Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Tom Fox's "Dominus"

Tom Fox's storytelling emerges out of many years spent in academia, working on the history of the Christian Church. A respected authority on that subject, he has recently turned his attentions towards exploring the new stories that can be drawn out of its mysterious dimensions.

Here Fox dreamcasts an adaptation of Dominus, his first novel:
Ever since the first scenes of Dominus began to appear in my head, I’ve always thought it the kind of story that would lend itself well to film (though, perhaps, what author doesn’t!) — and perhaps because I’m a visual thinker, often ‘seeing’ the scenes I’m writing as if they’re being played out in my mind, I feel in some sense as if I’ve already seen the film. But until you asked the question, I can honestly say I never went as far as casting, and it’s been a pleasant experiment to visualize which actors I’d seek out, if I could have my fancy.

Dominus includes a large cast of characters, so there’s an ensemble for the making that I can imagine would be a casting director’s dream (and a financier’s nightmare). Everyone from the frail and ‘miraculously’ healed pope (for which I would go and grovel at the feet of Giancarlo Giannini, who played a pope so masterfully in Joshua (2012) before going on to James Bond franchise fame, and who is the perfect match of gentility and humility, with a strain of ferocity behind him; or Benicio del Toro, whom I’ve always thought blended power and peacefulness so well), to the aggressive, terrifying villain of Caterina Amato (a role that for some reason I think Halle Barry would do masterfully: she has the ability to go from smiling friend to wicked enemy in a heartbeat), to the self-sacrificial commandant of the Swiss Guard (whom I could easily see come to life in the hands of Chris Hemsworth, though he’d have to put away the Thor costume), and so many others.

But the core of the book’s cast lies in the two protagonists of the story — the assertive, struggling Roman police officer, Gabriella Fierro, and the jaded ex-priest turned reporter, Alexander Trecchio — together with the mysterious ‘stranger’ who walks into the Vatican in the book’s opening pages and sets everything in motion. For the latter I would probably look no further than Tony Goldwyn. Though he’s most well known to audiences today as the conniving, lust-possessed president in the television series Scandal, he played a superb, mysteriously other-worldly, ‘maybe-supernatural’ character in the film Joshua (which while not one of my favourite films, included truly superb performances by him, F. Murray Abraham, and Giancarlo Giannini, whom I’ve already cast as my pope), and his ability to convey mystery, compassion, peace and power (and perhaps a little deception) all at the same time fits ‘the stranger’ of Dominus perfectly. Even when he’s not aiming for it, he conveys mysteriousness, which is what our ‘stranger' needs.

Gabriella Fierro is such a powerful character — a woman battling her way through a man’s world, gentle but hardly fragile, with a powerful intellect and a commanding personality. And there are so many wonderful female actors working today, one is almost spoiled for choice. I could easily see Gabriella coming to life in the hands of Anne Hathaway (who has just done too many good films to list), Jessica Chastain (whose performances in The Martian, Interstellar, and Stolen were spectacular), or even Evangeline Lilly (whose versatility is amazing: she was transformed in The Hobbit and The Hurt Locker, but I first got to know her amazing depth in television’s Lost). All these women covey power without it being overbearing — strength that is sometimes hidden yet can sustain more than just a single person, and that’s Gabriella to a tee.

As to Alexander Trecchio, the priest who loses his faith, unable to take the scandals that rock his religion, and deeply desires to escape the world of the Vatican only to find himself forcibly pulled back into it — everything comes down to the ability to portray intelligence and seriousness at the same time as brokenness, weakness and doubt. I’ve been very impressed with the recent work of both Ben Affleck and Christian Bale, both of whom started out in roles of a more unrestrained machismo, but who also show the ability to become fragile, incomplete, troubled. In either of them, Alexander would really come alive.

So there you have it: a cast (or the first few members of it) that brings Dominus off the page in the cinema in my head. But I suppose the great thing about a novel is that you might cast it completely differently, and so might the next reader. An infinite ensemble … it seems fitting for a story that asks whether the impossible could be possible.
Learn more about Tom Fox's Dominus at the publisher's website, and visit Tom Fox's Twitter perch. 

Writers Read: Tom Fox.

--Marshal Zeringue