Thursday, May 21, 2009

Vonda N. McIntyre's "Dreamsnake"

Vonda N. McIntyre's publications include The Moon and the Sun, The Starfarers Series, several Star Trek novels, and numerous other novels and short stories.

Here she shares some ideas for the cast of an adaptation of her Nebula and Hugo award winning novel Dreamsnake, which is based on the Nebula-winning story “Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand:”
Though I’ve imagined Dreamsnake as a movie, and I wrote a script for it, until recently no actor jumped off the screen to tell me she could play Snake, the healer, the protagonist of the book.

A number of the book’s characters are a challenge to cast.

Arevin, who falls in love with Snake, has to be played by someone with both strength and sensitivity. Critics of Dreamsnake have accused the men in it of being weak, but it seems to me that those critics can’t tell the difference between a weak character and a secondary one. Especially when the book was first published, and especially in science fiction, critics weren’t used to a man as secondary to a woman protagonist.

Arevin is an incredibly strong character: he leaves everything and everyone he knows, venturing into a post-apocalyptic world, in order to correct a wrong.

Matthew Gray Gubler (Dr. Spencer Reid in Criminal Minds) has that strength, and the emotional chops to make Arevin believable. He can also express a hint of naivety about his physical attractiveness, which he will need considering almost everybody Arevin meets on his journey tries to jump his bones (politely, to be sure, but still), and he doesn’t realize it.

Sean Connery always struck me as perfect for the Mayor, but people tell me he’s retired. What a shame, if so! Whoever plays the character needs enormous charm to get away with the character’s streak of arrogance and cruelty.

When I asked folks on the Book View Café blog to comment on “Casting Dreamsnake,” a friend suggested Edward James Olmos for the Mayor, and I thought — What a brilliant idea!

Jesse, the artist, should be played a grown-up, a woman with maturity and wisdom. Regina Taylor (you might have seen her on the wonderful I’ll Fly Away; if you didn’t, seek it out on DVD) could soar with the essentially tragic role.

Three characters in the book present three different and particularly difficult challenges: North, Melissa, and Merideth.

North might have to be played partly by CGI, like Gollum. I can’t think of anyone who would fit the part of an albino giant, even with a lot of makeup.

Melissa, the scarred little girl Snake adopts, got any number of suggestions at “Casting Dreamsnake.” Every one of the talented young actors mentioned is charming and cuter than a LOLcat. But Melissa needs some real grit. She’s holding her own in a tough situation. She also has to be played by someone who’s willing to give up the extreme cuteness that’s so important to so many child actors.

The actor who comes to mind is Abigail Breslin (Olive in Little Miss Sunshine). She actually is a very beautiful girl, but Little Miss Sunshine proved she could give up some of that beauty and still steal the show from experienced and high-powered colleagues. [Note: Breslin was on The Tonight Show the other day and OMG she’s so grown up — I may have to call in a time machine for her to be in my movie. But I’m allowed; I’m an SF writer.]

Merideth is the toughest call. Merideth is a character whose sex, in the book, the reader is never told. Readers come away from the book believing they’ve been told, and with strong opinions on the subject. But Merideth’s sex is never specified.

So the actor who plays Merideth has to be believably androgynous. Would it be possible to create the character on film? I don’t know, but I think it would be interesting to try.

That isn’t the only quality the actor needs. Merideth also should be able to ride, and I mean riding of the quality of Viggo Mortensen, who has the best seat of any actor I’ve ever seen on film, but cannot be imagined in an androgynous role.

Yeah, I guess you can use stunt doubles, but that always seems like cheating to me. What you can’t do is fake it, because it always and ever looks faked.

Actors suggested for Merideth: Jaye Davidson (The Crying Game), Keanu Reaves, Orlando Bloom, Tilda Swinton, Jackson Rathbone, Katherine Moennig, Joanne Woodward, and Angela Bassett.

The problem with actors who have done androgyny or cross-dressing before, like Davidson and Swinton, is that just by casting them you give away what’s happening. Reaves or Bloom are so well-known, as soon as they appear on screen, nobody would even think to consider if the character were a woman.

Moennig and Bassett are intriguing suggestions. Woodward is a wonderful actor. Why couldn’t Merideth be 80?

But I have my heart set on Parminder Nagra.

You doubt me! She’s a beautiful woman! you say, and you are absolutely right. When she’s glammed up, she’s intensely feminine.

But take a look at this picture at the Internet Movie Database. Now can you see her as Merideth?

We know she can play soccer. I wonder if she can ride?

But what about Snake? I’ve been looking for the right actor for a long time, without success.

Until Emily Rios.

Rios has a wonderful face, a great smile, and looks as if she’s athletic enough to play a part that includes wrestling a cobra, riding a horse at a flat run across the desert, and climbing out of a crevasse. Though she’s very young (this essay will be posted within shouting distance of her 20th birthday), she gives the impression of possessing the character to stand up against a bully twice her age and twice her size, to treat a sick child with gentleness and honesty, and to look death in the face.
Vonda N. McIntyre adds: Dreamsnake was caught in several SF publishing line meltdowns and has been difficult to find (the quaint publishing term is “Out of stock indefinitely,” which means “We don’t want to publish enough copies to sell, but we don’t want to revert the rights to you, either”) for a number of years. Now I have it back. It is available at the authors’ co-op Book View Café, serialized one chapter per week for free or for sale as a downloadable ebook with a new Afterword.

Learn more about the book and author at Vonda N. McIntyre's website.

--Marshal Zeringue