Monday, May 25, 2009

Hillary Jordan's "Mudbound"

Hillary Jordan spent fifteen years working as an advertising copywriter before starting to write fiction. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals, including StoryQuarterly and The Carolina Quarterly.

Here she shares some ideas about cast and director for a film adaptation of her prize-winning debut novel, Mudbound:
The casting session for Mudbound, The Movie took place in September of 2007, six months before the book came out in hardback, on the front porch of the Blue Mountain Center, an artists colony in the Adirondacks. I was sitting with my friend Tanya Selvaratnam (actress, producer and playwright), taking in the glorious view of the lake and mountains over a glass of red wine. Tanya had just finished reading the galley of the book. She thought it would make a great movie, and that actors would want to do it because there were so many juicy roles. Who, she asked, did I have in mind for the seven main characters?

I hadn’t really thought it through, except for Laura, whom I’d always, from the very early days, imagined played by Laura Linney. She’s the right age for the role, and she’s a chameleon who can look plain as well as pretty. Her intelligence, dignity, and the appearance of vulnerability underlain by inner steel all make her perfect for the role of Laura McAllan. (Now, having seen her as Abigail Adams, I’m even more convinced she should get the part.)

We tossed around a number of candidates for my stolid, landsick Henry and ended up settling on two: Chris Cooper and David Strathairn. Both are consummate actors, but personally, I lean toward the former. He’s closer physically to how I imagined Henry; David Strathairn’s a little too lean and handsome. And I adored Cooper’s nuanced performance in Adaptation.

For Jamie I was thinking of Josh Lucas of Sweet Home Alabama — he has the killer smile and the cocky charm. Tanya also suggested an actor I wasn’t familiar with, Ryan Gosling. When I got home I rented Half Nelson and was blown away by his talent and his ability to play a layered and contradictory character, a great teacher who is also a pathetic drug addict. Who better for Jamie, my dashing, alcoholic war hero? (Though it must be said that if Paul Newman were alive and thirty, there’d be no contest.)

Tanya and I were in total agreement on Pappy: no one could play a racist Southern SOB better than Robert Duvall or Clint Eastwood (who could also direct).

For Florence we were thinking Queen Latifah or Regina King (whom I loved in Ray and Jerry Maguire). Both have the strong physical and emotional presence necessary to do justice to Florence.

Hap, we never quite nailed, in my opinion. Delroy Lindo would be terrific if he weren’t 57 (Hap’s in his early 40s). I’m open to suggestion here. Have to leave the director something to do, right?

Finally, Ronsel, who is 18-20 during the World War II scenes and 21 when he returns home. To me, he needs to be played by a young actor no one’s ever heard of (but who, after his Oscar-winning performance in Mudbound, The Movie, will have a brilliant career ahead of him).

My fantasy director is Ang Lee. His versatility excites me. He has ranged from the American West to China, from Edwardian England to suburban Connecticut. But he’s never done the Jim Crow South, and I’d love to see what he’d make of it. Clint Eastwood would be another outstanding choice (provided he agrees with Tanya’s and my casting ideas). And I wouldn’t say no to Gus Van Sant.

Now, for Mudbound, The Opera...
Read an excerpt from Mudbound, and learn more about the author and her work at Hillary Jordan's website and blog.

Watch the trailer for Mudbound (The Book).

The Page 69 Test: Mudbound.

--Marshal Zeringue