Monday, July 06, 2009

The two faces of Jack Foley

A random topic to potentially keep you occupied while I'm on jury duty: movie or TV adaptations of books that, through casting, significantly change the nature of a main character -- and those rare occasions when the change winds up reflected back in the literary world. Some more thoughts on this coming up just as soon as I go to Detroit...

So over the holiday weekend, inspired by the many hours I've been wasting on Flickchart (and I strongly suggest you avoid the site if you also play fantasy sports or do something else of a similar time-sucking nature), I watched "Out of Sight" for the first time in a few years, and I also picked up Elmore Leonard's "Road Dogs," which is a sequel to several of his books, featuring Jack Foley from "Out of Sight," Cundo Rey from "La Brava" and Dawn Navarro from "Riding the Rap."

"Out of Sight" the movie holds up incredibly well, but a funny thing has happened to the book version of Jack Foley in the years since his first adventure was published: he's gotten younger, and better-looking.

In the original book, Foley is described as looking like Harry Dean Stanton, and is a lot older than Karen Sisco. On the DVD commentary, Steven Soderbergh says he didn't want to do another story about a much older, less attractive man landing a young and gorgeous woman, which is one of the reasons he went for Clooney. And Leonard apparently liked the casting so much that the Foley of "Road Dogs" is more or less supposed to look like Clooney circa the film. (Though, as an in-joke, he has another character namecheck Clooney while discussing the movie business with Foley.)

Now, it's well within Leonard's right to do this -- especially given how well Clooney did, in fact, play the part -- and he wouldn't be the first author to be so tickled by the on-screen interpretation of his hero that he'd start hearing the actor's voice as he typed. Ian Fleming, for instance, made James Bond Scottish in one of the later novels because he liked Sean Connery in the role so much.

And while I doubt the percentage of Leonard fans who aren't at least aware of "Out of Sight" the movie is pretty darned small, I wonder how someone would react to reading the two books back to back with their very different takes on Foley.

So, feel free to answer any or all of the following:

1)What is the best example you can think of of unconventional casting in a literary adaptation either equaling or surpassing the quality of the character in the book?

2)What's the best example of against-the-grain casting completely ruining the character and/or the adaptation? (I'd probably go with swapping in Morgan Freeman for Alan Arkin as the judge in "Bonfire of the Vanities," but I'm sure there are more egregious instances. For that matter, "Striptease" would have been a really funny movie if they'd cast an actress with the sense of humor of the woman in the book.)

3)How do you feel in those instances where a character continues from book to book and it becomes clear that the author is letting himself be influenced by the actor cast in the adaptation?

Try to avoid going too much into plot, if you can help it, but beyond that, have at it.

84 comments:

sarcastig said...

Another Elmore Leonard adaptation: Jackie Brown was originally white. But I can't imagine anyone doing a better job than Pam Grier.

Omagus said...

Speaking of Morgan Freeman, and speaking of white characters in the book being played by black actors in the film, could anyone have played Red better than Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption?

Norm N. Conquest said...

At least five Hollywood actors have played Donald Westlake's John Dortmunder over the years in the comic caper "The Hot Rock" and its sequels. Every film a dismal echo of the novel, every script totally misreading the character, every actor crippled by misreading the script.

The Hot Rock (1972, Robert Redford)
Bank Shot (1974, George C. Scott)
Jimmy the Kid (1982, Paul Le Mat)
Why Me? (1990, Christopher Lambert)
What's the Worst That Could Happen? (2001, Martin Lawrence)

Given that he also wrote taut screenplays for The Grifters (from Jim Thompson's novel) and The Stepfather (Terry O'Quinn's greatest role EVER), I'm amazed by the abuse his signature character has endured.

Rinaldo said...

Not really "unconventional" casting... but once Maggie Smith had been cast as Prof. McGonagall in the Harry Potter movies, it seems clear to me that the character was written in the later books with Dame Maggie's individual "voice" -- her command of sarcastic innuendo in particular.

Karen said...

Probably the most famous example of an author affected by an actor--although not one who had already played one of that author's characters--is Margaret Mitchell and Gone With the Wind. Mitchell acknowledged that she'd written Rhett Butler with Clark Gable in mind.

As for films ruined by miscasting--I doubt anyone will agree with me on this one, but casting Susan Sarandon as Marmee in Little Women was such a profound misunderstanding of the character that my jaw dropped. Sarandon played Marmee like a proto-feminist, which was hardly Marmee's nature. I mean, read the freakin' book. And thinking that Marmee would hang her intimate laundry in the presence of a single man, much less reprimand the guy for blushing, is just staggering.

Anonymous said...

Great interview of Elmore Leonard here.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/bn-review/note.asp?note=22297379&cds2Pid=22560

Leonard talks about how he sees Clooney now when he thinks of Foley.

Tracey said...

I haven't seen either version, but my brain is still hurting from hearing that Denzel Washington is playing the Walter Matthau role in Pelham 123. Definitely not two actors I would expect in the same role.

Michael said...

