Saturday, November 17, 2012

Courtney Miller Santo's "The Roots of the Olive Tree"

Courtney Miller Santo grasped the importance of stories from listening to her great-grandmother. She learned to write stories in the journalism program at Washington and Lee University and then discovered the limits of true stories working as a reporter in Virginia. She teaches creative writing at the University of Memphis, where she earned her MFA. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Los Angeles Review, Irreantum, Sunstone, and Segullah.

Here the author shares her ideas for director and cast of an adaptation of her latest novel, The Roots of the Olive Tree:
I’ve heard it said there are no good parts for women over the age of forty, but Roots of the Olive Tree has four parts. Each of the Keller women has complexities and secrets that would be rich material for some of the great actresses. The women I’ve met in bookclubs are clamoring for their favorite actresses to play the Keller Women. So I’ve taken their thoughts into consideration in selecting the perfect cast.

Director: Nancy Meyers would be perfect. She did such wonderful work with Meryl Streep in It’s Complicated. I’d love to see her take on the challenge of directing this ensemble. She understands the complexities of older women and how to bring them to a compelling way to film.

Anna: Vanessa Redgrave has the stubborn but humorous presence needed to bring the role of Anna, the 112-year-old Keller matriarch, to life on the screen. Vanessa knows how to breathe full-throated life into a character whether it is Clarissa Dalloway or Edith in If These Walls Could Talk.

Bets is the most crucial member of the cast. She ties so many of the stories of the women together and she has such important interactions with each of the women; Helen Mirren would bring the grace and resignation needed to adequately convey the situation Bets finds herself in.

Cybill Shepherd would be brilliant as Callie. She has exactly the sort of older woman sex appeal that is needed for the part and she knows how to be laughed at, which is crucial for this role. I love Cybil because she is from Memphis and because she’s never been shy about her life. I also know she’d bring exactly the right sort of vulnerability and anger that Callie has over the injury from her plane crash.

Deb made a terrible mistake of passion and of anger when she was young. I’d like to see someone with the range and sympathy needed to play this part. Beth Grant, a wonderful character actress comes to mind. Her work in so many roles—especially Little Miss Sunshine is terrific. She inhabits a role so exactly that she disappears into it and you don’t remember what a terrific actress she is until you see her in something else.

Erin, at twenty-five, is the youngest of the Keller women, but she has a wise soul. Ginnifer Goodwin is exactly the sort of old soul, young actress to play the role. Her work on television is extraordinary and she always manages to fill the screen with life—the sort of rosy presence needed to contrast against the age of the rest of the Keller women. I love how she plays a mother to someone nearly her own age on Once Upon A Time and manages to make it exactly believable.
Learn more about the book and author at Courtney Miller Santo's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Roots of the Olive Tree.

Writers Read: Courtney Miller Santo.

--Marshal Zeringue