We Interrupt This Gradeapalooza…

… to think about writerly stuff (as I try to purge my memory of the research paper I graded this afternoon that was done in Comic Sans — it’s like they want my head to explode.)

As you may know, Liam Neeson is playing the part of Matthew Scudder in a film version of Lawrence Block’s A Walk Among the Tombstones. Cadell Blackstock is blogging a bit about this, and considers some of the effects of film adaptations:

I don’t think I have ever given Matthew Scudder a face, nor perhaps even a body, but I should know him if he walked into the room behind me, like a shadow on a hot day. On the contrary, one of Block’s other well-known creations, the burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr, will for me be eternally associated with the thin-faced and implicitly balding guy on the cover of the original No Exit Press edition of Burglar in the Closet. I always look out for him when I’m in New York.

And so what of Liam Neeson, who becomes Scudder? What burden does he carry for those among Block’s fans who have long been looking forward to an adaptation? How difficult will it be for readers to cross the gap between their imaginations and the reality of a single face which may or may not fit? Will the film’s success for Block’s fans rise or fall on that single piece of casting? What part does the literal substantiation of a single character play in the quality of the overall film? There are other equally crucial characters in the book – Elaine, Danny Boy, TJ – not all of whose existence in the adaptation are yet confirmed. How hollow will readers feel if they are absent or ‘wrong’ somehow?

This led me to think about my own reading and the movies and TV shows I’ve watched over the years, and how and whether the sort of cross-contamination that concerns Blackstock has affected my experience as a consumer of stories.

In my case, I guess the answer is “Sometimes it matters; sometimes it doesn’t.” For example, I came to Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels via the Spenser: For Hire TV series. But really, I don’t recall thinking of Spenser as looking like Robert Urich even in my early reading of the novels. (Oddly, however, I did — and do — think of Avery Brooks when I read the bits with Hawk.) As the years passed, my vision of Spenser actually looked a lot like the pictures of Robert Parker. Likewise, although I enjoyed the series, I don’t see Stacy Keach when I read about Mike Hammer (and blessedly, I also don’t think of Mike as looking like Mickey Spillane, who played the part in at least one film), nor do I think of Fred Ward when I read one of the old Destroyer novels (though I enjoyed the movie as well.) And God knows I don’t think of any of those folks from the Starship Troopers movie. But Philip Marlowe? Yeah, he’ll always be Bogart.

As for my own book (which you can get in paperback these days, by the way), I know no one will ever make a film of Broken Glass Waltzes, so we don’t have to worry about that. If it were to happen, though, I have to admit that I would like to see Kenny played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who could play 25 even though he’s 33. Jean’s a little tougher, but of the folks currently out there, I could maybe see Kat Dennings just because she has the right look. I’ve never seen her act, so I have no idea if she could do that. But she could look right.

How about y’all? Have any actors “become” the characters for you, to the point that you now envision those actors as you read? And for extra bonus points, if you’ve read Broken Glass Waltzes, who would you cast as Kenny and/or Jean?

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
This entry was posted in Broken Glass Waltzes, Culture, Literature. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to We Interrupt This Gradeapalooza…

  1. Have to think this casting thing over…but all I know is, I’ve earned a cameo! 😀

  2. Bill Neagle says:

    I have to say that most of the “Harry Potter ” cast became the faces of the book’s characters with the exception of Snape and Dumbledore. Snape has more of a gaunt/thin look in my mind and Dumbledore more like Gandolf the White. Go figure.

  3. Mila Kunis for Jean. Or a young Linda fiorentino. I think kat Dennings is too much of a comedienne. I think JGL is too short and thin for Kenny, but I’m having a tough time coming up with anyone else at the moment. The guy from avatar or Jeremy renner maybe?

  4. Don says:

    I hear Maggie Smith’s voice every time I read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, but I saw the movie before I read the book. If I read the book before seeing the movie, no actor, no matter how well-suited for the role, can dislodge the image of the character in my mind.

  5. allonymbooks says:

    Thanks for considering my post, and adding such insightful thoughts of your own. There is also a reverse issue around Neeson’s casting, which I didn’t mention because it wasn’t pertinent to the post as such, but it centres around that moment when an actor stops being a character and you only ever see them as that actor, regardless of the part they are playing. Tom Cruise comes to mind, for me, in that capacity, but one actor who I find still remains utterly submerged in his parts is Johnny Depp. Neeson is probably somewhere closer to Depp than Cruise, which is just as well for Matt Scudder.
    Cadell Blackstock

    • profmondo says:

      My pleasure, Cadell! William Goldman has written at some length about the difference between actors (who inhabit a role) and stars (your Tom Cruise example.) I always think of that execrable filmed version of Dr. Faustus from the late 1960s, with Richard Burton in the title role. You never forget that you’re watching Burton-playing-Faustus, and that’s one reason the movie suffers (although there are quite a few others).

      I agree with you about Neeson, maybe less so about Depp (although that may just be a function of Tim Burton’s direction). I’m glad that Larry seems pleased with the choice of Neeson, and think that’s a good sign.

      Thanks for dropping by, and don’t be a stranger!

  6. Jae says:

    How about Andy Samberg and Zooey Deschanel?

    • profmondo says:

      With longer hair, I could see Samberg, although again, there’s the comedic-vs.-serious thing to consider. But he does have musical experience of a sort, so there’s that. Thanks for dropping by, Jae, and don’t be a stranger!

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