I never read any of the sequels to the book "MASH", but I wonder if the author was influenced by the portrayals of Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould, Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers, or any of the TV/movie cast?

Wikipedia's entry for the author, H. Richard Hornberger (as Richard Hooker) suggests not, but some ghost-written sequels "were hastily written to capitalize on the TV show's popularity and were of dubious literary merit".

Unconventional casting - does Katee Sackhoff as Starbuck count?

Chris said...

I will mention a couple of Alan's favorites and say that one of my favorite pieces of unconventional casting surpassing the original book would be Paul Newman in "Nobody's Fool." The book is great, but you don't exactly think of someone like Newman when you're reading about Sully. It's apparent that Newman was inspirational to Richard Russo - the character of the father in "Empire Falls" was clearly written for him.

When I think of movie casting influencing an author's later books featuring the same characters, the first person I think of is Larry McMurtry. Casting Robert Duvall as Gus in "Lonesome Dove" is by no means unconventional - in fact, it might be divinely inspired - but I've always felt those prequels that McMurtry ended up writing wouldn't have happened if Duvall hadn't been so charming. Ditto the sequels "Texasville" (centered around the Jeff Bridges character in "The Last Picture Show") and "The Evening Star" (Shirley MacLaine's Aurora in "Terms of Endearment").

Jennifer said...

What about the three faces of Jack Ryan? He also has a reverse aging thing going on, since chronologically Patriot Games (Harrison Ford) was before Hunt for Red October (Alec Baldwin) and Sum of All Fears (Ben Affleck). And Clear and Present Danger (Ford) is sometime between Red October and Sum of All Fears.

Yeah, not good long term planning there on the movies.

Bianca said...

Flickchart has definitely dominated most of my time lately hah. I can't stop!

A Nonny Mouse said...

James Cromwell as Dudley Smith in L.A. Confidential was an inspired piece of casting. In the books, Dudley Smith is described as being a big bear of a man, but James Cromwell as a lean and nasty type was brilliant. Especially because it was also a break in type for him (best known at the time as the farmer from Babe)

Not as good as Morgan Freeman in Shawshank, but still very good.

@Rinaldo: Prof. McGonagall was always played by Maggie Smith in my head (specifically Maggie Smith as Miss Jean Brodie, only a bit older). Similarly Robbie Coltrane was always in my head as Hagrid.

Donnie Kimbrough said...

The book Die Hard was based on was a sequel to another book by Roderick Thorp that was adapted into "The Detective" starring Frank Sinatra when he was pushing sixty. In the book, John McClane's character was trying to save his grandkids...

Rinaldo said...

@Norm N. Conquest, I had to do a double-take to be sure I hadn't written your post. I have written it on other sites, I think. I love the Dortmunder books, but the movies never get them remotely right. (The Hot Rock probably had the best script, in that it messed with the book the least, and it had George Segal as the ideal Kelp. And Paul Le Mat is probably the closest of the five Dortumunders in terms of hangdog attitude, though totally wrong physically.)

Dortumunder is much on my mind today, as I read the last of the series, Get Real, over the weekend. Now there'll be no more.

Who would be proper casting as John Dortmunder?

Anonymous said...

I was dumbstruck when it was announced that Tim Robbins would be playing Andy Dufresne in Shawshank. He was so opposite of what I had in mind when I read the story. I pictured a shorter, dumpier looking guy. As much as I adore the movie adaptation, it always slightly stops me to think of Tim Robbins. And as another poster mentioned, you'd think Morgan Freeman would be more jarring.

hollphoto said...

Ian Flemming said that he imagined James Bond to look like Hogie Carmichael. I believe that Tom Clancy based the Jack Ryans looks on Jay Leno.

Kemper said...

Lawrence Block's burglar series feartured a thief named Bernie who was a white guy who had a lesbian best friend. For the movie version, Whoopi Goldberg was cast as Bernie and Bobcat Goldthwait played the friend. But Block never felt the need to change characters in the book for some reason.....

Lynn said...

Since we are talking about Westlake - the movies I'd like to see are the Parker novels written under the name Stark. Lee Marvin played him in "Point Blank" not terribly miscast but not perfect.

And why have there been no great Travis McGee movies.

Anonymous said...

I always thought the casting of Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon was way off base. When I read the books, I always pictured him younger and much more handsome.

erin said...

Kevin Costner was so woefully miscast in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" it was painful. Russell Crowe will be much better suited, and i'm eager to see how that adaptation turns out.

I agree on Tom Hanks as Langdon--I'm not a gigantic DaVinci Code fan, but he just didn't work for me.

Renee Zellweger was a complete surprise as the British "Bridget Jones," but I thought she was just perfect in it. It's one of my favorite movies. And Mark Darcy was based on the character of Pride and Prejudice's Mr. Darcy, who was played by Colin Firth in the BBC version (so perfect), who then played Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones. The whole thing just worked beautifully.

Anonymous said...

