t’s officially spring, and a holiday weekend, so what better topic than spring fever?
I have a new crush. One of those breathless, heart-beats-faster, can’t stop thinking about them, obsessive crushes.
Now that THE WIRE is over (I still can’t say that without bursting into tears, and talk about crushes!, but I’ll get to that), my SO has found us a new show: THE L WORD. THE L WORD is a long-running, highly successful Showtime series about a tight-knit group of lesbian friends in Los Angeles and their love exploits. A total male fantasy, right?
You just keep on thinking that, honey.
I love the show – it’s all about places I know like the back of my hand and a sly send up of most every aspect of LA life and sexual dynamics, also which I know like the back of my… well, okay, never mind that. But there’s one character who has me completely mesmerized:
This is Katherine Moennig as Shane, and the photo doesn’t do her justice, because so much of her appeal is the way she moves and her amazing growly voice and her bowl-you-over talent. She is THE L WORD’s heartbreaker, a love-em-and-leave-em, androgynous prowler. She is the essence of Shakepeare’s girl-playing-a-boy, or boy-playing-a-girl-playing-a-boy, or in modern versions, girl-playing-a-boy-playing-a-girl-playing a boy. She is every pouty,fucked-up, addicted, genius rock star I’ve ever obsessed over.
And here’s where being a writer is the best job on the planet.
I can have her.
And I don’t mean in some fantasy. I mean, this character is now living in my head, or in that warehouse or workshop or backstage or whatever you want to call in our heads it where we writers keep our characters. Only she’s back there turning into my own version, because, really, she’s been there for years… I recognized her instantly when she walked out on that screen. I KNOW her.
I’ve talked about how writers are always collecting and building on these scraps of characters in our heads. If we see something or someone that appeals, we seize it and use it. We get to cast actors we like or lust after in our stories all the time. (We also get to PLAY those roles ourselves, which is even more perversely fun.)
There are actors I’ve been using in my stories for years. Ian McShane, long before DEADWOOD (so it was particularly swoony for me when he showed up in that genius show as the devil… with soul). There’s Sting, of course, Mick Jagger, Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs, who can smoke a cigarette in a way that’s a whole character unto itself. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (so much promise that he hasn’t lived up to, but in my head? Oh, baby…) Nicole Kidman. John Hurt, John Cleese, Vanessa Redgrave (hmm…. heavy on the Brits, there…). More recently, Keira Knightly (older in my head), and the mouth-watering Michael K Williams and Idris Elba from THE WIRE – major stars, both of them:
I really do have a whole ensemble of regular players back there in that warehouse. The interesting thing to me is that although I’m always picking up new characters, I’m also writing some types over and over and over again, so when I see someone like Katherine Moennig, it’s instant recognition – that she’s one of MINE.
This might seem like a digression, but since I’m talking about casting, and crushing, something that fascinates me is how certain authors – series authors – can write characters that are so much themselves. Let’s face it – anyone who’s met Lee Child knows where Reacher is coming from, and Madeline Dare is a unique and mesmerizing character because she is so very Cornelia Read. I’m not sure I have enough sense of myself (or enough character stability) to be able to create an iconic character based on myself. But I certainly recognize actors and people who are my characters (or rather, who can PLAY my characters, which isn’t exactly the same thing…) And when I meet one of them face to face, even on screen, is electrifying – better than any high I can describe. No, wait – I can.
It’s like falling in love.
And in these dog days of trying to finish the third book while promoting the second, I need to remember the outstanding perks of this job.
Like the 24/7 casting couch.
So authors, give it up. Who’s in your regular cast of characters? Are there actors you tend to use over and over again? Any new or long-standing crushes you’d like to share?
And readers, who are YOUR crushes? Who would you most like to see as a character? Or do you see certain actors as your favorite fictional characters?
And more seriously… please scroll down and read JT’s inteview with Neil Nyren – mandatory for authors – and here’s the link to the equally illuminating discussion on promotion going on on David Montgomery’s blog (it’s the top three blogs).
Hmm. There are quite a few people in my acting pool.
