Category Archives: Casting the Classics

Casting the Classics – ‘The Great Gatsby’

Since Baz Luhrmann’s cinematic adaptation of The Great Gatsby premièred a little while ago at the Cannes Film Festival, now seems like a good time to post a dream cast for a film version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic tale of empty dreams, and lost love.

So, while this doesn’t cover the entire group of characters in the novel, it is a cast list for the ones who are perhaps at the core of the story.

Michael Fassbender as Tom Buchanan

Tom Buchanan is something of a base and vitriolic man, perhaps best known for his hard edge, both in terms of his physicality, and philosophy. After all, one of the first things he says in the book is “the whole world’s gone to Hell.” As the novel’s story progresses, Tom becomes more on edge and angry, and from the performances of Fassbender’s I’ve seen, they have a tendency to be a bit more reserved (his leading turns in both of Steve McQueen’s films – Hunger and Shame), so it would be very interesting to see some more outward and explosive acting from him. He definitely has it in him as an actor, and it’d be nice to see him doing some work that’s perhaps outside of his usual repertoire.

 

Jessica Chastain as Daisy Buchanan

Daisy might be my favourite character in the novel, and since I thought perhaps the best decision that was made in developing Luhrmann’s movie was casting Carey Mulligan as Daisy, which I consider to be pretty much perfect casting. However, I decided against picking actors from past adaptations, so I’ve had to cast someone else, and Jessica Chastain seemed like a great choice.

On the surface, Daisy always struck me as being very fragile, and I think Chastain can convey that well in terms of both her physicality and performance (there are a few scenes in Lawless that show this side of her acting really well), although what’s most interesting about her is how she changes around Gatsby, she seems to become full of life and hope (there is of course some irony to that considering the vapid hopelessness of their doomed romance). Perhaps selfish at heart, to me, Daisy seemed almost as enigmatic as the eponymous Gatsby, and Jessica Chastain seems like an actress who could bring an interesting a layered interpretation to the character.

 

Matt Damon as Nick Carraway 

I was racking my brain for quite a while in trying to find a Nick for this post, since given Nick is of course unseen in the novel, it can be difficult to cast someone to play him, there’s no real physical reference point to go from. And based on the character in the novel, Nick needs to have an intangible ‘everyman’ quality about himself, and for some reason, when trying to cast this role, I couldn’t quite shake Damon from the back of my mind.

Perhaps it’s more difficult to write about Nick than the other characters, since he feels more reactionary than the rest of them, but I feel like, since Damon has that ‘everman’ quality, and is of course an accomplished actor, he’s more than capable of dealing with the material that the novel gives him, and watching Nick reach his final disillusionment would be powerful when handled by Damon.

Jon Hamm as Jay Gatsby

Perhaps it’s odd to leave the casting of Gatsby until the end of the piece, especially given that he’s not the lead of the novel, but given his revelation is saved for the first couple of chapters of the novel, it seems fitting to wait until last to show who could play Gatsby.

Of course, we’ve all seen Jon Hamm play the enigma as Don Draper on Mad Men, and while his performance there is mostly quiet and understated (largely in fitting with the material in The Great Gatsby), there are some elements that stretch beyond that, and so seeing Jon Hamm out of what I suppose is his comfort zone in terms of acting, would certainly be interesting.

Of course in terms of intangible qualities, Hamm has all of those necessary for portraying Gatsby; he’s got charisma and screen presence in abundance. It’s just a matter of him dealing with the material, and he could do definitely do it.

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Casting the Classics – ‘Miss Julie’

August Strindberg’s naturalistic cornerstone, Miss Julie, is a play with which I’m rather intimately familiar at this point. I’ve studied it for an exam (which, incidentally, I have on Wednesday), and I went to see a production of it over the summer with my brother.

And so, I think I can cast it rather well really, and without further ado, here’s my cast for a cinematic adaptation of Miss Julie:

Allison Janney as Christine.

Christine is an interesting character. Maternal and selfless, but only up to a point, and when John plans to do something that she is convinced is nothing short of foolish and doomed to fail, she’s more than willing to speak out against it.

Janney’s shown the maternal, and perhaps more vicious side in The Help, and The West Wing proved that she’s a damn fine actress. Her performances show that she can carry through the various facets of the character.

