Monday, March 19, 2012

Madeline Miller's "The Song of Achilles"

Madeline Miller grew up in Philadelphia, has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Latin and Ancient Greek from Brown University, and has been teaching both languages for the past nine years. She has also studied at the Yale School of Drama, specializing in adapting classical tales for a modern audience. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Here Miller dreamcasts an adaptation of The Song of Achilles, her first novel:
The Song of Achilles is a retelling of the life of Achilles from the point of view of his lover and best friend Patroclus. The novel follows the two from boyhood through the events of the Trojan War.

I never imagine actors as any of my characters when I’m writing, so trying to dream-cast my book turned out to be surprisingly hard. Also, since these characters are famous and beloved, I knew people would have strong feelings about them, as they did about Brad Pitt’s Troy. But here goes….

The only person I can imagine as Achilles is Heath Ledger. I know what you’re thinking—that I’m just saying that because of the association with Brokeback Mountain. But actually, if I’m being honest, it’s because of 10 Things I Hate About You. In that movie, Ledger shows the enigmatic self-possession, the surprising warmth and depth, and the playful mischief of Achilles as I imagine him. Also, he looks golden.

I found it almost impossible to choose an actor to play his lover Patroclus—the closest I got was Zachary Quinto, whom I loved in Star Trek. Patroclus and Spock have basically zero in common, but Quinto’s watchful sweetness resonated with me.

I am always impressed with the presence and conviction Viggo Mortensen brings to his roles and would definitely want him in my cast. In particular, I enjoyed picturing him as the wise centaur Chiron. I heard that in Lord of the Rings he carried his sword everywhere as part of getting into character. Does this mean he’d be wearing his horse-legs all the time for mine? I don’t know, but an author can dream....

I think Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of the most talented actors working today, and I’d absolutely cast him. I’m not quite sure which role he’d play—probably I’d just ask him which one he wanted and star-struckedly hand it over. Similarly, Sean Bean. I know he played Odysseus in Troy, but I’d like to see him as something else—maybe red-haired, good-natured Menelaus.

Another actor I really appreciate is Tom Hardy. Diomedes? He doesn’t really look like the ruthless king of Argos as I imagined him, but I bet he could convey the right air of powerful, smiling menace. He also might be a good younger Odysseus.

There are a number of older male characters in my novel (Peleus, Phoinix, Priam, etc), and I fully intend to stack them with the cream of the English acting crop: Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Derek Jacobi and Peter O’Toole.

As for my director, I want Ang Lee. And, I promise, it’s not just because of Brokeback Mountain. In all his movies, Lee lovingly capture the small, lyric hopes and beauties of human life. Even though The Song of Achilles is based on an epic story, its scope is profoundly personal, and I think Ang Lee could portray that perfectly. To get the epic in there, maybe Peter Jackson could produce. I’m sure he’d make Achilles’ sea-nymph mother Thetis just as terrifying as she should be.

Speaking of which: maybe Tilda Swinton for Thetis? She certainly has the striking looks, and acting chops. My family suggested Angelica Huston or Bette Davis both of which would be equally good and scary choices.

And, of course, I want a good screenwriter and adapter. I think I’ll just tap all my favorites: Peter Shaffer (Amadeus), Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility), and Tom Stoppard (a lot). That should do it, right?

All right everyone, start clearing your schedules….
Visit Madeline Miller's website.

See Madeline Miller's top ten classical books.

--Marshal Zeringue