Saturday, June 2, 2012

Jon T. Coleman's "Here Lies Hugh Glass"

Jon T. Coleman is an associate professor of United States history at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of Vicious: Wolves and Men in America, which won the W. Turrentine Jackson Prize and the John H. Dunning Prize.

Here he shares some ideas for director and star of a big screen adaptation of his new book, Here Lies Hugh Glass: A Mountain Man, a Bear, and the Rise of the American Nation:
For an obscure fur trapper famous for nearly being eaten by a grizzly bear in 1823, Hugh Glass has a surprisingly high Hollywood profile. Richard Harris (Camelot, A Man Called Horse) played a character based on Glass in Man in the Wilderness (1971). Rumor has it that Christian Bale was all set to play Glass in a recent adaptation of the legend when the production was canceled. Both Harris and Bale lend British acting gravitas to this grueling role, but I think their casting misses the historical point: Hugh Glass wasn’t a leading man. He was a bit player who became a model American by surviving an epic workplace accident. Instead of an action hero’s grimace, he met adversity with a grin and twinkle in his eye. A sidekick and a trickster, he stumbled onto the main stage of American culture and tweaked his audience and those in authority with his wild tales.

Instead of giving Glass to an action director or a man vs. nature essentialist like Werner Herzog, I would ship him off to Joel and Ethan Coen. The Coen brothers have a knack for westerns, off-beat Americana, and extreme violence, the perfect combination for a Hugh Glass biopic. To star, I would cast John Hawkes, the sheriff’s sidekick in HBO’s Deadwood who burned a hole in Winter's Bone as Teardrop, the vengeful meth-snorting uncle.

Around Hawkes, the Coens could gather their usual cast of misfits: Jeff Bridges as Herman Melville; Steve Buscemi as James Hall, the lawyer who first wrote down the legend; John Goodman as William Ashley, Glass’s fur trade boss; William H. Macy as James Clyman, a trapper colleague who kept a journal; and Don Cheadle as James Beckwourth, the story-spinning mountain man.
Learn more about Here Lies Hugh Glass at the Hill and Wang website.

The Page 99 Test: Here Lies Hugh Glass.

--Marshal Zeringue