Saturday, July 20, 2013

Scott Britz-Cunningham's "Code White"

Scott Britz-Cunningham was born and raised in the Chicago area. An MD and a PhD, he works as a staff radiologist at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and is an assistant professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his debut thriller, Code White:
For me, this is an easy question to answer, since at an early stage I adopted Rachel Weisz as a model for my protagonist, Ali O’Day.

Ali is a young neurosurgeon (as young as one can be after four years of college, four years of medical school, six years of neurosurgery residency and a couple years of research fellowship). She’s struggling to establish herself in one of the last bastions of male chauvinism in medicine, but her heaviest challenges come from within. Born in Egypt (her maiden name is Aliyah Sabra Al-Sharawi), she suffered a profound trauma as a young girl, which has left her with a condition called thymophobia — an extreme, at times physically disabling, aversion to any expression of strong emotion. She tries to escape into the almost monastically calm world of the operating room and laboratory, and uses yoga to keep her thoughts in check. But it’s all in vain. Underneath her surgeon’s mask she hides a volcano of feeling, all the stronger for having been repressed.

During the eleven hours in which the book takes place, a bomb threat to Ali’s hospital progressively strips away all of her emotional defenses. In the end, she discovers that the bomb plot in question is no random event. She herself is its true target, and her emotional disability is precisely what caused it. She can only save her hospital and patients if she is willing to confront the horror that lurks in her past.

It would take a special actress to play this role. First of all, she has to project intelligence and iron determination. She cuts into people’s brains for a living. She makes half a dozen life-or-death decisions before breakfast. She’s a key player in a revolutionary experiment that could restore eyesight to a blind boy.

Because of her thymophobia, Ali is outwardly very tightly controlled. So, an actress playing her is limited in the gestures and voice inflections she can use. And yet, she has to show that there are chinks in this emotional armor. Flashes of deep, even violent feeling must break through. And then, in the final scenes, with all her inhibitions gone, something of the reverse must occur. Amid her raging emotions, Ali is sustained by a core of inner strength and determination that keeps her from losing her grip on reality. As a writer, I have the advantage of tapping into Ali’s inner monologues to convey all this. But for an actress, with nothing but face, voice and body language at her disposal, it would be quite a task. Unusual emotional range is needed, along with exquisite subtlety, and, at times, restraint. She has to project both hardness and vulnerability — sometimes together.

Forget The Mummy and The Bourne Legacy. Anyone who has seen Rachel Weisz in Agora or The Constant Gardener or The Shape of Things knows that she has the chops to do this. Physically, too, she would be right to play a woman of middle eastern descent, who for years has passed as typically American. Because I deliberately patterned Ali after her, the descriptions of Ali’s appearance in the book are a perfect match.

Bottom line: none but Rachel Weisz for me.

As for the other characters, I could see someone like Tom Wilkinson as Ali’s cerebral Chief of Neurosurgery and Ms. Weisz’ real-life husband Daniel Craig as Security Chief Harry Lewton. Although he runs against the physical description in the book, I would love to see Adrien Brody as Ali’s estranged-and-deranged genius husband. It’s a part that needs to evoke sympathy as well as chilling fear.
View the graphic trailer for Code White, and learn more about the book and author at Scott Britz-Cunningham's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue