The Seductive Dangers of Fantasy Casting

There are so many reasons to avoid the game—choosing actors to play characters from your novel, if or when a movie is finally made.

One reason is that the exercise doesn’t account for the actor’s ability to inhabit a role. Sure, actors ought to have some passing resemblance to their literary inspirations, but there’s a great deal more to playing a part than that.

I’ve asked a lot of people to describe what the characters of Release look like, and I’m simultaneously astounded and pleased by the variety of responses.

The only character whom readers describe consistently is Colette. That’s by design. I invested a fair amount of ink describing her physicality, because physicality is very important to her identity. I left the appearance of most other characters vague on purpose.

That leads me to the second reason it’s dangerous to fantasy-cast, especially if it’s the author who does so: it undermines the reader’s privilege to envision the characters’ likenesses for themselves.

Deciding what characters look like for yourself requires identification with the story and an emotional investment. If a writer can provide enough guidance and indication to readers for them to arrive at their own conclusions, more detail is superfluous. It doesn’t serve the story.

Besides, the third reason it’s silly to cast actors is simple logistics. How long is it going to take for this fantasy project to go from page to screen? If and when filming’s finally greenlighted, who will actually be available? Rights to produce what has become the television series Outlander, for instance, have been optioned several times over the last two decades. You know who was once attached to a proposal that made it rather far forward? Sean Connery and Liam Neeson. Ponder that one, gentle readers. Furthermore, even the author couldn’t see what Sam Heughan had in common with the Jamie in her mind until she saw his audition.

Another Outlander tidbit: Everyone on the production team assumed that it’d be Jamie who’d be tough to cast, and that Claire would be a snap. Not so, as it turned out. They looked for weeks before Caitroina Balfe surfaced. What was the deciding factor?

Chemistry. This is the fourth reason fantasy casting is foolish. Even the most talented actors’ ability to conjure charm and fascination with scene partners has its limits. Sometimes, the best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men gang aft agley (to quote the original Scots).

I’m getting cynically delicious chuckles lately about the absolute lack of chemistry between the actors cast in the Movie that Must Not Be Named, the one that’s hitting theaters, absurdly and ironically, on Valentine’s Day and promises to delivery an extraordinary number of grey shades…

Having said all of that, do I have ideas about who would fit the roles, presuming willingness, availability, chemistry, time travel, and all the rest? Sure. Do I know the full slate? Nope.

The men, for some reason, are easier than the women. Here are a few. Do you agree or disagree?

  • Wentworth Miller as Henry Bevrijden, best-known for his work on Prison Break
  • David Giuntoli as Dante Abatangelo, familiar to fans of Grimm
  • Zack Ward as Sam Tierney, who you might remember as Scut Farkus in A Christmas Story


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