Monday, February 26, 2018

Rachel Lyon's "Self-Portrait with Boy"

Rachel Lyon is the author of the novel Self-Portrait with Boy. She teaches for the Sackett Street Writers Workshop, Catapult, Slice, and elsewhere, and offers private writing coaching. Most weeks she sends out a free writing/thinking prompts newsletter. She is a cofounder of the monthly reading series Ditmas Lit.

Here Lyon dreamcasts an adaptation of Self-Portrait with Boy:
There's a line in Self-Portrait with Boy that hints at this question. My protagonist Lu Rile is all dressed up for a gallery opening, and the gallery owner Fiona Clay comes over and quips, "Left Johnny Depp at home tonight, have you?" When Lu looks confused she laughs and says, "Come on, no one's ever told you you look like Winona Ryder?" It's a surprising moment for Lu, because she does not think of herself as attractive. In fact she think of herself as remarkably unattractive compared to the sexy art world types around her. But I've always thought of her as kind of sexy in her own right. She's short and thin, like Winona, with tousled dark Reality Bites-era hair. Today Winona Ryder is a little too old for the role, I guess, but it tickled me, writing the book, to think how funny that line in particular would be, if it were addressed to Winona Ryder herself.

Once I started thinking about who'd play Lu Rile, I got a little obsessive about casting the dream movie version of the book. One day in August I spent a couple of hours procrastinating, coming up with a dream cast. Since Lu is 27, I needed someone else for her role, someone short and young who could play unbeautiful, withdrawn, hyperfocused, self-conscious, passionate, fearsome—and, on top of all that, who could speak with the hint of a Massachusetts accent. One of my favorite actresses of all time is Tatiana Maslany, who plays so many different roles in Orphan Black. I'm sure she could do it.

I'd want Kate Fine, the grieving mother of the boy who dies early on in the book, to be played by a tall former model with an interesting face. Beau Garrett would be great. I like the idea of casting people who used to be big in the 90s, since this book takes place in 1991. Ethan Hawke would be perfect for the role of Kate's husband Steve Schubert—a jerky, cocky, handsome, broken man.

Then there are all the neighbors. So many neighbors in this book! I don't have actors for all of them, but I'd love Philip Philips, a beautiful gay cross-dressing painter, to be played by Bryton Eric McClure, who was Richie Crawford on Family Matters. Daniel Baldwin would make a great Bob Maynard, the alcoholic sculptor who lives on the third floor. I might cast Rene Russo in the role of Cora Pickenpew, the regal artist who lives in the so-called penthouse, and Jane Lynch as Nancy Meister, the radical Christian activist with the big gray dog. David Paymer could play their landlord Gary Wrench, an old New York type, if we could make him look a little older. And Edie Falco could play his daughter Carmela Mola, if we could make her a little younger.

As for the other supporting characters, I definitely imagine Seth Green in the role of Chad Katz, Lu's annoying boss at the health food store. John Turturro would be an excellent Gideon Isaac, who's the unnerving, hyperintellectual, pompous yet playful headmaster at the private school where Lu ends up teaching. Wayne Salt, the wealthy, manipulative, one-legged Navy veteran and real estate developer, would have to be played by a middle-aged white guy with a bit of a menacing affect. I think of James Spader or John Malkovich. And Catherine Keener, another of my absolute favorites, would make a pitch perfect Fiona Clay.
Visit Rachel Lyon's website.

The Page 69 Test: Self-Portrait with Boy.

--Marshal Zeringue