PBS ran PD James Dalgliesh series with Roy Marsden playing Dalgliesh - perfect in my mind, exactly how I had pictured him. Then when Dalgliesh returned in 2003 he was played by Martin Shaw - wrong. I watched for about 5 minutes and couldn't take him as that character.
Harry Potter character that struck me wrong was Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix. (I know Helen McCrory was chosen first). I had her down as Merope Gaunt. I don't even know if Merope is in the HBP movie, but I always wanted her to be Helena BC.

Marty said...

In the against the grain category, Stephen King has said that Eastwood's "Man With No Name" from the Leone movies inspired his Roland Deschain

Hatfield said...

Matthew Goode as Ozymandias was a major miscast.

On the other hand, Rob Lowe as Nick Andros in Stephen King's The Stand seemed like it was going to be an awful idea, but speaking as someone who counts that book among my favorites and that character among the best in it, he was really good.

If Nick Hornby ever bothers to write another Rob Fleming book, you know John Cusack will be firmly in his mind.

I'm gonna get spoilery here for anyone who hasn't read Jurassic Park or seen the movie, but it's a classic example of the author being influenced by an actor's performance: in Jurassic Park, the book, Ian Malcolm never recovers from his T-Rex attack, dying toward the very end of the novel. But then the movie came out, and Jeff Goldblum was so great in the role that Michael Crichton, knowing that Malcolm had lived in the film and that there would be a sequel, resurrected him for The Lost World, and explained away his reincarnation by having Malcolm say, "Reports of my demise were greatly exaggerated." That one has always driven me nuts.

Antid Oto said...

In the inspired category, I really don't think Humphrey Bogart was the type Raymond Chandler had in mind for Philip Marlowe (the Marlowe of the books is an intellectual who likes to play chess puzzles, less a tough guy), but of course it worked beautifully.

nfieldr said...

My wife was speechless when she found out that Tom Cruise was being cast as Lestat in Interview with a Vampire.

I agree with Anon above about Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon. He was miscast I thought.

Theresa said...

I always thought the casting of Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon was way off base. When I read the books, I always pictured him younger and much more handsome.

Yes, that's because the books talk about how handsome he is and how in shape he is from swimming all the time. I haven't seen Angels and Demons (partially out of anger that they made it a sequel when it came first), but I heard that Langdon has gotten more into exercising in it. I pictured someone more like Harrison Ford (although I guess he'd have to be younger).

I started rereading Half-Blood Prince last night, and I hear Alan Rickman whenever I read Snape.

HautieTx said...

I never liked Clooney till he was Jack Foley. That one role made me see his differently and now willing to watch his movies. haha!

Better yet... in the book Buddy was a big white red neck guy... but then casted Ving Rames for the movie. And it was the one and only movie I ever really liked Jennifer Lopez in. It does hold up well over time.

As far as books I love and was stunned by the casting... was the Fletch books by Gregory McDonald.

If you had not read the early books of the series (the later ones suck) then Chevy Chase did a okay job in the movie.

But having read the books and loving them... I hated how Chase spent the movie mugging for the camera and in general being a buffoon.

In my mind I always see someone more like David Duchovey or even Clooney as Fletch. Smart, funny and a great B*ll Sh*tter.

I pray that if the series ever gets resurrected that there is better casting.

Alan Sepinwall said...

In the inspired category, I really don't think Humphrey Bogart was the type Raymond Chandler had in mind for Philip Marlowe (the Marlowe of the books is an intellectual who likes to play chess puzzles, less a tough guy), but of course it worked beautifully.

Bogart's been atypically cast a few times. A few years ago, I interviewed Robert B. Parker about one of the Spenser movies A&E was doing with Joe Mantegna. Parker was very happy with how Mantegna (who has since become the go-to guy for Spenser audiobooks) was playing the role, and when I pointed out that Mantegna's not built like the indomitable bruiser in the books, Parker said, "Yeah, and Dashiell Hammett described Sam Spade as a blonde Satan" -- which Bogie ain't.

M.A.Peel said...

Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, brilliant. Joan Hickson as Miss Marple. She is so definitive for me that I wish they would stop remaking them with lesser Marples.

Anonymous said...

Inspired: Michael Clarke Duncan as Kingpin.

Not so much: Halle Berry as Catwomen.

Comics aren't really books, but, eh, c'est le vie.

Bruce Reid said...

Tom Ripley's been played by five actors about as disparate as I can imagine: Alain Delon, Dennis Hopper, Matt Damon, John Malkovich, and Barry Pepper (haven't seen his version). Damon did a fine job, but wasn't really playing the character from the book; Hopper was Hopper; Malkovich nailed the nonchalant menace but lacked the lazy beauty of Delon, probably still my favorite.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I pray that if the series ever gets resurrected that there is better casting.

Kevin Smith tried to make "Fletch Won" a few years back, first with Jason Lee (whom the studio wouldn't approve, pre-"Earl"), then with Ryan Reynolds, but it eventually didn't come together.

Antid Oto said...

In the comic book casting disaster category: Keanu Reeves as John Constantine. Terrible idea. Also Johnny Depp as Abberline in From Hell was just bizarre.

