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Saturday, July 31, 2021

When Casting Works Well, And When It So Does NOT :)

(*Edited - content added.) 

We watched a movie, the other night, that I knew was being discussed for making into a movie for years, but I didn't know they actually had in 2014 -  based on the book I read about 15 years ago, which I loved, called "Big Stone Gap," by Adriana Trigiani. 

It was semi-autobiographical, and I loved it, mostly because I really identified with the main character, Ave Maria.   Ave was a pharmacist in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, a coal-mining town, just on the other side of the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.  

She feels different from everyone else there, in that she sees things a little differently from the rest of the small town. Though she is  somewhat socially involved, she still feels like an outsider, due to this, as well as being educated, and also because her mother was straight from Italy, when everyone else in the region was British, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, or German descent.

She'd rather read than cheer-lead, and she doesn't subscribe to the town's mentality of labeling certain people or families as being either "good" or "no good" or subscribe to racism, or what it means to be a woman.  As a result, she at least perceives men aren't interested in her because she's different; but to be fair, she isn't interested in most of them, because they don't have much in common.  

At age 40, people are starting to call her an old maid or a lesbian, because she's not married.  However, she's actually in a long-term relationship with the school's theater director, Theodore, who has never proposed, because instead of having a passion for her, he has a passion for melodrama - and a passion for men, she discovers ;)

Thus, she dreams of getting out and away, but feels a responsibility to her family, her family's pharmacy business,  and her community - plus even though her pharmacist father is dead, who hated her, she is still trying to prove to him that she's a good pharmacist and trying to get his approval.

If you want to know the rest of the story, I advise reading the book - NOT watching the movie - which apparently bombed, and for good reason.


Well, IMO, because even though Adriana wrote the screenplay herself, she also directed it herself, without having any filmmaking experience whatsoever, and she was terrible at it.  

Also, despite an all-star, talented cast, they had virtually no chemistry together whatsoever, and IMO, were miscast.

This is not always the director's fault, that's true, and sometimes not even the casting director's fault.  Sometimes you can think someone can be perfect for the role and they're not, or they audition really well, but when it comes time to film, they party too much, show up late for filming, and just don't do they're best lol.

In this case, though I love Adriana as an author, I think she made a mistake trying to adapt to being a screenwriter, directing it herself, and casting it. 

Now, I understand book authors wanting to do this themselves, because they lose creative control otherwise, especially in this day and age - and sometime this ends in disaster. 

However, just because you can, doesn't mean you should, do it all yourself, either, especially if you have no experience in filmmaking. 

Find a director you can trust, and make sure you have a legal clause that includes you as a contributor over any creative content when being made into a film, and exactly how much - but more about that in a minute. 

As for the film, for starters, though Ashley Judd seemed like the most obvious actress for the role, considering her own history, she had also abandoned her accent (much like Julia Roberts did) for her career, and had to re-manufacturer it -  badly.  

Plus I like Ashley as a person, and in certain roles, but what is also true is that she can often come across as very aloof and wooden.  She's just not quirky enough for quirky roles.   It's like she has trouble relaxing and letting go, allowing herself to be "goofy," if that's what it takes - breaking through that wall?

Now, that could have worked in her favor, considering the character buries her emotions, but unfortunately, there was also no chemistry with any of her castmates, nor any of the cast with each other. 

Speaking of the other cast members, though I admire them as actors in other things, they just didn't work in the roles in which they were placed, and like I said, had no chemistry with each other. 

Whoopie Goldberg seemed like a good choice for Fleeta, but she's not Southern enough and therefore wasn't believable as a Southern woman, and she and Ashley together had zero chemistry.

I also like Jenna Elfman, of Dharma and Greg fame, but I really pictured more of a "Flo" from "Alice" in the role of Iva Lee, the sexy-but-smart, loud, quirky, larger-than-life book-truck librarian  - and again, Jenna isn't believably Southern enough. Or loud enough.  Or blonde bombshell enough.

Then we get to Patrick Wilson's performance, which wasn't entirely his fault, because the movie did not reveal the full attributes of his character, Jack, just hinted at them.

Jack was supposed to be a strong-but-silent type coal miner, but highly intelligent and a deep thinker - an avid reader who could speak Latin.  He also was supposed to be surprising sweet - bringing his mother, and Ave, bluebells he found on the way home from work, just because he thought they were pretty and they'd like them. 

None of that was presented in this film, except a slight hint from Iva Lee about a book he once checked out.

And again, zero chemistry between Ashley and Patrick.

(You'll note she was sporting her Kentucky blue and white for this scene, though ;)

In fact, the only person we liked in his role was Anthony LaPlaglia as Spec, who IMO is an under-rated actor, in that he's extremely versatile and can do any accent you can imagine, such that sometimes you find yourself saying, "OMG, is that Anthony LaPlagia?" because he can camouflage as any character,

 plus can create chemistry with anyone, where none exists.

Left in the film, however, was the true story about what happened when Elizabeth Taylor came to town, while her then-husband, at the time, Senator John Warner, visited the area during his campaign.  She was presented with fried chicken at a restaurant, took a wing, and a chicken bone got lodged in her throat, and she had to be hospitalized. 

Ya see, you can't make this quirky sh*t up about the South lol. 

 Adriana claims the whole town of Big Stone Gap was so excited about their visit, they went all out, they were obsessed with trying to impress them - but the event they though would put them on the national register and claim to fame, was now a source of embarrassment.  

Their biggest event in history was no longer for football and basketball team state champions, or for a special visit by Senator John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor - but because Elizabeth Taylor  choked on a chicken bone after eating fried chicken bone in their town.

 Now - NOT in the movie, but mentioned in the book, and just before this,  Adriana claims John and Elizabeth attended a football game, in which the marching band had prepared a special performance, but at which after the band marched off the field, and two dogs followed, and proceeded to, well, copulate on the field - LOL.

 Which, of course, further embarrassed the town - but is par-for-the course, in quirky Southern towns, and if you look at the event, just right, it may have mirrored the life of Elizabeth Taylor and whatever husband-du-jour she had lol)

Regardless, I was so disappointed with the film, because as a book, it seemed like it'd be movie gold -even the cast looked like they would be, on paper - but they weren't.  

And this is why you hire a casting director, he gets where you want to go ;)

So we started thinking about who would've possibly been better in these roles, and came up with: 

Ave Maria - Reese Witherspoon, with hair dyed dark, like in Walk the Line - just add brown contacts and darken her skin to look more Italian. 

Fleeta - Octavia Spencer

Iva Lee - Patricia Arquette 

Jack - Josh Lucas 

Then after watching this movie, today, we noticed Tombstone was on.

Now, this film had the opposite problem - it's ridiculous, hokey and cheesy, and would never be Oscar material, but the casting is what made this film an instant classic.  

Had this movie had any other cast, it would've been a laughingstock and flop.

However, it was perfectly cast - particularly Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday, he was brilliant.  

(The only exception being Dana Delaney as Josie - she's a great actress, I just didn't buy her in this role. )

So we started talking about how much creative book authors should have, over their own films - because it's gone bad both ways.

I think the best example of when this works is what Stephen King learned to do.  After a few missteps earlier, in turning over his books to movies, he has learned to find that balance, and saying, "Here you go.  I'm no director, or even a screenwriter, I'm a novel author - but is this my baby - and now it's is OUR baby together - and we should BOTH have a say and how the characters are presented." 

Having not done it the right way was Anne Rice - though she did have a certain amount of creative control, she had no say in casting, in Interview With a Vampire - or at least her complaints were ignored - perhaps wisely, in the end.  

(In fact, Anne had nothing to do with the future movies made of her own books, as a result, and I believe the movies suffered without her input, which is why you need the original authors for at least some input.)

She protested publicly and vehemently against Tom Cruise, as did the rest of the world, when Tom Cruise was cast as Lestat de Lioncourt - but in the end, she agreed with the rest of us that Tom did a fantastic job, which he did.

Nobody could see it, at first, because he was known for feel-good movies like Top Gun and is all of 5'6" tall.  

In contrast, Lestat was described in the books as a blonde-haired, blue-eyed European, Greek God-like in appearance -  about 6'5" in commanding stature, with formidable brick wall physique, and let's not forget - he was a wolf-pack killer (which is why he was chosen by Magnus to become a vampire), a wealthy European social snob, who fed on the poor and vulnerable, because no one would care or notice, and justified it as "putting them out of their misery."

Though described as blond hair and blue-eyed, it really didn't matter, because hair could be bleached, and they wore translucent, gold-glinted contacts anyway, as vampires - but the rest of Tom Cruise made us all like, "WHAT???"