Between that and the presence she brings to the screen in whatever role she’s given, it’s easy to see her coming across as slightly domineering, especially when playing across from John, who becomes gradually more emasculated as the play goes on.

Michael C. Hall as John

When discussing the idea of Janney as Christine, I touched on the idea of presence, and the natural gravitas Janney would bring to the role. Stage presence (or screen presence in this case) is important in Miss Julie, and is most important for the character of John.

The thing with John, is that since he’s constantly warring with Julie, his presence fluctuates, certainly more than hers does. There are times when he practically devours the stage with his presence, and others where, emasculated and afraid, he sinks into the background. Hall can do those things. His gravitas and presence alone in Dexter is enough to make him frightening and powerful, and in Six Feet Under, his presence and self-worth move together, as he ebbs and flows to and from the centre of the screen, to a cowering shadow of a man.

John is a character of dualities. He has power over Julie because he is male (Strindberg being historically misogynistic), but is less than her because of his lower social class. He is at once arrogant and emasculated, angry and cowardly. Michael C. Hall has shown in both his screen and stage work (in Cabaret, the Emcee is gradually chipped away at, until he is essentially a ghost of the extroverted, confident and charismatic enigma that he is at the beginning of the show), that he can not only play these two sides of a character, but that he can switch between them, practically on a whim.

Marion Cotillard as Miss Julie

Julie is a tough role to cast, certainly a little tougher than the other two. She’s more difficult to interpret, less of solid entity to grasp, especially given that she’s outgrown the “man hating half woman” that Strindberg describes her as.

Julie is less of a dual character than John, but is more a character of contradictions. Upper class father and lower class mother, repressed and sexual at once (in some productions, she is a virgin before sleeping with John, in spite of her sexualised manner). Cotillard can do these things, she can play an seemingly unaware ingénue, a woman who’s reality slowly dawns on her, who is almost forced to come to terms with the reality of her situation.

With a somewhat fragile appearance, but a commanding gravitas in front of the camera, Cotillard can effectively embody the contradiction that is Julie, and watching her perform the role would no doubt lead to a fierce and fascinating interpretation of the iconic theatrical aristocrat who falls, almost tragically, from grace.

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Casting the Classics – The Changeling

The Changeling, or, to be more precise, a rather strange and post-modern production if it that I saw last autumn, was, as I mentioned in my first post in this feature, was the thing that sparked the idea of recasting classics texts.

Now, for those who don’t know, The Changeling is an old, Elizabethan revenge tragedy, although it also has within it a subplot, much more comic one about a madhouse and the idea of ‘performing’ madness. And, as interesting as that idea is, in this version of The Changeling, I’d likely remove the comic subplot and focus on the dramatic one, for the best escalation of dramatic tension and so on throughout the film.

And so, here are how I would cast the three principle characters in the dramatic storyline of The Changeling.

Patrick Wilson as Alsemero

Alsemero is very much a typical romantic lead, and something of a crux of sanity throughout the film, until it’s final moments where he, for want of better phrasing – snaps, and in his delivery of a passage on how, and this is my interpretation of the passage, on how living can overcome grief (perhaps best illustrated in the line “your only smiles have power to cause relief”) stands at odds with this message.

Wilson looks like he could be a romantic lead, and he can very much play the ‘normal’ one (just look at him compared to Roy or Harper in Angels in America) exceptionally well, and of course, we’ve all seen him at the end of his tether in Hard Candy. Watching Patrick Wilson slowly, and finally fall apart would be fascinating to watch.

Peter Dinklage as De Flores

Now, the thing with De Flores is that Beatrice is not meant to find him attractive. Which isn’t by any way a slight against Dinklage in terms of his appearance or his height, but considering the modern standards of what is considered attractive, Dinklage could work as casting (it’s tough to explain his casting here without it sounding exploitative, but it really isn’t. And here’s why)

Dinklage would be incredible in this role. De Flores is something of a wordsmith I suppose, not quite in the manipulative way that Tyrion Lannister (the role Dinklage is most known for playing in HBO’s Game of Thrones), but his language, his sickening and venomous tongue, conjuring images of “a woman dipped in blood”, and slowly seducing the increasingly frantic Beatrice. De Flores is also attracted to Beatrice in a masochistic way, he revels in her disgust at him, and watching Dinklage play a character that is perhaps, a little less sympathetic than he is The Station Agent and Game of Thrones (at least compared to most of the other characters, especially as the series progresses) would be very interesting.

 

And finally….

Carey Mulligan as Beatrice

Beatrice is of course the centre of The Changeling and perhaps the first tragic heroine (in a genre largely focused on men in power), who is eventually brought down by her lust, as puritanical as it sounds.

Now, Beatrice is a woman who is practically made of conflicting dualities. She is at once romantic and shy in her arranged married, something that comes into direct conflict with her verbal sadism aimed at De Flores as well as, eventually, her lust. Beatrice’s character development is very much based around becoming more haphazard after having De Flores kill the man she is betrothed to, and her more furious side comes to the centre, and Carey Mulligan, who we’ve all seen wearing her heart on her sleeve in Shame, would be able to show Beatrice unravel in spectacular fashion.

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Casting the classics – The Picture of Dorian Gray

I recently saw a very strange, postmodern adaptation of a Jacobean tragedy play called The Changeling (no relation to the Eastwood movie), and there was something about it, perhaps just how out there it was, that’s inspired me to do this new feature. Plus, it’s always nice to have something to break up just regular articles and reviews.

As the title of the piece suggests, it’s all about how I would cast classics (books, plays etc.), and this time, I’m looking at The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Since I know it rather well, I can cast the principle roles with confidence, and I’ll be doing so in order of their significance, leaving the most important ones until last.

And so, without further ado, here is how I would cast the principle roles in adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Kirsten Dunst as Sibyl Vane

I’ll admit that I’m casting an actress who’s a fair way older than the character she’d be playing (Sibyl is about 18 in the novel if my memory serves me right), in fact, she’d be about the same age as the person I have in mind for Dorian.

But there’s something about her, and her performance in Melancholia that I think really shows hat she’d be able to portray the fragility and desire of a young woman who falls desperately in love with the enigmatic Dorian.

Alife Allen as Basil Hallward

This piece of casting is a little difficult to explain. Allen is of course excellent as the treacherous and power hungry Theon in the wonderful Game of Thrones, but that character of course, is nothing like the reserved, delicate painter from Dorian Gray.

However, just looking at Allen, the way his build and how he looks aesthetically, I just associate him with Basil, and I think, seeing his talent in ….Thrones, that he’d be more than capable of tackling the material, particularly given how far removed Basil is from Theon Greyjoy.

Jared Harris as Lord Henry

I loved Harris in Mad Men, I thought he was wonderful, and deserved to win the Emmy that was tragically taken away from him.

Simply put, he’d be fantastic as Henry, he can play the reserved and calculating man with such ease, as he slowly corrupts the eponymous hero, but the range that Harris can bring to the table would perhaps allow Lord Henry to be a little more humanized  for want of better phrasing, as it’s easy for him to be seen as being pure evil.

Also, Henry is more than just a force of quiet corruption, he is the antithesis of Basil, hedonistic and a lover of life in more ways than one, Harris could bring this out easily, as well as that quiet resentment that festers in Henry, as he can only look on, aging, while Dorian retains his youth.

 

And now, last, but certainly not least:

 

Dan Stevens as Dorian Gray

First off, there’s an aesthetic reason behind it. Dorian is blonde, and so, obviously, is Dan Stevens (Ben Barnes, who played Dorian in the last adaptation, wasn’t, but I really shouldn’t go on about that woeful film right now), and in looking at Dan Stevens, he, to me at least, looks perfect for Dorian.

Then there’s his acting. I’ll admit that I’ve only seen him in Downton Abbey, but I’ll be damned if he’s not excellent in it, he shows great range, from romance to rage, his ability to perform is not in question here.

Dorian is of course, a little more like Basil at the beginning of the play, before becoming gradually more corrupted by Henry, and later, by sin in general, as the story progresses, and Stevens could really do some good work with that material, showing his range in greater detail, as he tragically falls from grace.

 

So, am I right wrong? Who would you pick instead. and what do you think of my choices? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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