Howard Chaykin said...

I love this sort of thing. In regard to James Cromwell as Dudley Smith in LA CONFIDENTIAL, the studio's original choice was Steven Seagall as Smith.

Just close your eyes and breathe deep on that one.

I've always seen Harry Dean Stanton as Dortmunder, with Angelica Huston as Mae--with Rick Moranis as Andy Kelp, and Abraham Benrubi as Tiny. And yes, the movies have been execrable.

I've read everything Elmore Leonard has ever written--crime and westerns--and I worship the man, but I have to say that in my worthless opinion OUT OF SIGHT is a better film than a novel--maybe because of the casting.

I've never been able to get the casting of the TV series version of 87TH PRECINCT out of my head, particularly the fabulous and unduly forgotten Robert Lansing as Steve Carella, Gena Rowlands as his wife Teddy, and the fabulous Norman Fell as Meyer Meyer.

And don't get me started on Fletch, or Bob Lee Swagger--or when the hell are they going to film Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels.

I'm kind of intrigued by Taylor Kitsch as John Carter--and since I've been waiting for this movie since I was 13, I'll be there opening day.

I have to stop myself here--I could spend the day at this.

excentric said...

Totally agreeing with M.A. Peel......the new Miss Marple is just awful.

Tracey said...

I think this falls in the realm of inspired unexpected casting: I remember when they first cast Michael Keaton as Batman, and all the fans flipped out because they thought Bruce Wayne/Batman had to be a big muscular jock type. They pictured Arnold, for example. And at the time, Michael Keaton was known for goofy comedy. But I think Keaton handled the role brilliantly, and very effectively conveyed the borderline insanity that was part of the interpretation of Batman in the comics at that time. (and while we're talking Batman: Eartha Kitt as Catwoman in the TV show was simply brilliant casting)

Ben said...

Inspiring casting - you know, its easy to bash Tom Cruise these days, but he was surprisingly effective in the role of Lestat in "Interviews with a Vampire". No way anyone, including Anne Rice, saw that one coming...

John Grisham wrote the female lead in "The Pelican Brief" with Julia Roberts in mind...

I doubt he wrote the wife of Tom Cruise on "The Firm" with Jeanne Tripplehorn in mind. Ugh...

Speaking of Morgan Freeman roles, I always thought he was a little old to play the Alex Cross character from the various James Patterson books...

chris said...

Hagrid was written with Robbie Coltrane in mind.

I agree with the observations about Morgan Freeman (great) as Red and regarding Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon (not so great).

I can't think of the book The Dead Zone without picturing Christopher Walken (a rare instance where the movie was as good or better than the book).

I also have to say that perhaps the worst cast movie that I can recall was Cannery Rowe starring Nick Nolte.

David J. Loehr said...

Wow. Wonderful question, wonderful casting comments.

For me, Duchovny might be an ideal Fletch. He's just blank enough to work. Kevin Smith's choices are still too identifiable, where Duchovny has the right kind of dry, deadpan humor to pull it off.

The 87th Precinct series had a stunningly good cast. I wish it were more available to see nowadays, as a fan of McBain's.

Dortmunder just never worked in film. Oddly enough, Duchovny might work in that, too. Same kind of dry, been-there-done-that manner. But I love the idea of Abraham Benrubi as Tiny, that's inspired casting.

And speaking of Elmore Leonard, while it's very different from the book, I just loved the television adaptation of Maximum Bob and wish it had lasted more than six episodes (all of which I have tucked away on VHS, thank you very much). Never would've thought Beau Bridges when reading the book, but it worked.

And Bogart's fine, but I always liked Powers Boothe as Phillip Marlowe. Again, not a typical choice, but very good.

Which makes me think of Hammett and the Thin Man. Never would have thought William Powell and Myrna Loy when reading the largely unfunny novel. But I've seen the movies several times each and never did pick the novel up again. (Hammett mustn't have minded, since he helped devise the stories for the first two sequels.)

Blair Waldorf said...

My favorite novel is Corelli's Mandolin. I refused to ever see the movie because I thought Nicolas Cage was horribly miscast as my beloved Captain Corelli, a young mandolin strumming Italian soldier. Maybe the younger Nic Cage from Moonstruck would have worked but he was too old and not handsome enough. I imagined the character as somewhere between Antonio Banderas and Clark Gable. Penolope Cruz was just about right for Pelagia.

Someone mentioned Darcy in Bridget Jones. It reminded me how surprised I was that Kyra Knightly was such a good Elizabeth Bennet in Pride & Prejudice.

Susan said...

I loved the book "The Prince of Tides," and Barbra Streisand casting herself as Lowenstein just ruined the movie for me. I pictured someone earthy and compassionate, and Streisand, with her mouthy attitude and long nails just killed the character.

On the flip side, it's rare that a good chick-lit book gets made into a good movie, but the casting of Toni Collette, Cameron Diaz and Shirley McLaine was so perfect for "In Her Shoes."

