Saturday, March 2, 2013

Dana Sachs's "The Secret of the Nightingale Palace"

Dana Sachs is the author of the novel If You Lived Here and two books of nonfiction, The House on Dream Street: Memoir of an American Woman in Vietnam and The Life We Were Given: Operation Babylift, International Adoption, and the Children of War in Vietnam.

Here she shares some insights for adapting her new novel, The Secret of the Nightingale Palace, for the big screen:
Asking a writer to “cast” their novel as a movie is a little bit like taking a hungry person to a fabulous restaurant and inviting them to eat whatever they want. Even if it’s a fantasy, it’s a temptation that I imagine most of us will want to indulge. So, here goes.

The Secret of the Nightingale Palace tells the story of 85-year-old Goldie Rosenthal and her 35-year-old newly widowed granddaughter, Anna, as they drive from New York to San Francisco to return a collection of Japanese art to its original owner. The novel also follows Goldie back in time to San Francsico during World War II, when she was a young woman trying to make it on nothing but ambition and a terrific sense of style. For the movie, I’m going to cast four parts: Goldie (young Goldie and elderly Goldie), Anna, and the original owner of the art collection, a San Francisco antique dealer named Henry Nakamura.

For the older Goldie, I’ll cast Maggie Smith, who can do imperious better than anyone, but can also show a softer side (and is a good enough actress, I believe, to pull off an American Southern accent). For Goldie as a younger woman, I’ll pick Reese Witherspoon, because she can mix longing, drive, and wit with an edge of ruthlessness, while always looking fresh and pretty (she’d need to become a brunette, however). I’m giving the part of Anna to Natalie Portman, because I like the peculiar combination of loss and resilience in Portman’s eyes, plus she has a hint of the imperious as well, which would connect her to Goldie (and Maggie Smith). Finally, for Henry, I’ll hire the great Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune. I know that you imagine him with his hair in a bun because of all his Samurai movies, but check out these photos of him in a suit. Debonair and gorgeous.

In writing the character of Goldie, I was inspired by my 100-year-old Grandmother, Rose—I say “inspired” because Goldie has my grandmother’s style and drive, but The Secret of the Nightingale Palace does not tell the story of Rose’s life. Because there’s already such an important family connection here, I’ll ask my sister and brother, Lynne Sachs and Ira Sachs, to co-direct. Lynne is a documentary and experimental filmmaker whose latest work, Your Day is My Night, delves into the lives of Chinese immigrants in America. Ira’s most recent film, the narrative feature Keep The Lights On, tells the story of the love affair of two gay men in New York City. The family connection is only one reason why they should direct this movie. We also share interests in the themes of cultural change, love, loss, and the fear that makes us all keep secrets. Also, nobody will know better how to put Goldie up on screen and, because they’re family, I can force them to introduce me to Maggie Smith.
Learn more about the book and author at Dana Sachs's website, blog, and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Secret of the Nightingale Palace.

--Marshal Zeringue