… 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?