Men: Sean Connery, Harrison Ford, James Dean (just because he’s cool), Mark Wahlberg, Matt Damon (yes, I’ve seen THE DEPARTED and I gotta have Boston accents somewhere, right?) Denzel Washington, Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, Wallace Shawn (he’s funny), Matthew Broderick, Forrest Whitaker, Robert Deniro. Those are just off the top of my head.
Women: Mira Sorvino, Marisa Tomei, Audrey Hepburn, Sophie Moeller (good friend of mine and very talented stage actress), Natalie Portman, Phoebe Cates, Frances McDormand, Drew Barrymore, Diane Keaton. Again, just a fraction of the pool.
I once wrote a story involving a woman who had amnesia and was trying to recall her past. I saw the woman as Helen Hunt and her younger self was Leelee Sobieski (she really does look like a younger version of Helen Hunt).
As fun as that is though, I try not to have a particular actor in mind right away so I have a little more freedom in developing the character. Of course it will eventually boil down to which actor for which character, and that’s OK.
I don’t usually have any actors in mind. Though I have seen people post-character development and said oh, that’s so and so. I tend to amalgamate features and mannerisms from everyday people.
I don’t even have a clear answer for who Taylor might be in a movie. She’s unique, I guess because she is who she is, and I can’t put my finger on a real person she’s like.
And how do we find someone who really has mismatched gray eyes? I know, contacts, but still…
That said, I utterly love the way Jeff Goldblum walks. That hip slung, prowly, panther-like walk. Now that’s something I can use. : )
I have a difficult time picking out one specific actor ahead of time as well, but after-the-fact, I’ll see a photo of someone and think, oh, yeah, that’s the character. I recently came across a URL for a lot of photos of actors and as I flipped through them, found several who perfectly epitomized the look of a character and I wouldn’t have chosen that actor prior to that moment. Maybe it’s because in a still photo, there are no mannerisms or inflections to contradict the character I have in my head, but once they start acting in a role as some other character, I have a hard time erasing that and seeing them as *my* character.
(Doesn’t stop me from looking, though.)
Toni, not to out you, but those actors were wet.
Great list, RJ. Interesting. None of yours are my leads, but I’ve definitely used a few as supporting characters.
Jeff Goldblum is one of mine, for sure, JT.
Um… wet? What’s this URL of which you speak?
I think I crashed the site Thursday looking at Clive Owen.
Now THAT’S what I call a website.
Some notable omisssions, but I highly recommend the Beckham page…
Okay, I’ve just spent FAR too much time on the Wet Men page.
I don’t have actors in mind when I write, and I’d be at a loss to cast a movie even when the book is done.
But there’s something in Holly Hunter’s Saving Grace character that speaks to me.
Yeah, that’s a great site. 😉
(JT, it was both of us on that same page I suspect that did it.)
I don’t tend to cast my leads while I’m writing either, although I can spring off from a real person – or an actor. 😉
What I’d like to know, though, is – do you find yourself PLAYING your characters as you write? I mean, in some passes, are you functioning as an actor developing a role? Or is that something from my theater background?
LOL… last night… I wished to God I was Taylor…
Drunk boor at the next table would NOT shut up — screaming in a psuedo Chris Rock/redneck accent, MFer every other word, at a decible that shouldn’t be legal. I finally grabbed his arm and said “Dude, can you tone the volume and the language down a little?”
He screamed at me to mind my own damn business. I said, Wow, you’re a classy guy.” and turned back around.
Taylor would have just shot him.
Alex,having a theater background myself, I sometimes do that too. Being an actor developing a role really does help with both scene and character. I sometimes even get together with a couple of my friends who are actors and do this. Although, I haven’t done that for awhile.
Ugh, JT! Agreed… sounds like a gun would have been useful. But I can definitely see you being able to channel other Tayloresque qualities when you need them.
RJ, glad to hear you know what I mean. Sometimes I feel myself expanding a character just because she would be fun to play.
But to a certain extent we have to play all our characters, right? Or do other authors not think of it that way?
Ohhh, my. That page goes in my favorites.
I’m not current enough with actors to use them much though some of their qualities stick with me —
Kathleen Turner’s voiceHolly Hunter’s vulnerable toughnessJamie Lee Curtis’s matter-of-fact beauty
But most of the time, when writing characters, I start from the zero.
I think you’re absolutely right Alex. Playing our characters to some extent is pretty useful. As far as other authors thinking that way, I guess it’s entirely possible, but would probably be more likely with writers who also have a background in theater.
BTW, it looks I may be right now the only male to post at this point, so I probably am not sharing the same enthusiasm about The Wet Men page as the rest of you. (Sorry)
Fair enough, but okay, RJ – what do you think about THE L WORD? 😉
On the subject of playing our characters, ?I am dying of curiosity, actually… if other authors without theater backgrounds don’t play their characters as they’re writing… then how the hell do they do it???
I can’t imagine.
Now, granted, quite often I’m in the director’s (or the God) seat and just watching what my characters do and transcribing, but I can’t imagine not doing multiple passes in which I’m actually BEING them.
I’ve never actually seen the L-word. But I never said I was above saying a guy is good-looking. For example, I happen to think James Dean (when he was alive) and Johnny Depp are good looking guys. >:)
I actually wondered the same thing myself as far as the writers without the theater background. I wonder if maybe they see it as a movie they’re watching. I don’t really know.
As strange as it sounds, I once dreamed an entire short story and wrote it down as soon as I woke up. That’s only happened to me once, but it certainly was an interesting way to develop a story.
I love Judy Davis. She’s not any of my characters in looks, but there’s something about her that shines through in every role she plays – a sense of spirit, or something – that I find recurs in my female main characters.
I especially loved her as George Sand in Impromptu.
I can’t think of any male actors right now – probably b/c I had a Writing With Horses workshop here today and we spent a lot of time talking about and watching my mare Salina – lots of feminine energy.
Great post, Alex!
I never really thought of it as “playing” the characters until you described it, Alex, but that’s what I do. (No specific theater background.) There are moments of overall plotting or thinking through the story that I may be more director-like, but I end up putting myself in the place of the characters, particularly the POV character, of the scenes. I *am* that person for that scene, and I’ll switch back and forth and figure out the responses… but sometimes, it’ll take a second pass through the scene in the other character’s POV to make sure they’re responding in true character and not just responding in a way that’s convenient for the story.
But like I said, I hadn’t really thought about it and assumed everyone did it that way. Interesting discussion!
Oh, Billie, thanks for that reminder – talk about spring fever! IMPROMTU is a fabulous movie – what a cast! Besides Judy Davis – Mandy Patinkin (one of the sexiest men on the planet, in screen and in person), Hugh Grant, (ditto), and Bernadette Peters, SMOKING hot in that one, in all her pouty petulance – I so wish she would do more screen roles.
And as much as I love IMPROMPTU, I’m even more partial to NOTORIOUS WOMAN, the version of the George Sand/Chopin story with Rosemary Harris and uber-hot George Chakiris (Bernardo in WEST SIDE STORY).
I must make time for a double feature some time soon.
RJ – yes, Johnny Depp I think could fell even the hettest heterosexual.
JT can tell you all about dreaming a story, and I’ve had some experience with that myself. Love it when it happens!
Toni, yes, you have described exactly what RJ and I have been talking about. So you DO play your characters. I really thought it must be so – I imagine all authors do it, very much the way you have thoughtfully described.
I’m totally with you on the Shane front. I would like to be her when I grow up, only she’s way younger than I am.
Also really smitten with Ellen Page from Juno. I LOVE her. If I got to cast the movie of my life, she’d play me. Or Madeline, depending. Not that we look anything like each other, but I like her way with good snark, you know?
And thank you for the very kind mention, not least in the same thought-chunk as Lee and Reacher–both of whom I’d like to co-opt for SOME nefarious fictional purpose, BTW.
Oh, and I love Tina Fey for her “bitch is the new black” rant on SNL’s Weekend Update. Fucking gorgeous.
Just come to this – late as usual. Wet men?!? How on earth do you stumble on a site called Wet Men? What were you looking for, exactly?
I thought ‘wet’ meant ‘wimpy’. Is that just a UK thing?
I cast my characters from the people I meet inside my head. And, of course, from the ones I keep locked up in the basement … 😉