hardcover from St. Martin’s Press.

Here he speculates on casting the lead in a film adaptation of The Spanish Game:
A recent review of my novel, The Spanish Game, described the central character, Alec Milius, as “excessively paranoid, a womanizer, an alcoholic, and generally of questionable morality”.

It’s a fairly accurate description. Milius is an ex-MI5 agent who was drummed out of the Service following a botched industrial espionage operation, described in my first novel, A Spy By Nature. At the start of The Spanish Game, we find Alec living in Madrid, sleeping with his boss’s wife, drinking heavily and wondering when his old enemies are going to catch up with him.

Milius has no recognisably heroic attributes, beyond a basic desire to make the best of himself. He is essentially self-serving, untrustworthy and paranoid. Which begs the question – what actor would want to play a character with those attributes? For a long time, I thought Jude Law would be perfect casting. Milius is a good-looking British guy in his early thirties. He’s quick-witted and attractive, largely because he is so honest about his own shortcomings and insecurities. Law would be ideal: here is a very charming, very seductive actor who has never shied away from playing anti-heroes. Think of Alfie, of Dickie Greenleaf in The Talented Mr Ripley, or Law’s sinister assassin in Road to Perdition. But nobody I talk to who knows the books feels the same way.

So what about Matthew Goode? Goode is not yet a bona fide star, but he was the best thing in Woody Allen’s dismal Match Point and recently took the Jeremy Irons role in the new version of Brideshead Revisited. He has the looks, the charm, the accent and – above all – the talent to make an audience root for an essentially unsympathetic protagonist. There’s also James McAvoy. In fact, I quite like the idea of Alec having a Scottish accent… like a flip of the working-class Scot Sean Connery playing Ian Fleming’s Eton-educated secret agent, James Bond.

A Spy By Nature and The Spanish Game are currently in the hands of two LA-based movie producers, with Trainspotting’s John Hodge attached to write the script. Who knows? Maybe someday soon I won’t be the only one wondering who would be dream casting for Alec Milius….
Learn more about the author and his work at Charles Cumming's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Spy By Nature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Jeff Carlson's "Plague Year"

Jeff Carlson's short fiction has appeared in venues such as Asimov's, Strange Horizons, Fantastic Stories, and Writers of the Future XXIII. His first novel, Plague Year, was published last year. His new novel, Plague War, was published this summer.

Here he lays out some casting ideas for a film adaptation of Plague Year:
Will Smith. Doesn’t everyone say Will Smith? Give me Will Smith and my head will explode with excitement. Sure, the lead character in Plague Year is a 25-year-old Hispanic, but that’s easily changed. For example, in Catherine Ryan Hyde’s novel Pay It Forward, the male lead was an African-American who’d lost one arm and a lot of his face in a grenade explosion. What you got on the big screen was Kevin Spacey with minor, elegant scars. Movie magic!

This sort of daydreaming is extra fun for me because film rights for Plague Year have been optioned by Seven Seas Jim, an independent production company that’s been involved with films such as Academy Award Nominee Zus and Zo, Spirit Award Nominee Oasis, and Venice film festival award winner Khadak. The project is in play. With skill, luck, and the strength of the book, maybe we’ll actually have to answer the question of who to put in which role.

If it was up to me (it’s not), my preference would actually be a no-name cast like the original Star Wars. That was before anyone had really heard of Harrison Ford or Carrie Fisher. The story was the real focus of the movie, not the faces and the associated celebrity gossip, which has become quite an industry since 1977.

Still, give me Will Smith any day. That guy’s not only sexy and smart and packed with box office power, he’s become a fine actor.

Or they could cast me! Ha ha.

Check out our “book trailer” at Maybe I can give Will a run for his money…
Visit Jeff Carlson's website and his blog.

The Page 69 Test: Plague Year.

The Page 99 Test: Plague War.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

James Scott Bell's "Try Dying"

James Scott Bell is the author of Try Dying, Try Darkness, and the forthcoming Try Fear.

Here he develops some ideas for film adaptations of the novels:
My series featuring L.A. lawyer Ty Buchanan and the basketball playing nun, Sister Mary, has been described as "L.A. noir meets Nick and Nora at the intersection of Ellroy and Chandler." And that's fine with me, because I wanted to do contemporary suspense in a style that could have been published in 1947 (I think much of the genre these days pushes the darkness beyond "too far").

So it's no surprise that my favorite movie genre is film noir of the 40's and 50's. Especially when it takes place in Los Angeles.

In keeping with that, I'll tell you who I wish could have directed the movies made from my series--Billy Wilder. Think of the two quintessential L.A. noirs: Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard. That's the tone and feel I'm going for. A touch of wry humor, as with the narrations, respectively, of Fred MacMurray and William Holden. The undercurrents of money, sexual tension, and murder. The idea that the sun shines bright on the surfaces, but the night brings out the hidden and secret things.

The big question for me would be, black and white or color? I think the neon night is so L.A. that I'd opt for color, the kind that Michael Mann captured in Collateral (a recent, and superb, L.A. noir).

The films would, then, begin with Buchanan's narration, lifted right from the first lines of the books.

Try Dying:

On a wet Tuesday morning in December, Ernesto Bonilla, twenty-eight, shot his twenty-three-year-old wife, Alejandra, in the back yard of their West 45th Street home in South Los Angeles.

Try Darkness:

The nun hit me in the mouth and said, "Get out of my house."

