Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Who Would You Cast? by Mark Troy

My wife and I were at the movies this weekend and saw a trailer for Michael Connelly's The Lincoln Lawyer. It stars Matthew McConaughey as Mickey Haller. We turned to each other and said, "No, not him."

I don't think we would agree on who should play Haller, but we both have pictures in our minds of someone more mature and serious. Of course my pictures are not her pictures and our pictures are not those of the director or of the author. That is always an issue when books are made into movies. The pictures we form in our minds are based on personal interpretations of the clues the author gives us. We, as readers, play an active role in forming those pictures, therefore, I think they are more durable than the pictures that are dropped in by the movie. We're often disappointed when the movie images don't match the ones in our heads.

The movie we saw was True Grit. In this case the imagery is more complicated because True Grit is a remake of an earlier movie based on a book. So there are three images to reconcile. There is the image of the main character, Rooster Cogburn, as he appears in the book. Then there is the image of John Wayne who portrayed him in the first movie (and won an Oscar for the role). Finally, there is the image of Jeff Bridges as Rooster in the latest version. I had not read the book before seeing the first movie, so, for thirty years, John Wayne was Rooster Cogburn in my mind. This time around, I did purchase the book before seeing the movie, and, though I haven't finished the book, the picture that emerges from the book, doesn't quite match my picture of John Wayne. When I read the dialogue in the book, I hear and see Jeff Bridges, not the Duke.

I've seen some movies in which the portrayal of the main character, in my mind's eye, was a perfect match to the book's. Tommy Lee Jones as Ed Tom Bell in No Country for Old Men and Sean Penn as Jimmie Markhum in Mystic River are two examples.

Who would the author cast? I've been told that Robert B. Parker thought Joe Montegna would make a better Spencer than the late Robert Urich, although most fans see Urich in their minds. It's well known that Parker had Helen Hunt in mind when he created Sunny Randall. S.J. Rozan said she thought Sandra Oh would make a fine Lydia Chin. Me, I don't know. Hunt, yes, Oh, no.

Most authors, I suspect, do not have any particular actor or actress in mind when they write their books. Our images are strong, developed out of intimacy. The characters we develop are as real to us as our children or spouses. We could no more imagine someone else playing the role of our character than we could imagine them playing our spouse.

Movie stardom is fleeting. An actor or actress will be in the spotlight for a brief time only to be replaced by a fresher face. Stars who do remain in the spotlight often have to remake themselves. The fickleness of fame makes it hard for an author to latch onto any one star as a model. Early on, I imagined Sigourney Weaver as Val Lyon. At another time, I thought Uma Thurman could play her. Once, as a joke, I told a Bouchercon audience that I thought the late Patrick Swayze could play her because he could kick ass and looked good in a dress. At the present time, I couldn't name anyone for the part. For one of my male characters, Moon Ito, I've thought of Chow Yun-Fat, based on his roles in Hard-boiled and The Replacement Killers. More recently, Daniel Dae Kim comes to mind. A few months from now, it will probably be someone else.

So as readers, which actors or actresses have nailed your favorite characters? Which have missed? For authors, do you have someone in mind to play your characters? If so, who?

Mark Troy
Hawaiian Eye Blog


Earl Staggs said...

Interesting subject, Mark. When I first created Adam Kingston for my first novel, Alec Baldwin was the image. But that was ten years and thirty pounds ago. For my new protag, Tall Chambers, I have no idea. The current crop of actors are either too young or too short. I'll wait until they offer a movie contract and see who's available then. BTW, the girl in TV's "Out of Sight" would be a perfect Val Lyon.

Morgan Mandel said...

Sometimes it's better to see the movie first so you're not disappointed!

Morgan Mandel

Ricky Bush said...

Waaay back in high school, my government teacher read a chapter from TRUE GRIT to start class. We feel in love with the story, so we were all excited to see the movie with John Wayne when it came out. Glen Campbell as the Texas Ranger Lebeouf almost ruined it for me.

Mark Troy said...

Hey Earl, do you mean Mary McCormack from In Plain Sight, or Carla Gugino from Karen Sisco based on the main character in the movie Out of Sight? I could see either one in the role.

Morgan, yes, sometimes seeing the movie first helps.

Ricky, I hated Glen Campbell in that role. Matt Damon does a better job, I think.

Mark Troy said...


I think somebody like Jude Law or Mark Wallberg would good for Tall.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Mathew as Mickey? No way!

The beauty in books is the reader can create their own image of the characters. Then when you see it on screen, as you're written in your blog, you can't believe it. Sometimes it's better to see a movie without having read the book.

James Patterson said, "If you ever get the chance to visit the movie set of a film based on one of your books -- don't!" He said this because the film adaptation was so far off, he barely recognized it.

Mark Troy said...

I agree. Sue Grafton won't option her books to movies because of what they might do to Kinsey.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I've never interviewed a writer that had a book converted to film who was happy with it. They nearly all said they took the money and ran.

Earl Staggs said...

I was thinking of Mary McCormack, Mark. I like Mark Wahlberg for Tall Chambers. Hemingway never liked the movie versions of his books either. He referred to the film of "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" as "The Snows of Zanuck."