Friday, June 30, 2017

Michael P. Spradlin's "Prisoner of War"

Michael P. Spradlin is the New York Times bestselling author of the Youngest Templar trilogy, the Wrangler Award Winner Off Like the Wind! The First Ride of the Pony Express, and several other novels and picture books.

Here Spradlin dreamcasts an adaptation of his new novel, Prisoner of War:
I often say that writing a novel is like watching a movie in my head and recording what I see. There have been dozens of times when I’ve watched a film and realized a previously not thought of actor would be perfect as a character in one of my books. Writing Prisoner of War made that a little more challenging. The novel is based on the true story of America’s youngest POW in World War II. Henry Forrest, my protagonist, is fifteen years old and big for his age. He convinces his grandfather, who speaks little English, to vouch for him with a Marine recruiter and enlists in the Corps. This was a very common practice in World War II. Many men didn’t have official or accurate birth records and there were thousands of underage enlistees.

It makes the job of casting Henry doubly difficult. A young actor would have to have a certain physicality to ‘play older’ and offer the physical strength, yet emotional vulnerability that makes up Henry’s character. Choosing someone to model him on was a conundrum. For my book Into the Killing Seas, the nineteen-year-old Marine, Benny Poindexter, looked and acted like a young Jimmy Cagney. His appearance, style and even manner of speaking was imminently clear to me. I watched several Cagney clips and movies to get down the mannerisms, the cadence, and personality to breathe life into Benny.

Many of the young actors today, say Andrew Garfield, could pull off the emotional range Henry needs, but he lacks the size. Obviously, the action stars popular today are far too old to play a fifteen-year-old. Then it hit me. As a writer, I can travel through time. I’ve gone from the Crusades, to the Civil War, to World War II in my novels. Since Prisoner of War is unlikely to hit the screen anytime soon, I can cast anyone I want from any time period I want. So, I did.

I climbed into my time machine and went back to a young Ben Affleck. Stay with me. I’m talking Good Will Hunting pre-Gigli era Ben. Matt Damon would have been my first choice, but again even at that age he wasn’t physically big enough. In the novel, Henry’s Gunnery Sergeant McAdams from Denton, Texas, takes his first look at him and says “Henry Forrest, huh? Well, yer big as a durn tree.” Damon isn’t as big as a tree. But young Affleck is tall and could put on the pounds for his art. He could handle the physical piece of the role. And as an actor, when Affleck is good, like in Hollywoodland or The Town, he’s excellent. He has the range to pull off the emotional transformation Henry experiences as a Marine, a physically and emotionally abused captive, and learning how to deal with the aftermath of the war’s effect on him.

That’s it. That’s my choice. Young Ben Affleck, starring as Henry Forrest in the Steven Spielberg directed Prisoner of War. Coming soon to a theater of the mind near you.
Visit Michael P. Spradlin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue