Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Max Gladstone's "Two Serpents Rise"

Max Gladstone has been thrown from a horse in Mongolia and nominated for the John W Campbell Best New Writer Award. Two Serpents Rise, his second novel, is about water rights, human sacrifice, dead gods, and poker.

Here Gladstone dreamcasts adaptations of the Craft Sequence novels, Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise:
The question of who would play whom in movies of my books is tough, since many of my central characters aren't white. Due to a combination of the relative pastiness of many Hollywood headliners and my own failure to dig beyond headline movies as often as I should (I read more than I watch), I don't know as many actors who'd fit for these parts, which is both an institutional problem and a personal one.

Most characters in Two Serpents Rise would read as various extractions of Central American Indian to a modern observer. There's no shortage of actors of that extraction, but not a ton of top-billing names. I could see Q'orianka Kilcher in one of the central female roles, maybe as Mal—she was great in The New World, and by the time this movie gets made she'll be almost old enough for the character. My first step in casting this project would be to secure a casting director who has a good relationship with Native American actors and a history of respectful casting—someone like Rene Haynes, who worked on The New World, Into the West, Dances with Wolves, and the Twilight movies. And then to trust her judgment.

Casting my first book, Three Parts Dead, is a bit easier since many of the secondary characters read as European of some form in our world, but Tara, my lead, is black—not as difficult as casting for Two Serpents Rise, but still harder than it should be due to overall Hollywood whiteness. Meagan Good might fit; she got the intensity right in Brick. If I had a time machine, a young Penny Johnson Jerald would be awesome. I haven't seen Precious yet (I know, I know, I know) but Chyna Layne might also work great.

By comparison, it's embarrassing how breezy it feels to cast whiter roles. Just off the top of my head, from Three Parts Dead:

Ms. Kevarian: Helen Mirren. Obviously.

Professor Denovo: Harder, but the keys here are the beard, and the ability to play both bastard and kind country lawyer: Jack Nicholson might work, or maybe Evil Robin Williams, or Paul Giamatti.

Cat: Possibly  Katee Sackhoff? The role needs acting chops, action physicality, and physical attractiveness. Tricia Helfer might also work well. Jennifer Lawrence is a bit young but also might work?

Abelard: I'd love to see what Joseph Gordon-Levitt would do with the role. Matt Smith might also work, though he's a bit tall. Ooh! Can I have Daniel Radcliffe?

Cardinal Gustave: James Cromwell, Rene Auberjonois.

Sundry zombies, skeletons, and gargoyles: WETA workshop or the Jim Henson Company.

And from Two Serpents Rise:

Sam: Tricky! Maybe Kristin Bell? (It's a minor part, sadly, so we probably couldn't get her.)

The King in Red: Since this guy's a giant animated skeleton I feel almost comfortable wanting James Earl Jones or Benedict Cumberbatch or Evil Martin Sheen for the voice. But I'm sure there's a racially appropriate actor out there with an equally awesome voice.

Casting white and PoC roles shouldn't feel this different. I shouldn't be able to rattle off the names of white actors and actresses and stretch for anything else. But that's where we are, and it sucks—I should work harder to see more movies outside my comfort zone, and we as a society should work collectively to close that gap.
Learn more about the book and author at Max Gladstone's website and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Two Serpents Rise.

--Marshal Zeringue