Edward Copeland said...

I think they made a big mistake not letting Bob Hoskins go ahead and play The Penguin in Batman Returns instead of DeVito. Joe Pesci would have been a better choice as well. I would have liked to have seen Willem Dafoe or James Woods do The Riddler instead of Jim Carrey. They needed people who could be funny AND scary like Nicholson was as The Joker. As for Bonfire of the Vanities, no one was cast well in that monstrosity of a film adaptation.

Karen said...

No one has EVER cast Lord Peter Wimsey correctly. The closest I can think to perfect casting in an ideal world is the just-slightly-past-prime Peter O'Toole, but he's really too good looking for Wimsey.

I can't really see anyone as Wimsey--well, very POSSIBLY Stephen Campbell Moore--but then he is one of my great literary passions, and that makes em tough to satisfy.

Zac F. said...

If you would like to know more about the abomination that is Bonfire of the Vanities, I highly recommend seeking out Julie Salamon's book "The Devil's Candy: The Making of The Bonfire of the Vanities".

Atypical casting that worked: Tom Hanks as Irish mob hitman Michael Sullivan in Sam Mende's underappreciated The Road to Perdition. The movie was based on a graphic novel so the pick works.

Atypical casting that didn't work: Bruce Willis in Bonfire of the Vanities. In the book, his character is a fey, British type, but for the movie, they changed the character to a sleazy American reporter and it didn't work at all. Just as bad of a casting as Morgan as the judge.

floretbroccoli said...

Didn't Westlake say he imagined Dortmunder resembling Humphrey Bogart?

Anonymous said...

Speaking of James Bond, Ian Fleming in the last couple of Bond books he wrote threw in a few references to Bond's Scottish heritage, as a tribute to Connery. The character had been completely English up until then.

Also, John le Carre wrote that one of the main factors that led him to decide to phase out George Smiley with SMILEY'S PEOPLE (he returned to the character for one more book in the nineties) was that Alec Guinness's performance in "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" had been so different from le Carre's conception of the character, yet Guinness had so totally made the part his own, that le Carre felt he could no longer write the character without subconsciously basing him on Guinness's portrayal.

Kevin said...

He ended up doing a perfectly reasonable job, but when I heard that Casey Affleck was going to portray Patrick Kenzie in "Gone Baby Gone", I thought that Brother Ben had lost his mind.

The Kenzie of the Lehane books is older, tougher, and more world-weary than baby-faced Casey. But I have to admit, he kinda pulled it off.

Sonia said...

Awesome unexpected casting: Denzel Washington in The Pelican Brief. I thought he was really good in that.

I didn't know that Red in Shawshank was written as white...Morgan Freeman was PERFECT!

Also, casting a skinny girl from Texas as a zaftig British girl worked to an amazing outcome -- Renee Zellweger was fantastic as Bridget Jones (as was her costar Colin Firth, but I heart him so much!)

Less than awesome casting: Tom Hanks in Bonfire of the Vanities. Ugh. That whole movie stunk, but Tom Hanks was woefully miscast in that. And not to bash Tom Hanks, but he's no Robert Langdon either...not in my mind anyway...always pictured him younger...and more bookish. I don't think it hurt his career though ;)

Toby O'B said...

As much as I loved the radio, book, and TV versions of 'The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy' and hated the movie, I do prefer the team of Warwick Davis and Alan Rickman as Marvin the Android from the movie. Great design for the robot's body as well. Still, it was nice to see the original Marvin making a cameo in the movie.

I was sorry to see Tom Bombadil never made the transition from book to film for "The Fellowship Of The Ring". But the way I envisioned him, some might have thought him to be a rip-off of Coltrane as Hagrid.

Sonia said...

Oh...and there isn't a person on the planet who could play Severus Snape other than Alan Rickman...I wouldn't be surprised if JK Rowling had him in mind when she was writing the HP books.

Sister T said...

Not sure if this counts. (I'm always confused as to whether the script for The Princess Bride came before or after the novel.) Wallace Shawn as Vizzini. Shawn doesn't look or sound Sicilian, but no other face or voice could possibly come to mind when I read Vizzini in the book.

Iffer said...

The Princess Bride was abridged by William Goldman in 1973 from the classic text of S Morgenstern.

Since the movie is the good parts version of the novel - I always thought it was perfectly cast in every role.

erin said...

I find Alan Rickman to be so amazing (and oddly hot) because you would never believe the same actor could be Snape yet also as equally convincing (at least to me) as Col. Brandon in Sense and Sensibility.

Anonymous said...

Everyone's mentioning Tom Hanks as Langdon, but I thought the casting of the normally-wonderful Audrey Tautou as Sophie was just as terrible. I remember thinking as I read the novel that Viggo Mortensen and Julie Delpy were my ideals.

Also, someone has mentioned Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennett, and despite her being lauded for the role, my Jane Austen-loving self thought she was horribly miscast.

Craig Ranapia said...

Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, brilliant. Joan Hickson as Miss Marple. She is so definitive for me that I wish they would stop remaking them with lesser Marples.

