Wednesday, January 22, 2014

April Smith's "A Star for Mrs. Blake"

April Smith has traveled to every location she writes about in her books, from the Dominican Republic to Siena, Italy, to Meuse-Argonne, France. She takes pictures and talks to people and just wanders. Back home, she outlines the story on a white board, stepping back to see the whole, and then begins writing chapters, often out of order, according to what presents itself that day. It’s a process of both intuition and will that can take from two to twenty-five years, as was the case in A Star For Mrs. Blake.

Aside from her newest work of historical fiction, Smith is the author of the FBI Special Agent Ana Grey novels, a standalone thriller featuring a woman baseball scout, and is an Emmy-nominated writer and producer of dramatic series and movies for television. She has two grown children and lives with her husband in Santa Monica, California.

Here Smith shares some ideas about adapting A Star For Mrs. Blake for the big screen:
Yes, well, we can wish, but in fact casting a movie is almost never based on ‘who is best for the role’ rather, who is available and how much will it cost? Oh, and who has the right political connections to make it happen? I know this from having written and produced a dozen TV movies as well as episodic series.

As a writer, your original vision of the character is quickly morphed by twenty-five other people – agents, executives, directors, folks passing by in the hallways – into what is expedient and what will appeal to the alleged demographic in that time slot. In television that means a TV star –not a film star -- unless you’re working with one of the classier cable nets or have a strong producer who will insist on the right match.

I’ve been fantastically lucky in that regard. Kirk Douglas, William H. Macy, Jackie McKenzie, Richard Thomas, Greta Scacchi, Patty Duke Astin, Mandy Patinkin, Claire Bloom, Mia Sara, Edward Asner, Ed Harris, Mary Stuart Masterson, Christine Lahti, Sam Waterston, Jeff Goldblum are among the fine actors with whom I have had the privilege of working. When TNT cast Catherine Bell as FBI Special Agent Ana Grey in the 2011 TV adaptation of my novel, Good Morning, Killer, which I wrote and exec produced, I was in heaven. For years people told me the role was not castable because Ana Grey is biracial – half white, half Hispanic – and the wisdom was “there are no Hispanic actresses who can play the lead” – but it ended up being played by a woman of Persian decent, and she was perfect!

As William Goldman famously said, “Nobody knows anything.”

If A Star For Mrs. Blake were adapted as a feature film it would need an experienced director with sensitivity as well as being a strong, muscular storyteller. It’s a period piece that takes place in 1931 with an ensemble cast of five American women who travel to France to visit the graves of their sons who were killed in WWI. The locations are lush – the coast of Maine, New York City, Paris, Verdun and the French countryside as well as the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery -- so you’d want a visual artist – as well as someone who can direct a scene that makes you laugh and makes you cry. Several names come to mind, not in any particular order: Jane Campion, Joe Wright, Paul Greengrass, John Madden, Mike Newell, David Fincher.

As for who should play the role of Cora Blake – I wouldn’t speculate. Just my luck we’d offer it to an actress who’d read this blog, didn’t see her name here, got all huffy -- and Pasadena.
Visit April Smith's website.

--Marshal Zeringue