Back in those early heady days of bashing out my first novel, my friend Wendy criticised me for being a little scant on my character description.
“I don’t know what these people look like,” she said.
I mumbled some rubbish about wanting my readers to make up their own mind and she probably gave me one of her looks, because I went straight home and spent the next few hours on google finding images of actors & actresses that reminded me of the characters I’d created, and could make a pretty good job of playing that character should the book ever be made into a movie, or turned into telly. I printed those pictures off, stuck them on a notice board in my office, and glanced at them frequently whenever I was writing.
It’s a trick that I’ve adopted ever since. Right now, hanging just to the right of my computer screen, is a cork board with a picture of Martin Freeman on it. An actor who would be absolutely excellent in the lead role of my third novel.
My second novel – The Truth About This Charming Man – came out mere days ago, and here’s something quite exciting, there’s already been some chat about turning it into a movie! And I’m not referring to private insane ramblings between me and my cat. I mean proper, serious, genuine ‘chat’ by people whose job it is to rub shoulders with those who are in a position to actually make things happen, and tempt them with the movie / TV rights of their numerous clients.
Now I expect these kind of conversations happen quite frequently, and I expect the vast majority of those conversations never amount to anything – just as (so I’m told), only a very small percentage of books where the movie / TV rights are successfully negotiated actually ever end up being made into anything you’re ever like to see – but it’s all very exciting none the less, and because of my approach to figuring out character description, should anyone ever ask me if I’ve got any ideas who should play which role, I can do something more than mumble “I dunno, that guy from one of the X-men films?”
Here then, are those pictures that until recently were pinned just to the right of my desk. Those talented stars of stage and screen who I would dearly love to breathe life into the lives of people who up until a few days ago only existed in my head.
If you’ve already started reading The Truth About This Charming Man I’d love to know what you think. Post your thoughts, feelings, or alternative casting ideas in the comments at the bottom of this page (or here if you’re reading this in an email).
William Lewis (James MacAvoy)
“My name is William. Will to my friends. Though it could just as easily be Gary, or Roger, or Stephan – just tell me who you’d like me to be and watch me morph into someone else. It’s not lying. Lying is an untruth. This is acting. It’s telling a story, and stories are a good thing: they teach us. They help us to make sense of the world. They allow us to stay safe – in that way they’re better than the truth.”
James MacAvoy was pretty much my first choice when casting the story’s lead character in my mind. Though I know nothing about the man (other than his numerous screen appearances) I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised if he’s as obsessed about his craft in real life, as Will is in the book.
Nathia Brockenhurst (Olivia Williams)
“Nathia’s smiling when she opens the door. A big, warm, welcoming smile that promises an evening of laughter and cocktails. The smile falters when she sees that it’s me. “You’re late,” she says with enough venom to poison a small army. She turns and stomps back into her apartment, and I notice she’s already in full costume: slim-fit high-waist sleek-black trousers, semi-translucent shirt, killer heels – the usual Nathia attire.”
I’ve always been a big fan of Olivia Williams, and when it comes to playing high-flying brutal-business-woman-with-a-secret Nathia Brockenhurst, I have absolutely no doubt she’d walk the part.
Michael Richmond (Hugh Grant)
“In many ways Michael Richmond is a man out of time. A century or two ago he’d have a bushy moustache, impressive sideburns, and a belly the size of a small country. He’d spend his evenings smoking expensive cigars and talking about his time in Africa. Roll back the centuries still further and I can imagine him dressed in animal furs, sporting a heavy copper helmet, and wielding a blade high above his head before he conquers another village, and takes his pick of the wenches available. But instead Michael goes to the gym. He watches his weight. He pops statins. And on evenings such as this, he shares stories of boring corporate deals negotiated across expensive but dull conference room tables. Is it any wonder that he drinks too much, laughs too loudly, and always looks as if he might explode at any given moment? That granite exterior is holding a lifetime of frustration in place. “
Hugh Grant built almost an entire career playing ‘the toff’, ‘the fop’, and every variation in-between. But allegedly Helen Fielding always had him in mind for the character of Daniel bit-of-a-bastard Cleaver in Bridget Jones’s Diary. It’s that charming-but-evil element that I think he could carry off so well in the role of Michael Richmond.
Rachel Richmond (Anne Hathaway)
“But behind that shy smile, those beautiful soft cappuccino eyes, and her tall, lean, slightly Arabian veneer, is someone else. And sometimes, when she’s asked me an innocent sounding question, she stays quiet after I’ve given my answer, like she’s waiting for me to say more, waiting for me to give myself away. I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t give me something of a buzz.”
When it came to casting the love-interest it really didn’t take me long to come up with a suitable candidate. Oh come on. Can you blame me? If I’ve got to write convincing love-scenes then when I glance up at the pin board I need to be looking directly into the face of a woman I could easily find myself falling in love with! That’s my excuse, I’m sticking to it.
Zlata Ruzencova (Vera Farmiga)
“One particularly chilly morning in March, an eccentric gum chewing woman of indeterminate years – all wild bleached blonde hair (with dark roots), pristine makeup (and plenty of it) – turned up on my doorstep.
‘Hello,’ she said, as I opened the door. ‘You are Lewis, the actor. Yes?’
‘If you say so,’ I replied. It was very early in the morning. Too early to be standing on my doorstep talking to a tall lady in a fake-fur-coat that just about covered her shoulders, and a snake-skin mini-skirt that was barely long enough to cover, well, anything.”
Of all the characters in the book Zlata is far and away my favourite. Even now, long after I penned her last few lines, she’s still in my head, passing judgement on all that I do, and asking me, sometimes several times a day, where is my plan for cake.
If I were an actress (just go with me on this), then Zlata would be the role I would love to play. Casting her however, was a huge challenge. No one seemed quite right – then a friend suggested Vera Farmiga and after that, well… there was no after that! She’s perfect.
So? What d’you think? Post your thoughts and / or alternative casting suggestions in the comments.
Hot news; my second novel The Truth About This Charming Man is available right now, in paperback and for your phone, tablet, computer or kindle device!
Read the opening chapter, right now, right here.
The film will be along some time in the next decade.