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