17 August 2007

Casting around for a hero

When I am creating my characters, in particular the hero, I do a casting call. It is something that Robert McKee suggests in his excellent book on writing Story. Namely think about who might play your characters on screen. Different actors will play the same part differently. What sort of effect are you aiming for? And if you find the casting doesn't work, fire the actor and hire a new one.

I have found the last bit particularly useful, because sometimes I have created characters which don't work. Don't get me wrong, they are lovely and I know a lot about them but they come with the wrong sort of emotional baggage.

For example, the character of Valens in The Gladiator's Honour had to be recast because his back story didn't work. I also knew for him that it was probably best if I kept a Russell Crowe type in my mind as he is fairly seared in people's brains as a gladiator.

Sometimes it is a little gesture or the tone of a voice that convinces an actor could play the part. For example, while I was writing The Roman's Virgin Mistress, I could see Christian Bale playing Fortis. He came into my mind, not because of Batman Begins, but because of his voice in Howl's Moving Castle. I wanted that voice. I could also see him reaching out and pulling Silvana to safety. That scene in chapter one was pivotal to me.

The other thing I have recently discovered because I am writing a duet is that if you have a very strong idea about the second hero (in this case Richard Armitage), you need to have equal confidence about the first hero. I had like the look of English polo captain, Henry Brett, and his reputation as a bad boy appeals, BUT I didn't know if he could play the part, and the other hero threatened to take over. Not good. I have had to recast, and now have more of James Purefoy type character in my mind. And the thing feels more evenly balanced.

Does anyone else do this? Consider who might play the hero? Or even change the casting? I know it works for me. And in writing, it is not about what works for someone else but what works for the writer.

19 comments:

lee the red said...

at the end of the day, it really is what works for the writer.

carrie_lofty said...

Yes, yes, I do this all the time. I even do it with books I'm reading, trying to imagine who would play the lead. Then some idiot makes the movie and casts the wrong guy. (Casting Eric Bana in The Time Traveler's Wife? NOOOOO!)

For my time travel short, I wrote about why I picked Joaquin Phoenix as my masculine muse. For SERENADE, Arie was always a moody Hugh Jackman -- although my Dutch friend says he is not at all Dutch. I told her to hush because Arie is a special kind of Dutchman (apparently the kind that is Aussie).

And it's a good thing I had Christian Slater in mind for Will Scarlet, because everyone born before 1980 thinks of him in the role (if they're not thinking about Ray Winstone). The MS hasn't even sold but already, I've had more people than I can count quoting, "Fuck me! He cleared it!"

Question: Does anyone cast the female role too? I've found considerably less success with that.

Eliza said...

Christian Bale is always waiting in the wings for me. But I do love the Bale. To me, he is Davenport, my baddie in Atrocity Gods. It's American Psycho-era Bale, though.

Jude Law is my hero for the story. At first I saw him as the quirky assassin/photographer from Road to Perdition, but I realized he's quite a bit Dickie Greenleaf from The Talented Mr. Ripley, too. I know, I know. Odd mix for a hero, but what can you expect from a girl who likes Brett Easton Ellis and Patricia Highsmith so darn much?

Eliza said...

And Carrie -- I do it for females, too. Bree Sharp (indie musician) was the model for AG's protag, Danielle, even though there are some minor changes here and there. And for The Upstairs Girl it's been Julie Ordon, the Swiss model, when she's doing her innocent, I've never touched heroine look.

Jennifer Linforth said...

I did this for my hero, reluctantly at first as I really do not like to attach images to my characters. (I just blogged about this a few days ago) I think of Colin Firth as Darcy and Uwe Kröger(a German musical star) when crafting Klaus for ADELRUNE. For Adelrune herself I found the paintings of John William Waterhouse very inspirational. The women he painted seemed to be lost in their own world, pensively gazing at things only they could understand.

Anonymous said...

Jen B says:
A type for both hero and heroine drifts into my mind when I start, but I never stick to the actual actor in any detail. The characters take on their own detail as an actor would put on make-up and costume, as the story goes along.

Karen Mercury said...

I've been doing this for decades. Some writers have said they use people they know, but I'm too sorry, I simply am not acquainted with that many "heroic" men in real life! Actors/musicians fill the roles so well because 1) we don't know them, so we can't ascribe their own peculiar characteristics to them, and thus muddy the character, 2) they're accustomed to morphing into various roles, and 3)there are boatloads of photos of them to inspire us.

Who would've thought Bono would make a great Alabama riverboat captain turned Niger Delta trader? He did. And I guess I'll find out in December when my pirate book comes out whether Russell Crowe made a good buffoony French industrialist. For some reason I can see him speaking French. :)

Karen Mercury said...

Oh and Carrie, re: your female question, nope, I've never done that. The heroine's always me. :)

I'm thinking about doing it for the next book, though...

Marianne LaCroix said...

I do this a lot. Right now I am writing a novella featuring a shiekh hero. I had a man in mind, but recast him part way through to Oded Fehr. The words just flow now.

For my gladiator story, "The Gladiator", of course I thought Russell too, but he wasn't right for the part I wrote. I think Gerard Butler fit him much better....especially after seeing him in "300". I will probably cast of him again for "The Centurion", the sequel to "The Gladiator". (I love that Romans are hot in romance!)

