Saturday, April 5, 2014

Helen Wan's "The Partner Track"

Helen Wan is an author and lawyer. Her debut novel The Partner Track, recently published by Macmillan, is the subject of a recent Washington Post Magazine cover story.

Wan practiced law in New York City for fifteen years before becoming a novelist. A graduate of Amherst College and Virginia Law, she is a frequent guest speaker on advancing diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and is now at work on a second book. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her family.

Here she dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel The Partner Track:
The Partner Track is the story of an ambitious young Asian American woman competing for partnership at a high-stakes international law firm. It’s about how sex, race, class, and outsider status impact people’s lives as they climb the American corporate ladder.
Since my novel’s publication, I’ve been invited to speak at a great many Fortune 100 corporations, law firms, universities, and other places around the country, and always, during the audience Q&A, someone asks, “So when’s the movie coming out?” This leads to a fun, sometimes heated, Audience Participation Casting Game for the book, which I’m happy to summarize below (along with my own Wish List):

First, in my ideal fantasy world, the TV or film adaptation of The Partner Track would be written and produced by the amazing Shonda Rhimes. No one is better at telling authentic workplace stories with ensemble casts who actually look and talk like real people in the modern world. I love everything she touches. I’d believe anything she told me.

Ingrid: It’s hard to talk about who’d play Ingrid without discussing the casting conundrum presented by any story with an Asian American protagonist. “Lucy Liu!” someone always calls out from the audience (a little smugly, as if they are the first person ever to have thought of this). Now I’m a Lucy Liu fan -- and think it’s brilliant there’s an Asian American Dr. Watson -- but it’s pretty hard to think of someone else at this point, isn’t it? Sadly, there are still precious few Hollywood roles for Asian Americans, at least substantive ones that don’t require feigning a foreign accent or playing a prostitute, chess geek, martial arts expert, etc. Young Asian American actors who have read my book are reaching out to me over Facebook to pitch themselves for a role. “Dear Ms. Wan: There are NO roles for strong, kick-ass Asian Americans in a realistic and contemporary urban American story! PLEASE MAKE YOUR BOOK INTO A MOVIE!” From your lips to God’s ears, guys. You’ll be the first to know.

So I see the role of Ingrid herself as a major breakthrough opportunity. I’d love to see a brilliant young newcomer in this starring role.

Murph: Murph is, in many ways, the male version of Ingrid: someone who appears to have life by the balls, but under the veneer teems with self-doubt that he disguises very, very well. So the actor who portrays Murph can’t just be any old Regular Medium-Sized Hawt Guy. He’s got to possess a nervy kind of cutthroat edge that only surfaces once in a great while, but when it does, watch out. A Sex Lies and Videotape-era James Spader would have been perfect. These days, there are two equally viable ways to cast Murph: He can be either Obvious Hot (Bradley Cooper or Ryan “Hey girl, sorry my shirt fell off” Gosling) or Thoughtful Hot (Ed Norton or, again, Ryan “Hey girl, let’s snuggle and reread some Betty Friedan” Gosling). Either could be done to brilliant effect. (By the way, I recently witnessed two young women at a book event arguing the relative merits of who would be the more perfect Murph – Bradley or Ryan. Ha!)

Marty Adler: Someone in the audience always yells out Michael Douglas for Marty Adler. I can definitely see that, but I’d also love to see what the role could be in the hands of someone less familiar to audiences in a corporate shark role, like Peter Riegert.

Tyler: I’d love to see Mekhi Phifer in this role; he’d bring the right intensity to Tyler. And I realize Donald Glover is known for comedy, but he’s crazy talented and I’d be curious to see what he could do with this character, something totally different.

Hunter: Seann William Scott for the perfect brand of comic relief.

Cameron Alexander: Megan Fox. Someone who’s not just beautiful but acutely aware of who they are and how they got there.

While I’m at it, I’d love a really savvy, trend-setting soundtrack for this movie. Something with the sensibility of Girls; it’s so smart the way Lena Dunham uses music on her brilliant show. This soundtrack should shine a big spotlight on female musical artists with edge – when I allow myself to daydream about Ingrid’s story unfolding onscreen, I always hear the music of M.I.A., Santigold, Mala Rodriguez, etc. This is very much a Thinking Woman’s GRRRL Power movie, dedicated to working women everywhere, but especially to women of color, whose work stories you don’t often see dramatized. Think a modern update to the movie Working Girl, with a cast that finally reflects the changing dynamics of how we live and work now.
Learn more about the book and author at Helen Wan's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue