Monday, June 18, 2018

Rebecca Makkai's "The Great Believers"

Rebecca Makkai is the Chicago-based author of the short story collection Music for Wartime, which appeared in 2015, and of the novels The Hundred-Year House, winner of the Chicago Writers Association award, and The Borrower, a Booklist Top Ten Debut which has been translated into eight languages. Her short fiction won a 2017 Pushcart Prize, and was chosen for The Best American Short Stories for four consecutive years (2008-2011). The recipient of a 2014 NEA fellowship, Makkai is on the MFA faculty at Sierra Nevada college and has taught at the Iowa Writers Workshop, Tin House, and Northwestern University.

Here Makkai dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, The Great Believers:
If I get to indulge in this lovely daydream, I’m going to start by changing the parameters: I think The Great Believers would work better as a limited TV series than as a movie. Ten episodes. Great thing about TV shows, you can have an intro montage each time. I’d want photos of actual groups of friends from Chicago at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Friends dancing, friends posing, people in wheelchairs at the Pride parade, people at candlelight vigils, people at protests, people sick, friends lounging on the Belmont Rocks. While my novel is fiction, it’s about an experience that many very real people lived through—or lived only partway through—and I want those people there.

I’ve made myself a promise—one I’m intentionally putting in writing here—that if I’m lucky enough to have film or TV interest in this book, I would sell the rights only with the stipulation that the story stay in Chicago. Everything out there already is about San Francisco or New York. The story of AIDS in Chicago is different, and important, and fascinating. I could hand them a big long list of consultants, people who’ll kick their butts on 1980s Boystown details as much as they kicked mine. And we’re filming in Chicago, not in frickin’ Vancouver.

Some casting:

For Yale Tishman, my central guy, the one whose life simultaneously falls apart and takes on greater meaning over the course of the book, I want a young, gay cross between Paul Reiser and David Eigenberg. But no New York accent, please.

For Fiona, the woman we know as a flighty but loyal friend in the 1980s, and as a mother full of regret in 2015 Paris, I want both Kate Hudson and Goldie Hawn, but fifteen years ago.

For Charlie, Yale’s British partner, I want Russell Tovey. He looks nothing like Charlie as I imagined him, but he’s British, and he was fantastic in the late, great Looking—a perfect mix of charming and exasperating, which is just what we need.

Speaking of Looking, I want Jonathan Groff for Teddy, Yale’s cattiest friend. It’s more of an appearance thing, because I’ve mostly seen Jonathan Groff acting sweet, but I bet he could do bitchy if needed.

For Richard, Yale’s older friend who chronicles the epidemic through his photography, I want Victor Garber, a fantastic character actor. (If you don’t think you know who he is, Google him; you totally do.)

For Julian… Hmm, I just spent a very pleasant five minutes Googling images of young, gay, beautiful actors. End result: We’re going with a young Matt Bomer.

For Asher Glass, Yale’s great crush, I want a younger Mark Ruffalo. I’m cheating a bit here, because Ruffalo played the Larry Kramer character in the movie of The Normal Heart, and Asher is, in small part, a Larry Kramer character, but this is fantasy world so I don’t care.

For Nora, Fiona’s great aunt, who’d been an artist’s model in 1920s Paris, I want Ellen Burstyn. Or better yet, for the sake of theme: I want someone who was famous in her 20s, but who no one born after 1975 has ever heard of. One of those women who, you’re watching something with your mom, and your mom is like “Oh my goodness, that’s Doris Nightly!” and you’re like, “Who on earth is Doris Nightly?” Anyway, let's get Doris Nightly, who I just made up.

We’re left with a problem here, which is that for personal fandom reasons, I really want Neil Patrick Harris involved in this, and we have no part for him. So maybe he can just produce it. Call me, Neil.
Learn more about the author and her work at Rebecca Makkai's website, Facebook page and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: The Borrower.

My Book, The Movie: The Hundred-Year House.

--Marshal Zeringue