Friday, June 19, 2009

Casting The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

Although it took me close to three months to finally complete, Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay was not a boring or difficult-to-read book by any means. It was just my rotten luck that I decided to read the 600+ page novel right in the middle of the school year when I had little to no time for pleasure reading. Anyways, to say that I loved the book would be an understatement. The fact that Chabon made a novel about the Golden Age of comic books--a subject I know/care very little about--this absorbing is a feat in itself. As soon as I finished it, I couldn't get the characters, their complex relationships with each other and the interesting directions Chabon took the plot (the Antarctica section, for one, as well as the whole "Death of the American Dream" section at the end) out of my head. I kept thinking about this book so much that I finally decided to buy myself a copy with some of my birthday money and for the past month I have been re-reading my favorite bits over again.

As I often do while I'm reading a novel, I picture the movie version in my head and I had a ball doing this with Kavalier and Clay. Apparently, a film adaptation was in the works for awhile with Chabon as the screenwriter and Stephen Daldry as the director. This project was abandoned soon after the script was finished and now seems dead in the water. I'm not sure how I feel about this. On one hand, I'm bummed out that it seems we'll never get to see this readily adaptable book make it onto the screen. On the other hand, however, you know that there's no way they can squeeze everything in a 2 hour so something has to be cut. But what in the hell do you cut from Kavalier and Clay? Everything is so perfectly realized and important to the story that I shudder to think what ends up on the cutting room floor. What this film needs is the mini-series treatment so that we can have six or so hours of amazingness and lots of material can be left in. HBO, can you get on this please? Meanwhile, while this fantasy movie plays in my movie, I thought I'd share what actors I would like to play the main characters. I actually put quite a bit of thought into this and really think that this would be the perfect cast (although I would love to hear input from other Kavalier and Clay fanatics).

Jamie Bell
as Joe Kavalier
When the film was in pre-production, the three main roles already had starts attached to them and the only one I kept was Jamie because, let's face it, he's perfect for the role. I know I'm not the most up-to-date on his filmography, but if he managed Billy Elliot at like 14, I'm pretty sure he can successfully tackle Joe Kavalier--the most dynamic and probably most difficult character in the novel. His character goes through so many transitions in the first half of the book--wealthy young Czech gentleman before Hitler's invasion, a refugee leaving his home and family for safety in America, angry up-and-coming comic book illustrator exacting his own revenge against the Nazis for tearing his family apart, young American who just wants to go out with his girl--it will be difficult to hold him together among these disparate threads. Then there's the Antarctica sequence which relies solely on him and his attempts to maintain his sanity after an accident at the station kills everyone and one other guy. I have complete faith in Jamie that he will get this character perfect should he be given the chance to play him.

Anton Yelchin
as Sam Clay
Without a doubt, Sam Clay is the hardest character to cast. When the film was in pre-production, Tobey Maguire was attached to play Sam. If you've read the novel, I hope you can agree with me that that would have been a horrid, horrid idea. Sam Clay is a casting director's nightmare; you have to find an actor who is young, talented, short and kinda attractive (this is a movie after all- who wants to look at an ugly person for two hours?) but not too attractive (the character is repeatedly described as kind of shlubby and not exactly the most beautiful person around). I was stuck for awhile until I came up with Ashton Holmes a few weeks ago (it must have been after his appearance on the season finale of House). After that, Anton Yelchin came to mind and he immediately seemed absolutely perfect. After Charlie Bartlett, I feel pretty confident that he can handle the parts of the story where he has to be an energetic salesman, constantly trying to convince the powers in charge his and Joe's comic book ideas are worth taking a chance on. I'm not so sure about the quieter, more desperate moments, especially during the last section of the book, but it could be interesting seeing him take a big chance like this and hopefully rising to the challenge.

Anne Hathaway
as Rosa Saks
Natalie Portman was the woman originally conceived for the role Joe's slightly eccentric but ever warm and loving girlfriend Rosa. I can totally see where they were going with Portman and I have no doubts that she would also be great in the role, but Annie is where it's at these days. I also briefly considered Leighton Meester (needs more experience) and Kristen Stewart (too young--she'd never get away with the post-war section--and her goddess-like stone face doesn't seem appropriate for Rosa) but, ultimately, I kept coming back to Anne Hathaway. She can work the bits of humor and lightness that pepper Rosa throughout the novel, but the image I had with me during the course of the book, and the one that ultimately made me believe she was the best choice, is that final phone call in Brokeback Mountain between Anne and Heath. There's so much emotion in that scene but it's fabulously understated and that's exactly where Rosa needs to be played.

