Monday, June 27, 2011

Lee Martin's "Break the Skin"

Lee Martin is the author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Bright Forever; a novel, Quakertown; a story collection, The Least You Need to Know; and two memoirs, From Our House and Turning Bones. He has won a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, a Lawrence Foundation Award, and the Glenna Luschei Prize. He lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he directs the creative writing program at The Ohio State University.

Here he shares some suggestions for casting the lead characters in an adaptation of his new novel, Break the Skin:
It’s always fun to think about who might play whom in a movie version of one of my novels. I like to do what directors rarely do—disregard the age and look of an actor and consider instead how he or she, based on past performances, might connect with the inner lives I’ve created for my characters.

My new novel, Break the Skin, is on one level the story of a murder plot wrapped up in practical magic, but more than that it’s a story of love and how far people will go in order to feel that they matter to someone.

One of the narrators is a nineteen-year-old girl, Laney, who is boyish and sometimes timid and sometimes too forward for her own good, especially when it comes to her older friend, Delilah Dade. When the book opens, Delilah has lost her boyfriend to a woman named Rose MacAdow, and Laney, who dabbles in spells, invites Delilah to believe that Rose has placed a hex on them. The only way to stop the hex, Delilah says, is to kill Rose. Even though Delilah and Laney eventually decide the revenge plot will never work, they’ve set into motion a sequence of events that Laney, no matter how hard she tries, can’t stop. I see Laney as a combination of Hilary Swank and Ellen Page—the eagerness to please and the desire for acceptance that we see in the Hilary Swank of Boys Don’t Cry, and the sharp sweetness of Ellen Page in Juno.

Rose MacAdow is described as a big woman with a big heart, a loving woman who’s eager to protect what’s hers, a woman who believes she can control her future through spells cast for love. I had Mama Cass Eliott’s face in mind when I wrote the character, but now, when I think of Rose, I somehow imagine Liv Tyler and her combination of sweetness and grit.

Casting Delilah Dade is simple. I immediately think of Susan Sarandon and the women she’s portrayed who’ve been hurt too often by men, and who’ve developed a toughness that just barely masks their hope and desire for true love. That’s what Delilah thinks she’s found in the musician, Tweet, but then he leaves her for Rose.

Tweet is a free spirit, always following whatever riff or variation he can find in his life. I think of someone like James Franco and that “what-the-hell” smirk of so many of his characters who are about to take a step into unknown, but intriguing, territory.

A hanger-on with Tweet’s band, Lester Stipp, becomes Laney’s boyfriend. Lester is a gentle spirit who’s eager to have friends. A veteran of the Iraq War, he suffers from dissociative fugues, which cause him to occasionally forget who he is and where he lives. I think of the eccentric characters that Johnny Depp has played, particularly Sam in Benny & Joon.

During one of his fugues, Lester ends up in Texas where a tattoo artist, Betty Ruiz, known as Miss Baby, convinces him that he’s her husband. Miss Baby is the other narrator of the novel. She’s a head-strong Mexican-American woman, who’s also an incurable romantic. I think of America Ferrera from her role in Real Women Have Curves. Miss Baby and Lester fall in love. Then she finds out the police are looking for him in connection with a crime in Illinois, a crime that involves Laney. Everything is about to change forever.
Learn more about the book and author at Lee Martin's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Break the Skin.

--Marshal Zeringue