Try Fear (to be published in 2009):

The cops nabbed Santa Claus at the corner of Hollywood and Gower.
Learn more about the books and author at James Scott Bell's website.

The Page 69 Test: Try Dying.

The Page 69 Test: Try Darkness.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Noah Charney's "The Art Thief"

Noah Charney holds degrees in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art and Cambridge University. He is the founding director of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA), the first international think tank on art crime.

Here he spells out his thoughts on--and ideal cast for--a film adaptation of his debut novel, The Art Thief:
Readers often tell me that my novel, The Art Thief, would make a great film. The question of who would play which role is delicious fun for authors, during slow rainy days and hot sunny ones, as we'd be lying if we authors didn't say that we think of our own characters in terms of real-life equivalents. Our characters, whether we state it explicitly or not, are hybrid quilts sewn together from parts and characteristics of people we know or have read about--Frankenstein's monsters whose components could be traced back to their people of origin, if only an author took the time to wind back his mental ball of yarn. Especially for more commercial fiction which, these days, is often written in order to be made into a film (this is how an author can strike it rich), not only are characters considered in terms of the actors who might play them, but written scenes are conceived of from the viewpoint of a camera--what angle does the reader "see" the scene. Writing with this in mind, in all honesty, helps producers reading your book to transpose the concept into a potential film, and therefore helps it sell.

There is nothing wrong with this, for those of us without intellectual or arch-artistic pretensions. For those of us writing what we'd consider intelligent but not intellectual, artistic but not "Art," there is no shame, and every logic, in hoping that your book will be made into a film, and perhaps even facilitating it. The truly-pop fiction that begs to be made into a film, that feels written solely to be made into a film, pushes the envelope too far. But if there are tricks that will accommodate readers, particularly in this age of short attentions spans and quick-cut editing, then I say go for it.

As I write, my book has drawn the interest of both a US and a UK film-maker. The two countries have a rich and wonderful film heritage, but make very different products. The UK is more character-based, and likes to instill wonder through wondrous concepts and images. The US is more plot-based, and likes to instill awe through special effects, size, speed, and double-back tricks that make you want to rewind the film and watch it all over again, to locate the gears of the clockwork mechanism.

My novel takes place in London, Paris, and Rome, and for my part, I'd love to see an international cast, no matter the country of origin producing the film. For an interview with Italian Vanity Fair, I stated what may be obvious to most readers--that the sexy dark-haired Italian cat burglar Vallombroso should be played by Monica Bellucci. The lead, Gabriel Coffin, has shifted in my mind, but it must be an elegant middle-aged gentleman, and Ralph Fiennes or Sean Connery have alternated as stand-ins at various points along my mental pathway. My two favorite characters are the French detectives, Bizot and Lesgourges. Ideally, they would be played by French actors, or English actors pretending to be French, which could be even funnier. Bizot must surely be played in a fat suit to fit his monumental girth--I first imagined Gerard Depardieu and Jean Reno (as Lesgourges) as the squabbling pair that cannot live without one another, for the chemistry must be tight, but then I got the idea of Richard Griffiths and John Cleese pretending to be French, and the idea sounds even more wonderful. Delacloche should be an elegant middle-aged French actress, such as Emmanuelle Béart or Juliette Binoche. The American collector, Robert Grayson, I always imagined as George Clooney--but the trouble with monumental movie stars for an ensemble piece like The Art Thief (there are 7 characters who get approximately the same amount of page/screen time, so there is no one clear protagonist), is that there might not be enough screen time to generate either their interest or willingness on the part of the producers to pay for them to appear in a non-central role. The ornery museum security director should be someone who can convey exhaustion, frustration, and menace, yet whom we like very much--someone like Robbie Coltrane. And the museum director always stuck in my mind as Anjelica Huston, but a number of British actresses, like Charlotte Rampling or Helen Mirren would do nicely. Finally, Harkness alternated between Edward Fox and Robert Powell, both of whom exude elegance and aristocracy, but are capable of hinting at darkness beneath. Professor Barrow was Simon Callow for me throughout--I even chose Barrow as a name because the sound is like Callow. And the droopy, depressed Detective Harry Wickenden was always, for me, an incredible British stage actor who has appeared little in film, Simon Russell Beale. I wrote that "part" for him, as much as I did for anyone. If a producer were to ask me for my wishlist, signing him up would be my top priority.

That would bring my dream cast to something along these lines:

Coffin: Ralph Fiennes or Sean Connery

Vallombroso: Monica Bellucci

Bizot: Richard Griffiths

Lesgourges: John Cleese

Delacloche: Emmanuelle Beart or Juliette Binoche

Wickenden: Simon Russell Beale

Grayson: George Clooney

Cohen: Robbie Coltrane

Van Der Mier: Anjelica Huston or Charlotte Rampling or Helen Mirren

Harkness: Edward Fox or Robert Powell

Barrow: Simon Callow

It seems that my wish-list is British-heavy, which is almost certainly because I wrote The Art Thief while living in London. But let's be honest--if it's made into a film without a single star, I'd be just as happy. The goal is to bring the story to as many people as possible, so they can enjoy it and be stimulated by it in as many formats as possible. It is every author's fantasy to see the creation that began as a seedling in their mind, come to fruition on a big screen. In this era, that is the ultimate compliment and self-actualization. I'll keep my fingers crossed.
Learn more about the book and author at Noah Charney's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Art Thief.

--Marshal Zeringue