Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Callout for Actors

Which of your protagonists would make good movie characters, and who would you choose to play them?

For the first part of the question, here's the answer every writer will give: "All my protagonists would make good movie characters." Because if your characters are not fit for the screen, what are they fit for -- 2D flatness?  

The second part of the question, who would you choose to play them, I won't answer right now. The actors who inspired the looks of my characters are no longer the right age, and I don't watch a lot of movies lately (no time!) so don't have a good list of new talent to choose from. More so, though, at least right now I'd rather leave it to the reader to fill in their own visuals, if that's what they wish. Here's why I think it might be a mistake to suggest my own actors:

In a novel I once read, the protagonist was described as looking like a certain popular actor. Up to that point in the narrative I had visualized him looking a certain way, but bang, as soon as the author plugged in the actor's name, the whole book was spoiled for me, because though this actor was a sex symbol for many, for me he just wasn't, and for the rest of the story the main character had the face of this particular actor... I couldn't shake it.

As a reader, I don't need to know what the hero in a novel looks like so specifically. General age, build, and colour is good. I'd rather not be told they look like so-and-so.

But what if my book actually got optioned (is that the word?) and went to the screen? Wow, that would be so fantastic! Or would it? Would I get to choose the cast? Probably not. What if the end product is a cheesy low-budget piece of money-laundering trash? What if the cast and direction is awful and the film tanks? Will it take my book down with it? Will the lead actor's completely wrong face and diction permanently taint the hero I am trying to portray?

Well, not a concern. And most books that become film/TV productions seem to be done really well these days. I wonder what Ann Cleeves thinks about the casting of Jimmy Perez in the TV series Shetland (am watching and loving), based on her books. Or what would Sir Arthur Conan Doyle think of the many and various actors who played Sherlock Holmes, from Basil Rathbone to Benedict Cumberbatch...?

Speaking of which, another example of how actors can take over the story, for better or for worse: thanks to some of the older Holmes movies I watched when young, before reading the original stories, I had the great detective pegged as something like 68 years old, rather than the mid-forties that I think Conan Doyle intended. And poor Watson! Chubby, grey-haired, and bumbling.

I suppose in the end the reader will disabuse their mind of what they've seen on TV. When I next read a Kathy Reichs novel (haven't for a while but will sooner or later), I think I will continue to see "Bones" in my own way, as I had before the TV series came along, and not so much as the more lovely Emily Deschanel.

All that said, this summer I sat down in a pub with a fellow who had read Cold Girl, and he said he saw my protagonist as a younger ----, the very actor in my mind's eye when I started the series. That made my day!



Paul D. Marks said...

You make a lot of great points, RM. Love your first graph and 2D flatness line. Optioned is the right word and should you option a book the likelihood of your going to Mars is greater than the odds that you would have much say over casting or anything else. Though if you’re lucky they might ask for your input ;) . But more seriously, should you ever option something try to negotiate into the contract that you would get to write the first draft of the screenplay. It doesn’t matter what happens after that in terms of other writers or how they change it, but doing that will you give you a leg up in many ways, which I won’t go into here.

Art Taylor said...

Good comments, Rae—building beyond the question here and into the bigger concerns about "casting" both in your mind and then, potentially, on the screen itself. I tackled this question for another blog when my book was named a finalist for the Agatha (all the nominees did a group blog hop) and I was stymied, both because I wasn't sure who to case (like you not enough time to keep up with current stars) but also because I was hesitant to ruin whatever picture readers might conjure up themselves.

In short, I'm with you here--but also glad for that last line where your reader and you were on the same page! (....er, screen... or.... well, you know.)

Unknown said...

Thanks for your comments, you two. When I get optioned, probably in the next month or so, after my trip to Mars (:P) I will get your advice before signing anything!! Seriously though, everyone in this group has a lot of good knowledge and experience to draw on, and I appreciate it. :)

Susan C Shea said...

The closest I've gotten is when audible bought rights to THE KING'S JAr. They didn't ask me to weigh in on a reader and I was so put off by the first page of the result that I've never listened to any more of the resulting audio book. My bad - I should give her time to grow on me, I guess.

I know we all say we don't much care, but I have a hunch if Hollywood comes calling, we're not going to say no (as Sue Grafton has more than once, I understand).