Jason Isaas shows up all the time in my books. LOL He's been a vampire in "Descendants of Darkness", a villian British officer in my upcoming book, "Crossed Swords", and a museum curator in "Lady Sheba".

And my next hero will be Antonio Banderas in a pirate novel for EC, "Black Heart's Bride". Oh yeah....

I think I need to go and fan myself. It is hot in here!

Jacquie said...

I always cast my characters--nearly all of them, not just the hero. I always do the hero, heroine, mentor, villain, and any other character with a strong presence.

Not all are patterned after famous people, though, or people at all. In one western, my hero's sidekick is based on my brother's dog. I swear, that dog was such a character! And everyone loves this sidekick, too, so it worked out well.

For heroes, I've used Antonio Banderas (three times--lawsy, is that man gorgeous!), Ben Affleck, Sean Connery (sigh forever), Adrian Paul, Joaaquin Phoenix, and several others. I often use the body of one actor but a character played by another actor. Sometimes I make them taller. Usually I make them taller, in fact.

Heroines, well, I rarely ever use just one because all the blonde actresses/singers look alike, and all the brunettes look alike. With plastic surgery, it's really hard to get a definitive look. So often I use old actresses. Maureen O'Hara was beautiful and sure didn't come out of a box. I also cast Audrey Hepburn, although I put a little meat on her bones.

Yep, I think this is one of the most fun parts of writing!

Jacquie
Faery Special Romances

Anne Whitfield - author said...

Now this is interesting. I can never do this. I can't put actors to my characters at all, as it ruins my picture of them. LOL
I must be odd. LOL

The closest I came to doing this was with my historical The Gentle Wind's Caress. I based my secondary Scottish character Hamish Macgregor on UK actor Damian Lewis - both have red hair. I adore Damian. :o)

Marty said...

If I didn't do this, I would consistently write about the same character--my ideal. I, too, have used Mr. Crowe, and can add Wentworth Miller, Hugh Jackman, and Rob Thomas...and it's nice to have the pics posted within eyeshot, lol.

Tess said...

I do it too :) My first hero was loosely based on an actor from the now defunct soap opera Another World, Russell Todd.

My second hero was based on another soap actor, Grant Aleksander from Guiding Light (Philip Spalding).

Third hero was based on Adrian Paul, from Highlander :) He even has his name! Though I also used a period portrait as well.

My current hero hasn't quite gelled for me yet.

But I'm with you on James Purefoy :) And then there's always Daniel Craig *g*.

Terra Kent said...

interesting concept I think I might give that a try

Donna Alward said...

As you know Michelle I always do this! I find it grounds me and gives me something to start with, and then everything just takes on a life of its own.

I've used, in order: Ric Hearst, Mark Collier, Jason Behr, Max Martini, Scott Foley, Greg Vaughn and Maksim C(don't ask me to spell his last name, the guy from DWTS).

I also cast my heroines, though I didn't at first.

Sandra Schwab said...

The only time I did a casting for my characters was for what is hopefully going to become my next published novel (if the experience of reading the manuscript doesn't kill my poor editor ...): my hero looks like a Eric Stoltz in this picture(redhaired and freckled), while my heroine looks like the German singer Annett Louisan (blond, small, curvy, child-woman). But this was the exception: normally my characters march into my mind as fully fledged people. Same thing when I read. Indeed, I could never quite figure out why so many people love casting actors for their favourite novels... (Still, I liked Tom Cruise as the vampire Lestat, even though, of course, he didn't look at all like my Lestat. That said, I also liked yummy Stuart Townsend as Lestat, but he, too, didn't look anything like my Lestat. :) )

Karen Mercury said...

I am so manic about this, I can't even begin a novel until I've figured out "who" the hero is. Heroic guys don't come along all that often, not even in movies--Brad Pitt, to me, would be cast as some airheaded dork, and Jude Law isn't a leading man to me--I turned him into a crazed French poet in love with the hero.

When I realized Dedications in books were for "who inspired you to write it" and I came up empty-handed because my H doesn't even read my books, much less help with them, I started dedicating my books to the "heroes" who inspired me. Thus, my first one's dedicated to Bono and Edge :), the second one to Sir Richard Burton, and the third to Adrien Brody. :):)

Why not? They were the inspirations.

Michelle Styles said...

It is great to come back from a weekend away and see so many comments.
And Carrie I agree with you Eric Bana as the hero in Time traveller's Wife. No. It doesn't work for me.
I used Eric Bana in A Noble Captive and have read TTW, I can't see it. It will be intersting if he pulls it off.

ANyway, this is a thoroughly intersting discussion and it is great to see how other writers develop their heroes and heroines.

Liz (Frances Hunter) said...

I do this too, all the time. My novel is about Lewis & Clark, and I had Colin Farrell in mind for Lewis and Russell Crowe for Clark. It also really helped me to imagine Gene Hackman as the villain, General James Wilkinson. Wilkinson was such an outlandish character in real life, it was very helpful to have Hackman's face, manner, and voice to imagine in writing those scenes.

After a while, I became more grounded in the characters and didn't need to imagine the actors as much, but it helped enormously at the beginning and during rewrites.

Liz Clare
co-author, To the Ends of the Earth: The Last Journey of Lewis and Clark
Silver Medalist, 2007 Independent Publisher Book Awards
website: http://frances-hunter.com
book trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLNf3nalkbA