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Casting Characters

February 25, 2009

One of my favorite things to do when starting a new project, be it fiction or screenplay, is cast my characters.  It helps me nail down a physical description and voice.  For fiction I prefer to use Getty Images, seeking out photos that match a physical type, searching through hundreds until I spot one and say, “There she is, that’s my ______!”

For screenplay, on the other hand, most of the fun comes from imagining your ideal cast.  Sometimes it’s tricky, choosing someone with the right look and the acting chops, but if you pick someone whose work you’re familiar with, it’s that much easier to write the part because then you have both an image and a voice to work with.

For the television pilot I wrote, I described a character as an ‘Alfre Woodard type.’  I have no idea if Ms. Woodard is looking for work or interested in playing a professor of Shakespeare, but by casting her in my imagination, every time I wrote a line for Professor Morrisson I heard in her voice, and I knew whether or not the line worked.

Since I decided not to begin any more new projects until I finished an old one, I’ve returned to my adaptation of He Shall Thunder in the Sky. It’s not the first time I’ve considered what actors I’d cast in a movie based off of Elizabeth Peters’ books, but these are the images and voices I’ll have in my head as I continue my attempt to turn a mystery novel into a romance/spy thriller/period piece:

Helen Mirren as Amelia Peabody Emerson

Helen Mirren as Amelia Peabody Emerson

She’s certainly got the acting chops, the accent, and the poise to play the outspoken archaeologist/detective.  Put her in a black wig and we’re all set.

Timothy Dalton as Professor Radcliffe Emerson

Timothy Dalton as Professor Radcliffe Emerson

My choice for the larger-than-life Emerson before I ever considered writing a screenplay.  He’s got the look: dark hair, blue eyes, and even the cleft in his chin.  He also has the phyiscal presence to play a man nicknamed “Father of Curses.”

Isla Fisher as Nefret Forth

Isla Fisher as Nefret Forth

At first I dismissed Isla Fisher as being ‘too American’ – then I realized she’s not American, she’s just really good at pretending to be.  And if she can handle that accent, the Australian actress can easily handle a British one, especially since she’s currently living there.  Born to Scottish parents in the Middle East and raised Down Under, she’s actually perfect for the role of a young English woman raised in a remote desert of Egypt.

I still don’t have anyone in mind for Ramses, Amelia and Emerson’s son.  It’s hard to find a man in his late twenties-early thirties who’s English but looks Middle Eastern, tall and handsome, and can handle the dramatic part.

Could Borat be my model for Walter "Ramses" Emerson?

Could Borat be my model for Walter "Ramses" Emerson?

I’ve considered Isla Fisher’s baby-daddy, Sacha Baron Cohen, since he suits the part physically and I like the stunt casting of a real life couple (delusional? me?), but the only thing I’ve ever seen him in – other than news clips of him making an ass out of himself – is Sweeny Todd.

So these are the images I’ll see and the voices I’ll hear as I write.  Now I just have to cast the villains.  Too bad Johnny Depp isn’t a little older, he’d make a wonderful Sethos…

By the way, to avoid any legal issues, in case I didn’t make this clear, this entire project is a learning experience for my own enjoyment.  Since I don’t have the film rights, it’s highly unlikely that this screenplay will make it farther than my printer.  Still, that’s no reason not to try.

Stay tuned for more on the adaptation process.

Quote of the Day:

“We have been somewhat distracted by Harry Potter of late.  I’ve seen the film and I  loved it.  The complaints of some critics that it stuck too closely to the book was precisely why I and millions of kids did love it.  If I could ever find a producer who would do as much for the Amelia books I would lower my ban on film options.  I’ve seen too many hideous screen travesties of good books (no false modesty here) to trust Hollywood.”

-Barbara Mertz aka Elizabeth Peters, the MPM Bulletin Issue No. 37 Summer/Fall 2001

Link of the Day: Stupid Writer Tricks – See, I’m not the only one who does this.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Mobo permalink
    April 7, 2009 9:12 pm

    Dalton would be great!

  2. Margo permalink
    April 25, 2009 12:39 pm

    Timothy Dalton would absolutely be great in any role that he plays. He is a brilliant underrated actor that can make any character memorable and believable. Hollywood Jane has good taste. Now all we need is a brilliant director like Steve De Souza and money.

  3. Jan permalink
    September 1, 2009 5:12 pm

    Why couldn’t Johnny Depp play Ramses?

  4. trudy permalink
    December 29, 2009 11:19 am

    Helen Mirren plays all those women with round heels. Cynical as well, and she looks hard bitten. The antithesis of Amelia. Isla is not physically the right type to play the ethereal Nefret, who is blond, by the way. The only choice I agree with is Dalton, but he is now too old for the role.

  5. Nicky permalink
    January 31, 2010 8:16 pm

    the actor for Ramses is all wrong… and i’m not sure about Isla for Nefret, but I think you’re brilliant for writing a screenplay for He Shall Thunder in the Sky – my all time favourite EP book! – and good luck. here’s to hoping it’ll pan out lol!

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