Monday, December 7, 2009

Ellen Byerrum's Crimes of Fashion mysteries

Ellen Byerrum is a journalist in Washington, D.C., and a produced and published playwright. She holds a Virginia private investigator’s registration.

Here she shares her thinking about the characters in her Crimes of Fashion mysteries, both on the page and on the screen:
It’s funny how many people ask me who would I cast in movies of my books. At least I don’t have to make up an answer on the fly because two of my books, Killer Hair and Hostile Makeover, have already been made into Lifetime Movie Network films. They aired this past summer in June and July. As it turned out, I was pretty lucky with the cast, and the movies were fun and they still resembled my books.

When I write I have a very clear picture of my characters; their age, height, hair and eye color, as well as their background and quirks and style of dress. But that’s only natural: I write Crimes of Fashion mysteries. The books feature Lacey Smithsonian, a reluctant (yet stylish) fashion reporter turned amateur sleuth who works in Washington, D.C., which she likes to call “The City Fashion Forgot.” In addition to Lacey, there are her friends, her love interest, her suspects, and her coworkers to complicate her life. But I don’t write with actors in mind. Not even now, after the movies. Of course if Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant were available…

As a playwright, I learned that unexpected casting choices often produce the best results. Your first-choice actor may not work the way you imagined or have the right chemistry with the rest of the cast. Counting on one actor to play a particular part can be shortsighted and limit the creative possibilities. So I was not thinking about who I would cast as Lacey Smithsonian when the movie deal came up.

I wanted an actress who would bring Lacey to life, rather than someone famous who simply plays the same role every time. Some movie stars essentially just play themselves, not the character. But Maggie Lawson brought abundant charm and wit and intelligence to the role of Lacey and won lots of applause from my readers, and from me.

Some of the movies’ characters differed from the books, but they all brought something unique to their roles. Sadie LeBlanc’s character look as Stella Lake was not exactly the spiky-haired, leather lass, punk goddess hairstylist in my books, but she was very funny and engaging and had great chemistry with Maggie’s Lacey, as did Sarah Edmondson, who played attorney and conspiracy theorist Brooke Barton. Jocelyne Loewen took a small role as food editor Felicity Pickles and made it very funny and left a lasting impression.

The leading men in the movies offered lots of eye candy for the ladies. Victor Webster played Lacey’s main squeeze Vic Donovan, who is a private eye in the books, but a homicide cop in the TV flicks. (A couple of readers complained he was too handsome! Oh please, I beg to disagree. How can a man be too handsome?) Mark Consuelos offered a sharp, humorous and smart turn as police reporter Tony Trujillo. James McDaniel was appropriately cranky and caring as Eye Street Observer editor Douglas MacArthur Jones, Lacey’s boss.

Mary McDonnell made a wonderful Rose Smithsonian, Lacey’s loving but smothering mother. And Katharine Isabelle played a spunky Cherise Smithsonian, Lacey’s little sister, a former high school cheerleader with a lethal high kick.

While I don’t write my characters with actors in minds, I have to confess a few actors have always struck me as perfect, mostly for the secondary characters I love to have fun with. For instance, I would love to see a Wally Shawn-type actor play my happy-go-lucky death-and-dismemberment reporter Harlan Wiedemeyer. Maybe someday. I’m crossing my fingers.
Visit Ellen Byerrum's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue