Thursday, November 17, 2011

Nancy Jensen's "The Sisters"

Nancy Jensen, who received an MFA in Writing from Vermont College, has published stories and essays in numerous literary journals, including The Louisville Review, Other Voices, and Northwest Review. She was awarded an Artist Enrichment Grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and an Al Smith Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council, and teaches English at Eastern Kentucky University.

Here she shares some insights on her difficulty of naming a dream cast for an adaptation of The Sisters, her first novel:
The first words out of my stepfather’s mouth when I called to tell him and my mother that St. Martin’s Press had made an offer for my novel The Sisters: “Tell them we want to be old-people extras in the movie!” Though my stepfather was the first, he certainly was not the only person who, on hearing news of impending publication, leapt immediately to some version of the same question: “What about the movie?”

I’m a film junkie—films like The Remains of the Day, Howard’s End, Enchanted April, All About Eve, Cinema Paradiso and Gosford Park give me the same deep, reflective pleasure I get from literature—so the idea of a gorgeous, well-written, brilliantly cast and subtly directed film based on The Sisters is alluring. Of course I’ve thought about it. A lot. But the instant someone asks me whom I would cast if I had a say—not that I would—I can never think of what American film actress would be right to play Bertie or Mabel or Grace or any of the other principal characters. I can only think of who would be wrong.

The trouble is all that sexiness. My characters are ordinary, working class women—women impossible for me to imagine vamping down the red carpet in golden glam at the Oscars, pouting at the camera, dropping names like Versace and Harry Winston. Okay, so I know they’re actresses and that actresses, with the help of film magic, can be roughed up like Charlize Theron in Monster, but that’s not appealing either—all the attention for the film (and sometimes the awarding of awards) turning on the weight gain, the false nose, the shabby dress, the smudge of dirt on the porcelain cheek.

So please, don’t ask me to think about casting.

But if I could have my one true wish, then give me Ang Lee, and any creative team he wanted to assemble, to make The Sisters, the movie. Why? Because Lee has proven in films like Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm, and Brokeback Mountain that he understands that what makes a great book goes well beyond plot to embrace tone, theme, and the building of character through often introspective, un-photographable tensions. Or if I can’t have Ang Lee, then give me Atom Egoyan, who made The Sweet Hereafter. I promise I wouldn’t even mind if, like The Sweet Hereafter, Egoyan made a film richer and more resonant than the book on which it’s based.
Visit Nancy Jensen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue