Thursday, March 22, 2012

Number 181 Casting Call: Shawn and Alexis

One of the nice side effects of getting my book, Number 181 (Get it here), out there was the follow-on discussions I've had with readers. Like most authors, I've had several people tell me that my book would make for a great movie and received suggestions as to who should play key parts. In this day, readers get an image in their head regarding the protagonists' appearances, and I've found some of the suggestions quite interesting.

In a previous post, I touched on some suggestions for supporting characters and directors. Since then, I've been sent even more possibilities that people picture as they read the books, and I was really intrigued by some of their suggestions. Keep 'em coming!

But, now as to two of the main characters, Alexis Winters and Shawn Kidd.

Alexis Winters - (25 yo researcher; passionate & difficult; beautiful & emotional)
I've been asked numerous times who Alexis is based on. They assume I have a relationship in my past that has guided the character and her arc through the novel. But, I'm sorry to say that she is no one... or everyone depending on how you look at it. Physically, for some reason, I pictured a girl I knew back in school. But, the image of a girl from 20 years ago is an odd place to get the basis for a character. Still, solely from an appearance perspective, she was what I pictured. Alexis' personality, however, is an amalgam of several people I've known, ex-girlfriends and old friends, that formed a strong female character that ends up spending most of the book scared out of her mind. Given the complete fish-out-of-water aspect of Shawn's arc in the book, I hadn't given much thought to the fact that Alexis was even more lost than he was. Either way, several actresses came to mind when I was putting the finishing touches on the manuscript, and many others were suggested by readers.

The most striking aspects of Alexis' physical make-up (to me) was her blonde hair and lithe, swimmer's shoulders. That's what I pictured as I wrote her, and that's what I looked for in an actress to play her. Being able to act scared $#!@less was somewhat of an afterthought...

The first suggestion that came across my desk several times was Maggie Grace (of Lost and the upcoming and intriguing Lockout). I don't know too much about her save the pictures IMDB was nice enough to provide. I watched only a handful of Lost episodes, and none of her other roles were in movies I recall. Perhaps, once Lockout hits theaters, I'll have a little more information with which to draw conclusions. As I see it now, she doesn't appear to have the same bearing as I imagined Alexis carrying with her. I freely admit that my lack of knowledge makes my views slightly skewed. But, hey, I claim that prerogative. Maybe I'll change my mind in a few weeks. The readers that suggested her seemed pretty sure of their choice, and I hate to so roundly question it. But, at least one of those readers will likely be happy with my choice for Shawn, and I'll get back points for casting someone else for Alexis.

Another interesting and frequent suggestion was Rachel McAdams. I can understand the approach, but I saw none of McAdams as I wrote Alexis' character. Admittedly, I didn't have an actress in mind, but I'm not sure her previous roles as rom-com fodder really put me in the right mind-set. She certainly stepped it up in the under-rated Red Eye and proved her action chops, but my experience with her makes me think she wouldn't fit the role as I envisioned it. That being said, she has a lot of time in the Hollywood scene, and it takes more than a flash-in-the-pan to stay around as long as she has. Surprisingly, she hasn't been plucked up for too many action roles, yet, but she's only now hitting the time in her career where her former costars (Bradley Cooper, Ryan Gosling) are becoming action stars themselves. Her turn in the Sherlock Holmes series was not meaty but showed Hollywood still had ideas for her.

Since I didn't have any particular actresses in mind while I wrote the part, I felt I should do a little research and see who might fit the role... not an easy thing to track down. But, it was in doing so (and then having some later readers suggest the very women I found) that got me to a narrowed-down group from which to pick Alexis. All of the next three fit my mental image of Alexis with varying degrees of accuracy.

#3) The first of the 'finalists' I completely stumbled upon largely due to her limited exposure to audiences, though TV viewers may recognize her. Sasha Jackson has had bit roles in 'Til Death and One Tree Hill (neither of which I watch) and has started down the road of questionable, SciFi B-movies, but the look is there. And, she apparently won over some casting directors to get featured on television. The 'unknown' aspect of her in the States (she's British) only helps her, in my eyes. She's got the face and body for Alexis, and her roles frequently involve the beach or swimming of some sort. She has the shoulders for it. And, I fully encourage you to track down more pictures of her. She is simply stunning.

#2) Stay with me, because this might be a bit of a stretch, at least for the near-term. It's too early to tell, but if the movie is made in ten years instead of ten months, AnnaSophia Robb may be perfect for Alexis. The two immediate red flags for her are her age and height. At 5'2", she is significantly shorter than Alexis' 5'10", but she's still growing and might edge a bit closer. If not, it's possible the height difference could be worked around or ignored entirely. As of this writing, she's only 18, though, and that poses an obvious issue were the movie (coming to a theater near you... when I get a movie deal, financial backing, etc etc) to be made today. She's far too young for the role. But, if it takes ten years... maybe. She's got an ideal look for Alexis and roles in movies like Soul Surfer show she has the physical look I'd expect for the character. Plus, I saw Bridge to Terabithia. It's a great book... great movie... and the movie makes me sad. There, I said it.

And... #1) Though I knew of this actress as I wrote Number 181, she didn't jump to mind until I came across her while flipping stations one night. She looked familiar, and I recalled seeing her in one of my favorite cult movies (I should blog that some day...), Out Cold, a movie better known these days as being one of the first (and possibly best) movies to star The Hangover's Zach Galifianakis. A.J. Cook is currently entrenched in a starring role on Criminal Minds... and does a damn fine job doing it. Given her girl-next-door-with-an-attitude role in Out Cold, her mature and strong presence in Criminal Minds shows a reasonable amount of range. Though still a bit short for Alexis, her bearing and look are so ideal that any other slight deviations from how the character is written can certainly be worked around. She has the attitude, the looks, and the experience. Plus, she'd look good standing next to the actor I selected to play Shawn...

Speaking of which...

Shawn Kidd - (29 yo engineer & introvert; unpredictable & unconventional)
As many of my closer friends note, Shawn is eerily reminiscent of... me. Both physically and psychologically, he shares many of my traits, and I have plans on writing a blog post on the entire subject at some point. But, suffice to say, Kidd is largely based on me. I'm an escapist and make no apologies for it.

Anyway, because of this, I always picture myself as I write him. That being said, I'd make a poor choice for the acting role. I don't do well with authority and hate being told what to do. Oh, and I can't act, notable appearances on the History Channel's Modern Marvels and in Transformers 3 notwithstanding (it's true... look it up)...

That being said, many of the people that jump to mind for Kidd (and have been suggested by others) might not make for good choices. The attraction of the character is that he's an everyman. He's just a guy that wants to be left alone, one of us. He's thrown into the story against his will. As such, having the current Hollywood actor-of-the-month play him might defeat the purpose.

Lee Child, a writer whose work I really enjoy, is bringing his Jack Reacher character to the screen this year. Now, regardless of whether Tom Cruise is what readers picture when they read the character, I would hesitate to put Cruise in that role simply because I think it overshadows Reacher himself. I'd feel similarly if a huge star slipped into the Kidd role. But, Reacher is a great character and Cruise sells tickets. I know I'll be there opening weekend.

Kidd needs to be one of us but the actor has to be able to play both silently strong... as well as a little psychotic. There is no 'measured control' in Kidd's character. When he's silent, it's not because he's in control but rather out of it. The wheels turning behind those blue eyes are all sorts of chipped and broken. An actor has to portray disassociated confidence (yea, I just made that up). He's confident because he's aloof and disinterested. Until... he's not.

The best part of the casting call that I put out to friends on Facebook and Twitter is that the readers seem to agree with me. I did get a few larger, recognizable names. But, even these weren't the Hollywood A-listers. This fact made me smile. I was even surprised to see some lesser known up-and-comers suggested. It was great fun seeing who had thoughts similar to mine in casting Shawn. So, let's get to it.

One of the first suggestions I received was for Josh Duhamel, of When in Rome and Transformers fame. Now, I can't claim bias in this one since my Transformers scene didn't involve Duhamel, only Shia and Tyrese, but I am a fan of Duhamel's. He's always struck me as a likeable guy, and he certainly has the range to play both hesitant and slightly insane. I would put him in the same boat as Timothy Olyphant in the what-role-should-this-guy-play discussions. The big drawback to Duhamel is his age. He's proven he can move around in an action movie, playing a soldier, but he's still a bit old for Kidd.

So, if you go for younger and try to grab someone approaching the bright lights of center stage, Henry Cavill (Man of Steel (2012), Immortals) comes to mind for me. He's got the presence and acting ability to pull off Kidd. But, he's becoming a bit too well-known, which works against him when related to the 'somewhat unknown' characteristic I listed earlier. His upcoming role as Superman will certainly make him a household name. Another negative, at least as far as the role of Kidd is concerned, is his sheer size. The guy is huge and has a rather overwhelming presence. Though this might work well later in the movie, early scenes and certainly those with Alexis, might appear differently than I had written them. But, I think he's a good person to include in the adaptation, and that's why I think he'd be perfect for the more imposing character of Garrick.

While on the subject of big names for the Number 181 blockbuster release, Jake Gyllenhaal (Prince of Persia, Source Code) was suggested by a couple people. I was somewhat surprised by this one, but I can see him in the role. He has the sheepish, everyman look that might allow him to get through the initial, introductory scenes without overwhelming them. And, he's certainly demonstrated he can be a force in an action movie. The more I thought about him, the more I was convinced that he could fit the role quite well. If the Number 181 movie becomes a big-budget film, I could see his presence there. He's a little too well-known for what I pictured, but I can't fault the logic.

Now, we're getting to the meat of the possibilities. Any of the next three would be great, though the order I put them in changes with the wind. Also, since age starts to become a factor, as with my choices for Alexis, the length of time this 'movie' takes to get off the ground would change my ultimate choice. But, for right now.....

#3) I'll be honest, I hadn't heard of this guy before a reader suggested him. Since then, I've done some research and gone back to watch The Beast. I didn't realize it was a TV show, and its rapid cancellation indicates few others did either. It's too bad, too, because it was good. In it, Patrick Swayze is teamed with a younger partner, played by Travis Fimmel. This guy looks exactly like I would want Shawn Kidd to look in a movie. He's got the right look and intensity. The fact that little is known about the actor means that his presence in the movie wouldn't give viewers any preconceived notions about where the character is going. It also means I don't know enough about him to be absolute in casting him, but he'd make it to a final cut regardless.

#2) Similar to Fimmel, I heard the name Robbie Amell mentioned a couple times. With it not being familiar to me, I did some searching and found that he was in one of the Scooby-Doo movies (I loved these things, even if they aren't thought of well by many). But, the small picture in the article I was reading didn't bring anything to mind with regard to those movies. He was in that? I don't remember that... still... he looked awfully familiar. More research showed that he was in How I Met Your Mother. He was in one episode for about 5 minutes, but his part in that show immediately jumped to mind. He played, oddly enough, Scooby on that show. He, like Fimmel, is an unknown, but he certainly has the look that I picture Kidd having. He's since landed some roles on Alcatraz and has several projects in production. I think this kid is going places, and I see him becoming Shawn Kidd if this (completely imaginary and nowhere-near-in-development) movie of mine takes more than a couple years to get going.

And... #1) I freely admit there may be some bias in this decision since I am a big fan of this guy. More importantly, though he isn't a very well-known actor, I've seen much of this guy's work. The recent version of My Bloody Valentine is certainly under-appreciated as far as horror movies go, though the production had a couple misses. It's an entertaining movie and not your common horror slasher picture. But, if you've ever seen an episode of Supernatural, you certainly can't tell me that Jensen Ackles couldn't knock the role of Shawn Kidd out of the park. Ackles is getting a little old for the role, but he'd be perfect if the movie was made today. He's not a huge, physical presence, which would play well early in the story, but he certainly could fill a screen. More importantly, action roles and physicality are not new to him thanks to his TV roles. And, if you're looking for intensity, he's got it in spades. Fortunately, he can also pull off the emotional range that Kidd goes through. It really is fun to watch Ackles work through Dean Winchester's ups and downs on Supernatural, and I see a lot of similarities between his role on that show and Shawn Kidd. He's got great timing. He's got great range. And, he can play sympathetic and crazy (Hell, I was rooting FOR him in My Bloody Valentine). And, if you watch Supernatural and read Number 181, I think you'll join me in wanting to see that chalet scene with Ackles as Kidd... and the follow-on chase through the alleys and streets of Mexico in the appropriate gear. Awesome...

When you consider him standing next to A.J. Cook...? Those two are who I'm picturing storming through that chalet, hand in hand.

There you have it, a brief look at a cast for my novel. Of course, this will change in five years... or next year... or tomorrow. But, I was really interested in seeing where my readers were when they read the book. The novel is a fascinating medium for interpretation, because even the most descriptive author leaves much to the reader's imagination.

How bright is your darkness? How blue are your skies? How white is your snow? We each bring something to our own readings, and I bring it to my writing. Hearing how others see my work, interpret my images, is one of the surprising benefits to having my work out there. None are wrong, and none are right. They are windows into your own perceptions and biases, and I find them as fascinating as my own.

Keep an eye out for the sequel to Number 181. And, no matter what, keep reading.
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1 comment:

  1. Oh how I do love Jensen Ackles! His Supernatural character is so complex but yet simple at the same time, and he does pull that off masterfully. Didn't think of him mostly because of the age but he would be good. Still standing behind my Travis Fimmel pick though, especially because of the descriptors of Kidd's eyes as his most striking facial feature. Thought you'd like The Beast - good stuff. Side note: as I understand it, they canned it because Swayze died and they couldn't imagine putting another actor in that role.

    Re Maggie Grace - she played a good "scared shitless" in Taken, I thought. And, as this reader and ex-gf mentioned, that element of the Alexis character was irritating. I just wanted that chick to stand up for herself and/or at least TRY to be useful in the big gun/bomb fight situation so I sincerely hope you did not glean any inspiration from me when you were writing that into her character :)