Excuse me? There's nothing "lesser" about Geraldine MacEwan or Julia Mackenzie, but the Tourette's like compulsion to "sex up" or monkey around with perfectly adequate source material.
I do try to avoid trashing actors when the scripts aren't up to snuff, because even the best actor can't turn a steaming pile of horse manure into double chocolate mousse.

A Nonny Mouse:
James Cromwell as Dudley Smith in L.A. Confidential was an inspired piece of casting. In the books, Dudley Smith is described as being a big bear of a man, but James Cromwell as a lean and nasty type was brilliant. Especially because it was also a break in type for him (best known at the time as the farmer from Babe)

Oh, snap! I'd also have to include Guy Pierce as examples of counter-intuitive casting that worked. If he was known in America at all, it was as Felicia, the flaming (and super-bitchy) drag queen with an rather gross Abba fetish, in 'Priscilla, Queen of the Desert'.

Craig Ranapia said...

Given that he also wrote taut screenplays for The Grifters (from Jim Thompson's novel) and The Stepfather (Terry O'Quinn's greatest role EVER), I'm amazed by the abuse his signature character has endured.

Norm: ITA with you, but the one thing you could always say about Westlake is that he was a professional writer to his fingertips and remarkably b.s. about the realities of the world he worked in. Stephen King's attitude towards adaptions of his work is that when you cash the option check, all you can really do is cross your fingers and pray -- and even if the film sucks, the book is still on the shelf.

Anonymous said...

After playing the cocky all-American Crash Davis in "Bull Durham," I was disturbed when Kevin Costner got the part in "Field of Dreams" (the novel is titled "Shoeless Joe.")

However, some of the other changes worked to make it go down easier (changing J.D. Salinger to the fictional Terrence Mann; turning a novel with an anti-religious theme into a quasi-religious film).

HydraEclipse said...

Well a famous instance of film effecting book was when John Le Carre's famous cold war thriller "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" was adopted into a BBC miniseries with Alec Guinness as George Smiley.

After it came out Le Carre said he wanted to write a sequel but claimed he couldn't because he could only think of Alec Guinness when trying to write the character.

Supposedly Alec Guinness actually took Le Carre to lunch and talked him into writing the sequel (Smiley's People) anyways.

Nicole said...

I don't think Snape was written for Rickman, because he actually is much older than Snape is in the novels. Snape is the same age as Harry's parents, and they would probably be early to mid 40s if they were still alive. Rickman is into his 60s. However, at some point the Snape in the novels became Rickman's portrayal of Snape, especially by Harry and the Half Blood Prince, because I could definitely picture Rickman's delivery of the dialogue in that particular novel.

I also don't think Keira Knighley was that great in Pride and Prejudice. She played Elizabeth Bennett like a modern day girl in Regency clothing. (and don't get me started about how the movie was more Bronte than Austen). Colin Firth gets rightly praised for his iconic portrayal of Darcy, but Jennifer Ehle was an excellent Elizabeth Bennett and often gets overlooked.

In the same vein, I think Amanda Root is the best Anne Eliot when comparing all Persuasion versions.

And despite my intense dislike of him now, I do think that Tom Cruise's Lestat was good. I wouldn't have pictured him in the role either, but it worked out.

Rinaldo said...

@Lynn: There have been as many Parker movies as Dortmunder ones, and the casting has been just as wrong: there is, as you mentioned, Point Blank with Lee Marvin (remade as Payback with Mel Gibson), The Split with Jim Brown, The Outfit with Robert Duvall, Slayground with Peter Coyote, and apparently Godard's unauthorized Made in USA with Jean-Pierre LĂ©aud. I'll admit I haven't seen all of these, but none of them sounds like Parker to me. (Again, I'm not sure which currently active actor does.)

I found Edward Petherbridge to be my idea of Lord Peter Wimsey -- a great relief after the wrongness of Ian Carmichael.

Devin McCullen said...

As a Spenser fan, I don't think Mantegna was a bad choice, but I don't picture him as Spenser. Just to confuse things, though, I do think of Marcia Gay Harden as Susan, but (even though I've never actually seen him in the TV show) Avery Brooks as Hawk.

(I mean, seriously, A&E? Ernie Hudson? Great guy, but not Hawk.)

Eldritch said...

Count me as one who thought Chevy Chase's bumbling portrayal of Fletch ruined the movie.

As for Snape and/or Rickman being "hot," I have just finished a book of essays titled "Mapping the World of Harry Potter." I was stunned to learn that Snape is a very hot character in erotic fanfiction. Apparently, he's widely considered to be a very flexible, versatile sexual athlete of considerable endurance. According to the essay, if you can imagine it, someone has written fanfic describing Snape doing it. Apparently, he loves to discipline Hermione quite a bit, because she's so naughty.

One of my favorite spy series was the Matt Helm books by Donald Hamilton. He was a very tough American spy. Then Dean Martin did a series of movies based on the novels, in which, he turned Helm into a singing, boozy, rat pack, horn dog. I was very disappointed.

