Saturday, February 14, 2009

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Casting Coup Month: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Remember how we talked about It Happened One Night, the first movie to win the Big Five at the Oscars? Remember how I mentioned two others that have achieved this same phenomenal feat? Well, get ready, because here's Number Two.

It all started with a book by Ken Kesey, one influenced by his own experiences in a mental hospital (as staff, people, nothing else), and by peyote. Seriously, I saw it in a documentary. So, Kesey writes this book, and it splits people. Some are all like, "Yeah, Mac! Fuck the establishment!" Others were all, "You know, some of Ratched's deeds make sense." The doc I saw interviewed a director of mental institutions, who got into it because he wanted to reform them, after reading the book. Twenty years later, he finds the Nurse more sympathetic than the Rebel. Well, success came, and eventually Kirk Douglas played the lead in a stage version written by Dale Wasserman. He bought the movie rights, gave them to his son, Michael (Mr. Zeta-Jones), and then hired a director, Milos Forman. One thing led to another, and before you know it, we have one of the most highly-revered movies of all time.

This marked the film debuts of Christopher Lloyd (Doc Brown), Brad Dourif (Chucky) and Danny DeVito (Arnold's twin). It was the first of many wins for Jack Nicholson. Michael Douglas made a name for himself as a producer. Louise Fletcher's Nurse Ratched earned a reputation as one of the greatest movie villains of all time (indeed, AFI ranked her #5 on their official list, one of six females in the Top Ten). It swept the Globes, winning all six categories it was nominated for.

Yet Ken Kesey refused to see the film. He was offended, of course, by the fact that his screenplay was rejected. Worse, though, was the fact that the film made McMurphy the lead, rather than telling it through Chief Bromden's eyes, as in the original novel. Kesey has yet to see the film, though he reportedly admits that he caught twenty minutes of a fantastic flick on a hote television before realizing it was Cuckoo's Nest.

Kesey be damned, the Academy fucking loved the shit out of the movie. Nominated for nine Oscars, it was up against some of the greatest films in cinematic history: Stanley Kubrick's unconventional Barry Lyndon, Steven Spielberg's summer blockbuster Jaws, Sidney Lumet's satirical Dog Day Afternoon, and the Greatest Movie of All Time, Robert Altman's Nashville. Jack Nitzche's Original Score lost to John Williams' score for Jaws (no argument here). The three-person team of Richard Chew, Lynzee Klingman and Sheldon Kahn lost Editing to Verna Fields, also for Jaws (again, how can I disagree?). Haskell Wexler and Bill Butler lost Cinematography to John Alcott for Barry Lyndon. And newcomer Brad Dourif lost his Best Supporting Actor Oscar to George Burns for The Sunshine Boys.

Whatever, man. It's one of only three films to get the Grand Slam at the Oscars. Bo Goldman and Lawrence Hauben won Best Adapted Screenplay (take that, Barry Lyndon, Scent of a Woman, The Man Who Would Be King, and The Sunshine Boys!). Louise Fletcher somehow managed to defeat Ann-Margret's immortal performance in Tommy to win Best Actress. Jack Nicholson won his first Oscar for Best Actor. Milos Forman won Best Director, though Robert Altman was just as deserving. And yes, producers Saul Zaentz and Michael Douglas took home Oscars when their baby won...BEST MOTION PICTURE OF THE YEAR.

And dare I even attempt to tamper with such a legend? Of course I do.

Who is He: A shy guy with a stutter. Billy is afraid of the outside world, and is a voluntary patient at the hospital. His mother, whom he fears more than antyhing, is besties with Nurse Ratched, which is dangerous indeed. Still a virgin, too.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest)

Brad Dourif (Child's Play, Seed of Chucky)

My Choice: Razzie Award Nominee for Worst Screen Couple (Pearl Harbor, with Ben Affleck)

Josh Hartnett (The Faculty, 30 Days of Night)
They cast a little young for the original, but in the book, what is so tragic about Billy is that he behaves like a boy of sixteen while actually a man of thirty-one. And I know Josh Hartnett seems like an odd choice, but I do think he is a capable actor. He doesn't just do shit movies, he actually stars in a large number of indie dramas -- and does pretty well, too! He's thirty-one, which works, and I think his reputation could only add to the sadness of the final act. Not that I'm fully relying on that, because I think he can disappear into it, but still. It'd be cool.

Who is He: The Native American patient who has been there for ten years, longer than anyone else. Bromden hallucinates, is paranoid, thinks of the world as a big machine, and is...well, he's crazy, isn't he? But McMurphy gives him his individualism back. After spending ten years as a mute, it is McMurphy who finally gets him to speak again. The narrator of our story.

Originally played by:

Will Sampson (Buffalo Bill and the Indians, Orca)

My Choice:

Nathan Lee Chasing His Horse, on the left (Dances with Wolves, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee)

Who is He: An easily-influenced patient who immediately sides with McMurphy. He wants something DONE!

