Wednesday, April 6, 2011

John Vorhaus's "The Albuquerque Turkey"

John Vorhaus is the author of The Comic Toolbox: How to Be Funny Even if You’re Not. An avid poker player, he has written several books on that subject, including the bestselling Killer Poker series and the poker-world novel Under the Gun. A veteran creative consultant, he has taught writing in twenty-four countries on four continents, most recently running the writing staff of the Russian version of Married ... with Children.

Here he shares some ideas about casting an adaptation of his new novel, The Albuquerque Turkey:
People who read my novels frequently say, “Man, that reads like a screenplay.” This is not surprising, since I come to novels from a long history in writing for television and film, not to mention 20 years of worldwide travel, teaching and training writers to do these things. That said, I have to confess that I never see actors in my characters as I write. Part of this is selfishness on my part: my characters are my characters; they’re not Brad Pitt and they’re not Amy Adams. Part of it is also a function of how I write. I listen carefully to my characters and try to capture their voices, rather than impose my own. So when I’m writing Radar Hoverlander (the con artist protagonist of The Albuquerque Turkey and The California Roll) it’s rather important that I hear his voice, not Brad Pitt’s (and certainly not Amy Adams’).

But okay, the novels are done now, and my agent is shopping the film rights, so why shouldn’t I indulge in a little happy fantasy about who might bring these characters to life on the screen? With that in mind, here’s my dream cast, with a little character description to illuminate each choice.

Radar Hoverlander. He’s a world-class con artist, and he deserves to be played by someone who’s that smart, that clever, that glib. Edward Norton would nail it.

Allie Quinn. Radar’s con artist antagonist/girlfriend, she’s every bit the top scammer that he is – but deeply scarred by her own troubled past. She needs to be played by someone who can capture tough, tender, scared, sexy and confident all at once. I nominate Ellen Page.

Vic Mirplo is Radar’s hapless, half-wit sidekick, a wannabe con artist with delusions of competence and a malapropistic bent. Johnny Galecki (Big Bang Theory) will capture this sad sack perfectly.

Woody Hoverlander is Radar’s father, mentor and tempter. There’s no cracking his cool, even though the years have started to take their toll. The role is perfect for Donald Sutherland ten years ago or Kiefer Sutherland five years from now.

Honey Moon is a experienced black grifter and I want Ted Lange (of TV’s Love Boat) for the part, because Ted is a poker buddy of mine and I promised it to him.

But you know what? This is all absolutely pie-in-the-sky. The parts will get cast according to who’s hot, who’s available, studio sweethearts, director’s choices, and a hundred other variables that the writer can’t control. When they ask my opinion (if they bother) I’ll validate any choice of a sensitive, self-aware actor who can dig deep into the material and find the truth of the character within. And I’ll hope that they can work together with the director to shed filmic light on my printed-word tale. Movies are collaborative, after all, and the writer’s hopes, dreams and best efforts all fall away once the cameras start to roll.

When Rob Reiner was directing Stand by Me (written by Bruce Evans and Ray Gideon, based on a story by Stephen King), he told the writers, “The script had better be perfect when it gets to me, because it’s only going to get worse from here.” This was a joke, of course, but it spoke to the writer’s ultimate challenge: the challenge to let go. The movie will be what the movie is, and the actors will be who the actors are. All I can do is write the book as best I can.

And dream of Amy Adams on my own.
Learn more about the book and author at John Vorhaus's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Albuquerque Turkey.

Writers Read: John Vorhaus.

--Marshal Zeringue