Rob Rogers said...

Another unexpected casting of Denzel Washington was as Lincoln Rhyme in The Bone Collector. I've read most of the books in the series and have trouble not picturing him in that role even when the text makes it clear that the character is white.

Anonymous said...

I recall the text of The DaVinci Code saying specifically that Langdon looked like Harrison Ford. I thought it was a pretty blatant attempt to cast the movie that the book was so obviously a backdoor screenplay for (but I hated the book, so I was probably biased).

HautieTx said...

"Kevin Smith tried to make "Fletch Won" a few years back, first with Jason Lee (whom the studio wouldn't approve, pre-"Earl"), then with Ryan Reynolds, but it eventually didn't come together."

Ugh... to the thought of "Fletch Won" ever being made into a movie and Ryan Reynolds even consider for the role.

With the first 4 books of the series being great... I will never understand why anyone would have even looked twice at Fletch Won. It was a terrible book. I am not convinced that McDonald even wrote it.

If Kevin Smith was trying to cast either of those actors into the role he obviously never read the original book.

Smith must have just watch the Chevy Chase movie one too many times and tried to cast another actor who mugs for the camera.

BigTed said...

One other point about "Road Dogs," which Elmore Leonard said he wrote because he thought Clooney would like to do another movie as the Jack Foley character: It's okay, but nowhere near as good as "Out of Sight," either the book or the movie. "Out of Sight" had a perfectly structured plot, the characters' motivations were all clear (if changeable), and the romance was offbeat but believable. I can't say any of that for "Road Dogs." Maybe Clooney will star in a film version (just as John Travolta starred in "Be Cool," the lesser sequel to "Get Shorty"). But it'll need a screenwriter who's great at adaptation to make his character likeable and the film worth seeing.

Larry McGillicuddy said...

Since someone else mentioned Kevin Costner's terrible performance as Robin Hood, I've always thought it was bizaare that the one actor who was perfect for Robin Hood was Cary Elwes, who could only get the role in a spoof.

It's unfortunate, because he would've been so perfect as Robin Hood in a straightforward film. I mean, look at him in Princess Bride. He was channeling Errol Flynn in that all the way.

Kensington said...

A big one that stands out for me was the casting of Michael Keaton as Batman. I remember how a lot of fans howled when he was cast, crying out that he was too slight of build and too goofy, but he was wonderful.

Similarly, I was quite taken aback when Joe Mantegna was cast as Spenser, and whilst Robert Urich's performances are still my favorites, Mantegna did okay, certainly better than I expected.

And also, I second the recommendation of Julia Salamon's "The Devil's Candy." It's a fascinating analysis of the Bonfire of the Vanities disaster.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read the book, but thought the movie Gone Baby Gone was fantastic, and Casey Affleck owned it.

Marquis said...

Hagrid was written with Robbie Coltrane in mind

Which is weird because he was the last person I had in mind for the role i always saw Hagris as Brian Blessed

The Princess Bride was abridged by William Goldman in 1973 from the classic text of S Morgenstern.

S Morgenstern isn't real

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Princess_Bride

If we can go to comics I think Heath Ledger's Joker has to be mentioned.

Not only did the guy have to deal with the grumblings of fans, but he also had a very memorable version of the character as played by Jack Nicholson to deal with..

Bryan said...

Forest Gump is definitely the biggest difference I have ever seen. I the novel (which is not very good at all by the way) Forest is a redneck and a racist- not at all sweet as he is in the movie.

In fact there is such a difference between the book and the movie I'm surprised they just didn't change the name to keep from paying the writer.

Rinaldo said...

@Eldritch: One of my favorite spy series was the Matt Helm books by Donald Hamilton

Mine too. Hamilton's politics were not mine, but damn he wrote well. The obvious wrongness of Dean Martin aside, there was also a short-lived TV series in 1975 starring Tony Franciosa -- and again nothing was taken from the books but the character name, so there's no point wondering what he might have been able to do with the actual character. Someone should try filming one of the actual books some day.

Question Mark said...

Someone upthread mentioned the Hitchhiker movie....Mos Def as Ford Prefect was a pretty inspired casting choice that worked quite well.

Among the many problems with the film adaptation of Catch-22 was the casting of Jon Voight as Milo (I pictured somewhat way more mild-mannered, almost unnoticable) and Alan Arkin as Yossarian. Arkin is usually good in anything, but he just didn't quite fit.

For more modern books, Michael C. Hall has totally nailed Dexter to a T. And while some don't like Jennifer Carpenter as Deb, she's an interesting change from the book version of Deb (who, while comparatively foul-mouthed, is also a stunning blonde).

Anonymous said...

Angelina Jolie as Dr Kay Scarpetta = WRONG Totally WRONG !!

erin said...

Oh my goodness--Kay Scarpetta? That seems absolutely ridiculous. I always imagined Scarpetta like her author...tough and flinty.

Speaking of female protagonists...why haven't they made a Stephanie Plum movie by Janet Evanovich? She'd be a terrific heroine, even in a tv series.

