Saturday, April 4, 2009

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Casting Coup: The Great Gatsby

My junior year of high school, we were given an assignment: create a movie soundtrack for The Great Gatsby. This was exciting for someone like me. Not only did it ask me to find use for my collection of Louis Armstrong and 1920s music, but I could also create "stills" of the film, and a recreation of the poster and cast listing, meaning...I GOT TO CAST IT!!!

This led to a discussion with my teacher over whether my choices were appropriate or not. But more importantly, it led to a discussion with my current editor, whose favorite book happened to be this Fitzgerald classic. Now, she believes Gatsby is basically unfilmable. It is a great piece of literature, the written word, thus why every attempt to make a cinematic adaptation has failed miserably. It isn't the Daisy/Gatsby plot -- hell, it isn't even Gatsby -- it's Nick Carraway and the American Dream and the 1920s. And how do you possibly film this:

"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter —tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

Now me, I think it is that language that makes it so rich for film. And I don't mean just voiceover work from an actor with a voice suitable for both the role and for reading the phone booth in an addictive fashion. I'm talking about the way the curtains float in the wind when Nick first meets Daisy and Jordan. Or the sight of Gatsby staring at the green light. Of course, the main problem has been making Nick Carraway an afterthought, instead focusing on Jay and Daisy. I mean, Nick's really the lead, isn't he? It's not just that he narrates, he's the one that actually goes through a character arc.

Anyway, I know I cast this before on the livejournal way back when, but the announcement of Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of The Great Gatsby sparked another conversation between my editor and I. This, of course, was about casting. And the conversation we had meant it was time to reevaluate and recast. So, in this special edition, where I would usually put "Originally Played By", I will put "I Originally Cast".

Who is He: Gatsby's estranged father. "Left in the past by his son, he shows Nick a well-worn photograph Gatsby sent him of his mansion and a notebook from Gatsby's youth that he feels illustrates his son's drive and ambition." (from the Wikipedia article)

I Originally Cast: BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actor (Apocalypse Now), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (The Subject was Roses), SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (Bobby, The Departed)

Martin Sheen (The Echelon Conspiracy, The Missiles of October)

My New Choice:

Stephen McHattie (Watchmen, A History of Violence)
Sheen is too famous a face, it would be distracting. I wanted someone with that Midwest look that would be the appropriate age and not take the audience out of the film. McHattie was good enough in Watchmen so that I remembered him, and he has the right look.

Who is He: The Jew, an underworld figure with ties to Gatsby. He wears molar cufflinks, and is rumored to have fixed the World Series.

I Originally Cast: Academy Award Winner for Best Director (Annie Hall) and Best Original Screenplay (Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Film (The Purple Rose of Cairo), Best Director (Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters) and Best Original Screenplay (Annie Hall, Manhattan, Broadway Danny Rose, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Hannah and Her Sisters, Husbands and Wives), DGA Award Winner for Best Director (Annie Hall), Golden Globe Winner for Best Screenplay (The Purple Rose of Cairo), WGA Award for Best Original Screenplay (Annie Hall, Broadway Danny Rose, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors)

Woody Allen (Anything Else, Scoop)

My New Choice:

Woody Allen (Shadows and Fog, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion)
He'd be a colorful presence for the film. His reading of the Wolfshiem would be the right amount of humorous and scummy. A glorified cameo, but it would be a damn good one.

Who is He: One of the guests at Gatsby's parties, he is enamored of the books in the library.

I Originally Cast:

Christian Clemenson (United 93, TV's Boston Legal)

My New Choice: BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (A World Apart)

Another great character actor that would not be distracting. Looks like an owl when he wears those spectacles. This isn't say Clemenson was wrong for the part, just better suited for another, and Suchet was always in the running for this part. In my head, I mean.

Who is He: A boarder at Gatsby's mansion, he sponges off the man and plays the piano. A wastrel, really.

I Originally Cast:

Richard Schiff (The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Michael)

My New Choice:

Christian Clemenson (TV's The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., Armageddon)
Clemenson, I feel, is better suited for this than Schiff. While Schiff is a marvelous actor, Clemenson has the right voice for this role, you know what I mean? It's at that perfect pitch to sing "Ain't We Got Fun?".

Who is He: The mechanic who runs the garage out at the Ashes. Wilson is an unassuming man, whose wife is having an affair.

I Originally Cast: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), SAG Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Actor (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford)

Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone, Drowning Mona)

My New Choice:

David Arquette (Never Been Kissed, Scream 3)
Arquette isn't a skinny ninny, and I could believe him as a mechanic. But I remember his reputation as the nerdy Dewey from the Scream flicks. It's that performance, admittedly, that I have in mind when I think of Arquette as the cuckolded, vengeful George.

Who is She: George's bored wife, a pretentious loudmouth who also serves as Tom Buchanan's mistress. There is something tragic about a woman who cheats on her colorless husband with someone who breaks her nose.

I Originally Cast: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Gone, Baby, Gone), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Gone, Baby, Gone), SAG Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Gone, Baby, Gone)

Amy Ryan (Dan in Real Life, Changeling)

My New Choice: Academy Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress (My Cousin Vinny), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (The Wrestler), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (In the Bedroom, The Wrestler), SAG Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Unhook the Stars) and Best Ensemble (In the Bedroom)

Marisa Tomei (What Women Want, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead)
Now, this comes from my editor's father. This is the same man who introduced me to Nashville, the greatest movie ever made, so you bet your bottom dollar I took notice when he suggested Tomei for the role of Myrtle. Yes, she can play the brassy type (My Cousin Vinny). Certainly she can be a little tramp (Before the Devil Knows You're Dead). And she would add that layer of subtext, that sadness that must come from being someone like Myrtle (What Women Want, The Wrestler, etc.). Yeah, Tomei would be perfect.

Who is She: Only my favorite character ever. Like, of all time. Books, movies, TV and radio combined, Jordan is Number One. (Not if we include historical figures, though, for Nixon and the Kennedys are pretty close to my heart) Jordan is a golfer who fills in soem of the blanks on Gatsby and the Buchanans for the benefit of both Nick and the reader/audience. She carries on with Nick, but both seem aware that is shallow and won't last.

I Originally Cast: Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actress in a Drama (SherryBaby) and Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy (Secretary)

Maggie Gyllenhaal (Dangerous Woman, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind)

My New Choice:

Maggie Gyllenhaal (Stranger Than Fiction, Monster House)
There is no better casting, in my mind, than Maggie Gyllenhaal as Jordan Baker. I might write Baz about it. In the two or three years that I've been doing Casting Coups, this is still my favorite marriage between actor and character. She has the balls for it, she can play the disinterested rich, she can sound like Money. She's IT, friends.

Who is He: The abusive, arrogant, careless millionaire and polo player. Married to Daisy, he carries on an affair with Myrtle. He ignores his daughter and is generally seen as a not very nice person -- not that he is malicious, just that he doesn't seem to be aware of the existence of other people's emotions.

I Originally Cast: Academy Award Nominee for Best Actor (Walk the Line) and Best Supporting Actor (Gladiator), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actor (Walk the Line) and Best Supporting Actor (Gladiator), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy (Walk the Line), SAG Award Nominee for Best Actor (Walk the Line), Best Supporting Actor (Gladiator) and Best Ensemble (Gladiator, Hotel Rwanda)

Joaquin Phoenix (We Own the Night, Two Lovers)

My New Choice: SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (Crash)

Brendan Fraser (The Mummy, The Quiet American)
Not only does he look the part of a pampered, self-centered former athlete -- he could play it, too. Phoenix is too broody, plus he's decided to take a break from films for the time being. Fraser, though, I could see him breaking Myrtle's nose, scoffing at Gatsby, losing his temper at the idea of Daisy cheating on him. Fraser would be great in this part.

Who is She: The Girl of Gatsby's Dreams. She is the beautiful former flame of Jay Gatsby, who married Tom, and eventually begins an affair with her old beau. "Daisy, although engaging, cheerful, and attractive, is pampered and superficial." (from the Wikipedia entry)

I Originally Cast: Academy Award Winner for Best Actress (Monster), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actress (Monster, North Country), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress in a Drama (Monster), SAG Award Winner for Best Actress (Monster)

Charlize Theron (Celebrity, TV's Arrested Development)

My New Choice:

Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day, Pride & Prejudice)
Theron was all wrong, too well-known for a role like this. Pike is known to many, but the audience at large does not have a relationship with her in quite the same way. Pike is beautiful, young, blonde, rich-looking. She's a great actress, and she could absolutely own in a movie like this. Look at her layered performance in Pride & Prejudice. Pike can hit all the right notes, and it gives the audience a chance to fall in love, too.

Who is He: The narrator and protagonist of the story. Daisy is his second cousin, once removed, and Gatbsy is his neighbor. "Nick graduated from Yale in 1915; after fighting in World War I and an unsatisfactory postwar return to the Midwest, he moved to New York City to "learn the bond business" in "the spring of twenty-two." Nick declares that, following his father's advice, he avoids judging people: a habit that has caused trouble, exemplified by events concerning a man named Gatsby." (from the Wikipedia entry)

I Originally Cast: WGA Award Nominee for Best Original Screenplay (Garden State)

Zach Braff (The Last Kiss, The Ex)

My New Choice:

John Krasinski (Leatherheads, the upcoming Away We Go)
Well, for one thing, Krasinski does some great voicework in those cell phone commercials. He looks like your average guy -- good-looking, but not out-and-out stunning, you know? He can play the unassuming Nick, and he looks more the part. I mean, Braff is a little...Jewey. I know how that sounds, but considering the time period and the characters, Nick has to be a Goy if the Buchanans are to accept him. And even if Krasinski isn't, he at least looks like one. Besides, can you imagine the turn out if everyone heard Jim Halpert was going to be in an F. Scott Fitzgerald picture? Benjamin Button times ten, people, I'm telling you right now.

Who is He: The title character, "a young, mysterious millionaire...with shady business connections and an obsessive, nostalgic love for Daisy Fay Buchanan." (from the Wikipedia entry)

I Originally Cast: Academy Award Nominee for Best Actor (The Aviator, Blood Diamond) and Best Supporting Actor (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actor (The Aviator, The Departed), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor in a Drama (The Aviator), SAG Award Nominee for Best Actor (The Aviator, Blood Diamond), Best Supporting Actor (The Departed) and Best Ensemble (Marvin’s Room, Titanic, The Aviator, The Departed), Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Actor (The Departed)

Leonardo DiCaprio (Romeo+Juliet, Revolutionary Road)

My New Choice:

Leonardo DiCaprio (This Boy's Life, Body of Lies)
No, DiCaprio and DiCaprio only could play this role, man. Young and good-looking, the only thing he would need to do is learn to stop furrowing his brows. Which he accomplished in Revolutionary Road, so yay! Yeah, I know he's currently rumored to playing the role in Luhrmann's version, and all I have to say to that is, "Duh."

Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, John Krasinski
Best Actress: Rosamund Pike
Best Supporting Actor: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Marisa Tomei
Best Supporting Actress: David Arquette, Brendan Fraser


Chris Amick said...

So I can appreciate where you are coming from with a lot of these actors. They are genuinely able to fit the role for each character, but Brendan Fraser?! Really?!!
That man shouldn't be cast for anything, especially a film adaptation of the Great Gatsby, which would have to be done well enough to make fans of the book say "i guess it was alright." You have a lot of well known actors in the list and, for the most part, they seem pretty competent for the the roles, but I am a bit appalled that someone who would like to be a casting director would chose the Frase for anything other than a sequel to Blast From the Past.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Fraser is such an underappreciated actor. School Ties, The Mummy, George of the Jungle, Blast from the Past -- all great performances. Now, maybe you don't like some of these movies, but his performances fit both the role and the tone of the films. Watch "Scrubs" when he's on, he's absolutely brilliant, funny and heartwarming, a little sad, but delivers exactly what is needed.

And good Heavens, man, obviously other casting directors choose him, too. 14 films this decade, friendo, same number as La Streep.

Unknown said...

I'm not sure I'm totally behind Brendan Fraser for Tom, but what about Gods and Monsters? There's some great-acting-in-a-"serious"-movie for you!