Originally played by:
Sydney Lassick (1941, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit)

My Choice: SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (Frost/Nixon)

Toby Jones (W., City of Ember)
He'd be great. Yeah, he looks like Lassick, kinda, that's partly why. But also, I would keep Cheswick's actions from the novel. I think Jones would really sell that point.

Who is He: My favorite character. A voluntary patient, the smartest of the bunch. He prides himself on being the intellectual, the leader of the Ward -- until McMurphy shows up. Harding gives McMurphy the skinny on the way things work at the hospital. He's married, but, you know, gay.

Originally played by:

William Redfield (Fantastic Voyage, Death Wish)

My Choice:

Richard Schiff (The Lost World: Jurassic Park, TV's The West Wing)
It only makes sense that my favorite TV actor should play my favorite character from Cuckoo's Nest. Schiff has played the smart guy who thinks he's better than everyone else in the room. The latent-homosexual-in-a-mental-ward angle just makes it all the juicier. And worth his time.

Who is He: The mild-mannered head of the ward, he seems to genuinely like McMurphy, and supports the idea of a fishing trip and a carnival and all that. He is easily dominated by Nurse Ratched, however, and often cows under pressure.

Originally played by:

Dean R. Brooks, the actual head of the mental hospital where they filmed

My Choice: SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (Milk)

Denis O'Hare (Changeling, Charlie Wilson's War)
He was the Nurse Ratched character in Changeling, so it would be nice to see him be nice. In fact, we've never really see him play a good guy, so this would be an all-around change. One that he could do quite well. He just looks so doctorly.

Who is She: A hooker who's friends with McMurphy. She joins the patients on the fishing trip, and later shows up at their awesome party. Billy has a thing for her.

Originally played by:

Marya Small (The Wild Party, Puppetmaster)

My Choice: SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (Boogie Nights, Magnolia)

Melora Walters (Ed Wood, Cold Mountain)
Walters, interestingly enough, has done a number of sexually-charged roles. I think the fact that she is older than in the novel would add to the final sequence. For me, it's the idea of a newer, hotter mother figure. And I know how creepy that sounds, but I think it's rather important and meaningful.

Who is He: The night orderly.

Originally played by:

Scatman Crothers (The Shining, Lolita)

My Choice: Razzie Award Nominee for Worst Screenplay (Norbit)

Charlie Murphy (Roll Bounce, The Perfect Holiday)

Who is She: From Sparknotes: "The head of the hospital ward. Nurse Ratched, the novel's antagonist, is a middle-aged former army nurse. She rules her ward with an iron hand and masks her humanity and femininity behind a stiff, patronizing facade. She selects her staff for their submissiveness, and she weakens her patients through a psychologically manipulative program designed to destroy their self-esteem. Ratched's emasculating, mechanical ways slowly drain all traces of humanity from her patients."

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner for Best Actress (One Flew the Cuckoo's Nest)

Louise Fletcher (Cruel Intentions, The Last Sin Eater)

My Choice: SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (American Beauty)

Allison Janney (Hairspray, Juno)
Janney is a great actress with some ice-blue eyes. Which, I think, is a necessary attribute when casting Nurse Ratched. Janney can be a very feminine, sexy woman, but like Nurse Ratched, she would be able to cover this up (see American Beauty). We rarely get to see her play the antagonist, unless it's farce, but Janney is one of the better actresses to ever exist, so I think she could do it.

Who is He: From Sparknotes: "The novel's protagonist. Randle McMurphy is a big, redheaded gambler, a con man, and a backroom boxer. His body is heavily scarred and tattooed, and he has a fresh scar across the bridge of his nose. He was sentenced to six months at a prison work farm, and when he was diagnosed as a psychopath—for “too much fighting and fucking”—he did not protest because he thought the hospital would be more comfortable than the work farm. McMurphy serves as the unlikely Christ figure in the novel—the dominant force challenging the establishment and the ultimate savior of the victimized patients."

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner for Best Actor (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, As Good As It Gets) and Best Supporting Actor (Terms of Endearment), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Actor (Chinatown/The Last Detail, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) and Best Supporting Actor (Reds), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor in a Drama (Chinatown, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, About Schmidt), Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy (Prizzi's Honor, As Good As It Gets) and Best Supporting Actor (Terms of Endearment), Razzie Award Nominee for Worst Actor (Hoffa/Man Trouble), SAG Award Winner for Best Actor (As Good As It Gets), Hollmann Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor (The Departed)

Jack Nicholson (The Raven, Batman)

My Choice: Academy Award Winner for Best Original Screenplay (Good Will Hunting), Golden Globe Winner for Best Screenplay (Good Will Hunting), SAG Award Nominee for Best Actor (Good Will Hunting) and Best Ensemble (Good Will Hunting, Saving Private Ryan, The Departed), WGA Award Nominee for Best Original Screenplay (Good Will Hunting)

Matt Damon (Eurotrip, The Good Shepherd)
Instinct. That is all.

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