I agree on Showtime's Dexter and Deb--MCH is underlooked come awards time, and yes, Deb is completely irritating, but she sells the annoying little sister thing that the books were missing a little bit. I now completely buy Jennifer Carpenter in that role.

Baylink said...

Oh ghod.

You said "Jack Ryan".

I was on the Usenet group when the movies were coming out, and we all, pretty uniformly, thought that Baldwin nailed it, and that Indy was *way* too much of a cowboy... but would have been a decent John Clark, had he not already been wasted.

DaFoe was Right Out.

Amusingly enough, Clancy proved he followed the newsgroup, by *having two characters play the Casting Game* during a meeting, in a later book.

Clark and that Post reporter whose character name eludes me for the moment. The Bob Woodward clone.

Shame Clancy's given up.

John Royal said...

Not to argue with Alan, too much, but I was just watching Out of Sight again, and listening to Soderbergh's and Scott Frank's commentary track, and at one point, Soderbergh mentioned that Clooney was already attached to the movie when he took over from Barry Sonnenfeld.

As for miscasting, how about Ryan O'Neal in Barry Lyndon or Michelle Pfeiffer in The Russia House.

Anthony Foglia said...

Hatfield said...
I'm gonna get spoilery here for anyone who hasn't read Jurassic Park or seen the movie, but it's a classic example of the author being influenced by an actor's performance: in Jurassic Park, the book, Ian Malcolm never recovers from his T-Rex attack, dying toward the very end of the novel. But then the movie came out, and Jeff Goldblum was so great in the role that Michael Crichton, knowing that Malcolm had lived in the film and that there would be a sequel, resurrected him for The Lost World, and explained away his reincarnation by having Malcolm say, "Reports of my demise were greatly exaggerated." That one has always driven me nuts.

Crichton also brought back Attenborough's character who met a similar fate to Malcolm. The Lost World was definitely a sequel to the movie, not the book.

Alan Sepinwall said...
Kevin Smith tried to make "Fletch Won" a few years back, first with Jason Lee (whom the studio wouldn't approve, pre-"Earl"), then with Ryan Reynolds, but it eventually didn't come together.

Wasn't Zach Braff also cast as Fletch in "Fletch Won" a few years back. I think Kevin Smith had to be off it by then.

John J. said...

I thought of "Bonfire" right off, like many of you. When the novel came out, my college friends and I had a lot of fun coming up with ideal casting, notably William Hurt as Sherman and either Sting or David Bowie as Peter Fallow. The movie was such a travesty. Sherman had to be 39, so he could be on the panicked precipice of middle age, and so he could be horrified that his year-older wife was 40. Hanks was 33, I believe, which led to the further miscasting of Kim Cattrall, and it was all downhill from there. I haven't read "The Devil's Candy" yet, but I'd like to.

Hatfield said...

@Anthony Foglia, I don't think Hammond is in the book, only the movie, but in the movie universe that's not a continuity error. I also got a kick out of the Roland Tembo character, who seemed like the screenwriter's way of atoning for their wasting of Muldoon in the first movie when he was such a drunken badass in the book

J Camp said...

Norm/Rinaldo, etc., RE Westlake:

I've thought John Cusack would make a fine Dortmunder, now that he's a bit older and not quite so babyfaced.

As for Parker... (let's not forget the ultimate miscast there - Mel Gibson!) Of all the actors who have played him, Lee Marvin was probably closest, but still a far cry from accurate to the prose:

"His hands, swinging curve-fingered at his sides, looked like they were molded out of brown clay by a sculptor who thought big and liked veins. His hair was brown and dry and dead, blowing around his head like a poor toupee about to fly loose. His face was a chipped chunk of concrete, with eyes of flawed onyx. His mouth was a quick stroke, bloodless."

Although actually, come to think of it, I'm kind of glad there isn't anyone who fits that bill.

Your Receptionist said...

Under disastrous casting, Nick Nolte and Barbera Streisand both in The Prince of Tides. She's pretty horrible and not at all who I would cast and Nick Nolte is atrocious as Tom. It feels like someone went who's stereotypically New York and who's stereotypically a Red Neck. Okay, now let's put them together in a movie based on a best seller. Also, Barbera Streisand so clearly increased the size of the therapists role turning the movie into more of a romance than a look at how three siblings survive (or don't) a traumatic and abusive childhood.

France said...

Kevin Costner: worst possible Robin Hood

Tom Cruise: fusking ruined Lestat.

Peter Lynn said...

It's a biopic rather than a literary adaptation, but the makers of The Whole Wide World got it absolutely perfect when they cast Vincent D'Onofrio as Conan author Robert E. Howard, given D'Onofrio's imposing physical presence and history of playing dark, disturbed characters.

Now, given that Conan was an idealized alter ego of Howard himself, it'd almost be interesting to speculate D'Onofrio playing the role in the upcoming Conan the Barbarian remake. Better that than some marble-mouthed bodybuilder, after all.