However, Tom Cruise does get that psycho glint in his eye, sometimes, despite smiling - like that just-under-the-surface, controlled rage, that worked.  He has that look of being able to flash that smile, but at the same time, his eyes aren't smiling, as if a predator looking for his next victim and playing with it first lol.

So he ended up doing a fantastic job - plus there was just no one else who could do it, at that time.

A lot of people thought Brad Pitt should've played Lestat, rather than Louis ... 

... but the truth is, Brad Pitt wasn't mature enough as an actor yet, unless he played truly "hunchback roles" like in 12 Monkeys - (Leonardo Dicaprio suffered from the same malaise, at that time).

Plus partly weeded out at the time, and weed makes it nearly impossible to be intense lol.

Speaking of weeded out, we always knew Matthew McConnaughey had it in him for intensity, and would've been perfect for Lestat  - but at that time, he was hit and miss with movie choices.  He could play a lawyer with aplomb in A Time to Kill, but then turn around and do Dazed and Confused and appeared overly chill and weeded out most of the time lol.

So who was left in the 90s?  

Someone who seems like they could snap at any moment with intensity, but also make you laugh despite yourself and whatever horrifically immoral thing they were engaging in.  Someone with a commanding presence and arrogant, preferably with a sense of refinement and "well-bred" by white European wealth terms, even if they fake it well.

Leonardo DiCaprio?

Too skinny, too young, and too girly, back then - plus he had the same issue as Brad Pitt, at the time - meaning did extremely well acting in "hunchback" roles - roles that required them to be deformed, ugly, and prosthetics-application involved, but had a hard time playing a regular guy with no mask on lol. 

Same for Jude Law - but the accent, attitude, and handsome face are right, but he was too skinny and too girly. 

Johnny Depp?

Maybe, with blonde hair and contacts?

Val Kilmer?

Maybe - but almost too brutish and unrefined.

Michael Biehn?

Maybe - but more military than refined gentleman.

Bruce Willis?

Too old already by then, and too - goofy. 

Woody Harrelson?

Though he ended up shocking us all with how good at playing psychos he can actually be, despite the weed, at that time, he was still in comedy, so just - no.

Ralph Fiennes?

He can do psycho well, but still too calm, it's a controlled, methodical psycho - no just-under-the-surface rage, wolf-killer. 

Alexander Skarsgard? 

The man who played the most recent Tarzan would've been perfect for Lestat - had he not been barely 17 at the time lol. 

His dad, Stellan Skarsgard?

Sure - had it been filmed 20 years prior. 

Heath Ledger?

Heath totally could've done this role, with blue contacts, but he was all of 14 years old, at the time lol.

One of my favorite actors of all time, Peter Stormare?

Like Anthony LaPaglia, he's so verstatile, and been in so many things, that you don't always know it's him, he can transform himself so well (even better) - but he was too old by then, too. 

Sean Bean?

Sexy, does just-under-the-surface rage well, but not face-handsome enough, too unrefined for the role, and was likely too old, by that time.

Russell Crowe?

Maybe - but he sucks at other accents.  Plus he sometimes just has this look on his face like he's either eternally constipated or confused lol 

Viggo Mortensen?

Next to Alexander Skarsgard, almost perfect physically for the role - but like Ralph Fiennes, he's almost too chill and lacks that just-under-the-surface psycho rage. Almost too old by then, too. 

Hmm.  I'm just not sure there was anybody on the A-list, at that time - and they all would've had to do some serious deep-diving to find their inner Lestat, acting wise.

Thus, as a result, though we agree that Tom Cruise was likely the best choice out of the bunch, at the time, and did a great job, and yet still, neither my husband nor myself were ever completely satisfied with Tom Cruise as Lestat. 

Now, if we were talking about today, I can only think of ...

Chris Hemsworth?

Absolutely perfect physically for the role - but he needs to work a bit more on his depth/intensity, or at least show us he can be - I have difficulty seeing the psycho/rage in him - he's too well raised and normal lol

Ryan Gosling?

Maybe.  I can definitely see the tortured artist thing going on, the dark side, but almost too quiet?

But as long as we went outside of book descriptions anyway, who says "European" has to be white?

In fact, I could totally by Idris Elba in this role, too, even at his current age.

I dunno, other than that, I'm stumped. 

Perhaps even today, there is no perfect person for that role?

Regardless, I believe I've made my point - a great story can be ruined with the wrong cast or a cast without chemistry, but an awful story can be a hit with the right cast, yes? 

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