Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Natalee Caple's "In Calamity's Wake"

Natalee Caple’s novels Mackerel Sky and The Plight of Happy People in an Ordinary World earned high international praise. Her collection of poetry, A More Tender Ocean, was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. Caple’s work has been optioned for film and nominated for a National Magazine Award, the Journey Prize, the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award, and the Eden Mills Fiction Award.

Here Caple dreamcasts an adaptation of her latest novel, In Calamity's Wake:
My new novel In Calamity’s Wake is a literary Western set in the badlands of the North American west in the late 1800s. In Calamity’s Wake tells the story of orphaned Miette’s quest to find her mother, the notorious Calamity Jane. Miette is reluctant to meet the woman who abandoned her—whom she knows only as an infamous soldier, drinker and exhibition shooter—but she sets out nonetheless across a landscape peopled with madwomen, thieves, minstrels and ghosts, many of whom add a thread to the story of her famous mother.

Casting In Calamity’s Wake would be very fun. It would be a huge cast though, with a lot of famous historical figures. For the sake of brevity I guess I’ll stick with the main characters.

Carey Mulligan as Miette and the young Calamity Jane. You’d have to do some messy work to make her look more intense as Calamity Jane in her twenties but Miette is supposed to be recognized on sight as Calamity’s Jane’s daughter and Mulligan has the right poignancy for Miette.

A French Canadian Simon Baker type as Miette’s wandering bishop adoptive father. Something sweet, intelligent, complicated and tired about him seems essential.

Elaine Miles as Zita. Miles is Nez Perce and it would be nice to have a Canadian actor, a Blackfoot actor (Blackfeet in the US), but Miles looks like the image of Zita I have in my mind, and she has some of the centred stillness, the calm intelligence, I want for Zita.

Don Cheadle for Lew Spencer the “negro minstrel” who travels the States and befriends Calamity Jane and marries brothel keeper and theatre owner Mollie Johnson and is so aware of politics and art. Why? Because Don Cheadle is awesome. Don Cheadle can do no wrong. And he can manage the many levels of Lew with respect.

Holly Hunter as Mollie Johnson (married to Don Cheadle as Lew Spencer). She has the mad energy I would like to see in Mollie and both Hunter and Cheadle have a gift for balancing complex characters who are simultaneously dramatic and comedic.

Frances McDormand as Dora Dufran, Calamity Jane’s best friend, the owner of the Green Front Hotel/brothel a very sympathetic figure with a complicated accent. McDormand has a mastery of voice that I think is necessary to really capture the practical tenderness (and the half British/half Southern accent) of Dora Dufran. She has a very expressive face and she conveys a strength of character in her performance of women that I think makes her the ideal best friend for my anti-hero, Calamity Jane.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Charlie Utter. In contrast to how you usually see him in film Charlie Utter was young and handsome when he was friends with Wild Bill Hickok. He was known for his “bizarre habit of bathing daily” and for being extremely well-groomed. I would like to see the pair portrayed as two good-looking close friends joined at the hip at times, with Bill as the heavier drinker, prone to fights, and Charlie as extremely protective of Bill. Also, showing Charlie and Bill as two halfs of a whole makes the death of Bill more heartbreaking on a personal level for Charlie.

Jake Gyllenhaal as Wild Bill. Wild Bill Hickok was a dashing man, only 39 when he was killed. He had long features and beautiful hair. He needed his friend Charlie, who worked hard to keep him out of trouble. I would like to see Hickok’s usual regal presentation tempered a bit by need and human frailty.

The older Calamity Jane is the hardest one for me. Robin Weigert performed the most authentic version of Calamity Jane on HBO’s Deadwood that I have seen. Her Jane was a complicated human Calamity. And I’d love to see her as Calamity Jane again. The issue in some ways is lining up the many ages at which Calamity Jane would be shown. She had an intense gaze and very light eyes. She was lean and somewhat rough looking. But most importantly the character should be as credible howling drunkenly at the sky as she is risking her life caring for the deathly ill.

She would probably have to be shown at age 12 for a few scenes, as a tall, scruffy girl. She would appear again at around age 24, when she arrived in Deadwood for the first time with Wild Bill Hickok and Charlie Utter. There should be also be one a very stylized, completely different version, played by a different actress, to show the disorienting film versions of her. And then, finally, someone who can play her in her late forties/early fifties at the end of her life.

OK, so the youngest one should be brand new and intensely observant.

Maggie Gyllenhaal could be the impossible film version/movie star who plays her.

And maybe Lili Taylor as the older Calamity Jane. She has the ability to play a character who is in a devastated state with a kind of skinned humanity. Though, I say again, Robin Weigert performed Calamity Jane with such remarkable care that I’d love to see her again.
Learn more about the book and author at Natalee Caple's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue