WHEN YOUR PROTAGONIST BECOMES REAL

Happy Monday, everyone.  It’s Alafair Burke here.  It’s my pleasure today to welcome guest blogger April Smith, whose beloved Ana Grey series is being adapted as a televised movie by TNT.  She was kind enough to write about that experience for Murderati.  In April’s own words:

We all carry fantasies of the day Hollywood will shine its beacons of money and fame on our poor shambling protagonist  and she will be transformed from a lifetime of knocking on doors and laboriously piecing clues together, to a brilliant larger-than-life-but-still-true-to-your-vision sensation. 

“Who do you want to play Ana Grey?” fans tweeted with great excitement when TNT announced it was going to film GOOD MORNING, KILLER as part of its new Mystery Night Movie franchise of two-hour TV movies based on mystery/thrillers.  Sure, I had files bursting with actresses from multiple attempts to bring Ana to the screen, but it had taken so many years to actually get the green light, the names were hopelessly out of date.  They had either passed the industry age limit on females for starring roles  (44, except for Helen Mirren) or had been plastic surgeried beyond recognition (except for Helen Mirren).

FBI Special Agent Ana Grey first appeared in NORTH OF MONTANA in 1994.  At the time, the idea of a half-Hispanic, half-Caucasian female FBI agent as the mainstay of a thriller was threatening.   I was advised by well-meaning supporters that if I wanted my books to sell to film, I should create another mystery series featuring a male protagonist.  Few actresses are powerful enough to “open” a movie, and worse, according to Hollywood savants, the character of Ana Grey was simply not castable, because there were not enough skilled, big-name Hispanic actresses to fill the role.   At the time it was unthinkably un-PC to cast an ethnic person of the wrong persuasion to play another ethnicity.  This never made sense to me (Australian theater’s beloved Robyn Nevin is about to play King Lear), but so it remained for seventeen years.

When TNT cast Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander in Muderati blogger Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli and Isles, it was clear they had already created a hit.  They know their brand.  So when I learned the network was wild about Catherine Bell to play Ana Grey, I had a good feeling, probably for the first time in thirty years in television.  I had written the teleplay and was executive producer as well as the author – a lot at stake.  Catherine was very impressive in JAG and ARMY WIVES, but because everything was moving so fast in pre-production, there was no opportunity to meet her before we began shooting.   

Catherine Bell (FBI Special Agent Ana Grey) and William Devane (who plays her grandfather, Poppy)

The first time I saw my leading lady was at a funky production office tucked away in a shipyard in Vancouver, B.C..  “Catherine’s arrived,” everyone whispered, and there she was in a tee shirt and jeans, just off the plane after traveling with her one-year-old; tall, lithe, beautiful, with huge empathetic eyes and tousled dark hair, ethnically ambiguous (Catherine is actually half Persian), strength, leadership, and kindness just radiating.  We hugged as if we’d known each other forever.  Eighteen years later, Ana Grey was born again.

We are now editing the film, and I can tell you Catherine’s performance is terrific. Pitch-perfect, as far as I’m concerned.  But I’d love to know what you think. GOOD MORNING, KILLER airs on TNT Tuesday night, December 13 at 9 PM.  Contact me at www.aprilsmith.net  For the full lineup of TNT Mystery Night Movies go to http://www.tnt.tv/title/display/?oid=146349.

April on the movie set

It’s Alafair again.  Thank you so much, April, for sharing your experience with the Murderati gang. 

April’s most recent Ana Grey novel, WHITE SHOTGUN, recently launched to rave reviews from People, the LA Times, Booklist, and on and on.  In his substantial review exclusively for Amazon, Robert Crais said, “Let’s cut to the chase: I love Smith’s work. She is one of the finest, smartest, most gifted writers working in crime fiction today, and White Shotgun is her best novel since the justifiably celebrated NORTH OF MONTANA. … This is the real deal.”

Please join me in welcoming and congratulating April.  We can’t wait to watch the movie and read what you write next!

7 thoughts on “WHEN YOUR PROTAGONIST BECOMES REAL

  1. Reine

    April, I can't wait to see it! And thanks so much for a little insider peek on that. I hadn't heard about the series either, so I I'll be checking the schedule. Best wishes!

  2. David Corbett

    April:

    Nice to see you here, virtually speaking. And great to hear all the good news.

    That said: Pitch perfect? I remember Lehane's remarks upon watching a test screening of MYSTIC RIVER. "Those are my words. But they're not." Things change, as Wallace Stevens said, upon the blue guitar. Or the silver screen. Or the telly.

    I can't help but feel you've withheld something — not disappointment. But the inevitable feeling of slight disorientation every writer feels when he hears his audio book read by someone else, or hears others talking about something that they loved in a book, and it resembles perhaps but not quite mirrors what you intended. (There's no greater satisfaction upon reading a review, for example, than to say upon reading it, "Huh. She got the book.") The experience of a novel from within is so incredibly different from that of the reader, viewer, translator, performer. The author can never share the reader's experience, because of how the novel comes to us.

    I can't help but think you had a similar experience, not matter how "pitch perfect" the performances, direction, sets, etc. I realize you may not wish to say such things prior to airing — it might seem like disgruntled artiste whinging, no matter how deftly put — but I heard whispers between the lines. If that was my imagination, well, I've heard voices before. But that's another story.

    Best of luck with everything, And thanks for visiting us here.
    David

  3. Louise Ure

    Kudos, April, for this success. I would be SOOOOO unwilling to work on the screenplay if one of my books was produced as a movie. Maybe it's too many years in advertising and films and no desire to any longer be part of that process. But for me it's also a giving away of my book to this new medium. I'm an old curmudgeon.

  4. Zoë Sharp

    Welcome to Murderati, April, and huge congrats on seeing your project make it through to actual production. You must be thrilled to bits. And what great casting.

    So, were you ever tempted to give in and write another series with a male protag, as people were telling you?

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