Kellan Lutz
as Tracy Bacon
Okay, so I'm going to admit that I'm basing the casting of Kellan Lutz in the Tracy Bacon role solely on physical appearance. The only thing I've seen him in is Twilight (and possibly an episode of 90210 but most likely not) and he had, what, two lines in that? I hear he's quite good in Lisa Kudrow's The Comeback but, unfortunately, I haven't seen that yet. The way I see Tracy is as this large, broad shouldered guy who probably looks intimidating but is really just a big teddy bear and when he puts his arms around you, the problems of the world just melt away. I don't know about anyone else, but this is what I think when I see pictures of Kellan on the internet. I don't know if he has the chops, but it's not as if this role is as difficult as Joe Kavalier, right?

Susan Sarandon
as Ethel Klayman
Like most of the unimaginative film executives in Hollywood, I automatically cast Meryl Streep as Sammy's mother in my mind while reading the book. The thought became even more inescapable during the scene where Sam brings Tracy to his mother's house for dinner and Chabon describes this look ("'Will he?' she said, and, lifting the wrapped dish, she looked him in the eye for the first time all evening. Though it would recur often enough in his memory in later years, he would never know exactly what she meant by that look.") that I knew she would just nail. The way I see it, the whole performance relies on that look and if you can't get it right, the character will fall apart. After thinking it over, however, I decided that I needed to think outside the box a bit and come up with another actress besides Streep. Dianne Wiest came to mind since I've been kinda obsessed with her after her immaculate work in Synechdoche, New York, but, somehow, she didn't seem perfect for the part; no doubt she would have been great (has she ever been less than stellar?) but there had to be someone just right. Finally, someone suggested Susan Sarandon and it was like a choir of angels singing. Ethel has to be feared, loved, respected and funny, all done subtly and often at the same time. I think after her long and varied career and especially after Igby Goes Down, Sarandon can pull this off without a hitch. Plus, she'll be able to get that look without a problem.


Ben said...

Nice choices! Especially Anne Hathaway as Rosa - she'd be brilliant. In my head Ben Whishaw has always been Joe, maybe because he always seems so intense on screen.

Antony Ellis said...

I see Ginnifer Goodwin as Rosa and Chris Pine as Tracy Bacon.

RemyLeBeau on Twitter.

Dame James said...

Ben: I've never thought of Ben Whishaw (mainly because I've only seen him in two movies and didn't particularly care for him in either) for Joe. Now that you mention him, however, it seems to me he has the "look" to play Sam, not Joe.

Antony: Chris Pine is actually an interesting pick I never considered before. If you've seen Blind Dating, though, you may realize why I have reservations about him playing the romantic interest.

Samantha said...

i love anton!! he would be great in any role...he was amazing in charlie bartlett and i need to see him in other things.

Charles said...

Happened upon this page when I was talking to someone about the novel. I had Ben Stiller as Sam Clay and Winona Ryder as Rosa - if you could have cast them when they were younger. I talked to Chabon at a book signing a few years back, and they had Jude Law picked for Joe.

zola said...

People, people - Adrian Brody is the only possible choice for Joe Kavalier. Rachel Weisz - a little meat on the bones, plus actually Jewish - for Rosa. Someone less well known for Sammy, Thomas, Tommy, and Tracy. Someone completely unglamorous for Ethel.

Kristine said...

Yes, from his very first entrance on the page, I have only been able to picture Adrian Brody as Joe Kavalier, and Jason Schwartzman has been Sammy Clay from the first page...they played well together in Darjeeling and would be perfect here, speaking of which this just really oughta be a Wes Anderson film if it ever gets to be a film at all...

Melinda Wriedt Kozel said...

Glad I came across your post. It took me about 3 months, too!
I pictured right away:
Zachary Quinto as Joe Kavalier
Jay Baruchel as Sam Clay
Jay R. Ferguson (from Mad Men) as
Tracy Bacon
Maybe Rachel McAdams as Rosa Saks

Andrew said...

Joe Kavalier- Adrien Brody or Benedict Cumberbatch

Sam Clay- Yelchin

Tracy Bacon- Armie Hammer (seriously, all I could think about when reading)

Rosa Saks- Hathaway is good, maybe Jennifer Lawrence?

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