Friday, April 10, 2009

Benjamin Obler's "Javascotia"

Benjamin Obler's debut novel Javascotia is out now in the UK and coming soon to North America.

Here he shares his thoughts on the cast of a cinematic adaptation of the novel:
The only actor who comes to mind to play Melvin Podgorski is Jon Heder, of Napoleon Dynamite fame. This is maybe taking the requirements to the extreme. Melvin could not be played by someone devastatingly handsome or possessing any measure of natural bravado and swagger. Melvin is an anxious, uncertain, jittery, unconfident, yearning but timid type. He is described on the book jacket and in virtually all the book’s press as “naïve.” Therefore it’s hard to imagine anyone with a known face and long resume playing him.

He’s also in his early twenties, which rules out most actors who have been around long enough that they might spring to mind. In fact, someone entirely unknown would fit the bill very well. A callow and overeager novice might depict Mel perfectly.

For Nicole, a similar problem presents. Her defining attribute in the story is her Scottishness. That is to say, it’s not incidental. Because the tension in the romance between Mel and Nicole derives from the temporariness of his stay; and because the triumph in the romance comes through their willingness to understand each other despite their cultural differences, Nicole’s Scottishness could not be minimized in the film adaptation. Neither could it be depicted in any way but authentically: part of Mel’s experience as an American abroad is seeing from a distance his inherited or ingrained Amero-centrism, and learning firsthand the difference between stereotypes and the real deal, the prime among them being the stereotype perpetuated in America of Scotland as a land of kilts, bagpipes, Scotch and Highlands. (Which it is, but not merely.)

So Nicole could only be played by a Scottish actress. She must also be college aged, as Nicole is. And I know of no such actresses. But I’m sure there are many who could do the job ably.

The one-named Klang would be next on the casting list. Jack Black comes to mind, though he is perhaps too funny. He kind of has two gears: a slapstick and pratfalls, over-the-top hilarious; and a faux-earnest, operatic, kind of dry pointed delivery that’s meant to be funny through its strained histrionics. This is not far off the mark for Klang and how he figures into the story. Klang is a foil to Mel, with definitive and purposeful professional ambitions: to make money through the market research project they are both on, which might establish a Starbuck’s-like coffee franchise in the UK. This contrasts with Mel’s bumbling hope to find something he can succeed at (after recent failures) which is more like groping for a light switch in the dark. But Klang is not only professionally driven, he’s emotionally aloof. Being defined by work and money craving has dampened his spirit despite himself. To compensate, he tries to be animated and win friends with sarcastic humor and gruff misanthropy. He also becomes slightly paranoid and gets center stage so to speak at the book’s climax. Black could pull this off brilliantly.

Many more options open up for the roles of Mr. & Mrs. Podgorski, Mel’s parents. Robert Duvall possesses the desired gravity, though he’s getting on in years — more suited to a grandfather role at this point. William H. Macy would do. Despite being young relative to Duvall, he actually has a suitably creased and hangdog face in recent photos. For the role he would be required to shelve all remnants of stuttering Jerome Lundegaard from Fargo, as Javascotia already has a hapless striver in Mel. Macy should instead bring to the table his best dry reason and repressed passions.
Read an excerpt from Javascotia, and learn more about the novel and its author at Benjamin Obler's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue