Sunday, December 19, 2010

Casting the Characters

To continue the theme started two posts back by Liz, with her thoughts on sexy heroes (and we're all very grateful for THAT photo of Hugh Jackman, Liz!), which led rather beautifully into Biddy's discussion of heroines, I'd like to talk about casting, as well.

I've actually just been asked by an interviewer, as part of my "virtual tour" for the American release of The Winter Sea (Sophia's Secret in the UK), to tell whom I would cast in the character roles if the book were made into a movie, and to be honest it was one of the more difficult questions to answer.

For one thing, I don't see my heroine clearly when I'm writing her. I don't know why. It might have something to do with the fact that I'm usually writing in the first person, so I'm paying more attention to the things she sees than what she looks like. Whatever the reason, when a cover designer asks me to describe my heroine, I often can't manage much more than her age and her hair colour, if that. (It was probably one of my own cover designers who started the whole trend of headless women on book covers, from pure frustration!)

And I'm really no better with heroes. Movie buff that I am, I'll admit that I do sometimes find inspiration in actors, but they're usually not the matinee idols of the moment, so even if I wanted to reveal who they were (and as Jane Lovering pointed out in her comment on Liz's post, that's not always a good thing to do for the reader) most people probably wouldn't be able to call to mind an immediate image anyway. Besides, since I often go by what an actor looks like in a certain film role, there's a good chance that the actor if he's still alive looks very different now.

It's more common, though, for me to do things the other way round: not to base my character on an actor, but to see an actor afterwards who closely embodies the character I've written.

This happens most often with those in supporting roles. These are the characters I can see vividly, their faces so distinct I find it easier to match an actor to their features.

Brian Cox, for example, a truly great character actor, reminds me a lot of one of my favourite men in The Winter Sea – Colonel Patrick Graeme – and I can easily imagine Mr. Cox in the role, striding round in his cloak and his boots and teaching my heroine how to play chess from a soldier's perspective.

A second Scottish actor, Dougray Scott, is very much in looks and bearing like another of the Jacobites, Captain Thomas Gordon, who was from all accounts a very charming, handsome man, and who in my book does his best to charm my heroine.

And Vanessa Redgrave, with her strength and sense of humour, is the image (to me) of Anne Drummond, the Countess of Erroll.

Which is it for you, if you write?

Do the actors inspire your characters, or do the characters form themselves first, leaving you to find actors to play them?

And what's the best bit of casting you've ever seen done in a film or TV show?


  1. Characters form first then I find the actors...dare I say Colin Firth as Darcy...

    You really must thank Julie for the Hugh photo :-)


  2. Liz, I shall definitely do that. It deserves thanks :-)

  3. I'm very excited to see Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins; I never exactly pictured him from The Hobbit but now he seems perfect for the role. I am, however, concerned about Aidan Turner and Richard Armitage as dwarves. Gobsmacked might be a better word.

    I quite often find myself inspired by an actor, or sometimes a model or singer. It helps to visualise their expressions or tone of voice when I'm writing. But sometimes that doesn't happen at all and the character is just made up. I can tell you she has bright blue eyes and shortish blonde hair, but I can't tell you who might play her in a movie.

  4. I'm usually always inspired by an actor or singer when it comes to my heroes, but like you said, it's probably best not to tell the readers who you base the character on. Every reader needs to build up their own image of the hero and heroine in their mind, otherwise they might not fall in love with him or her. We all have such different tastes (for example, Hugh Jackman doesn't appeal to me at all!), it would be a shame if our readers were put off by being told who the hero was based on.

    If, however, I should ever be so lucky as to have a book made into a film, I'd definitely know who I'd recommend as the hero!

  5. I usually find the actors that most represent my idea of a character after I've written them. I can't think of a time that it's happened the other way round, and for one character I've never found a face to fit.

    But it's fun looking...

  6. I am finally writing an actual novel (meaning I actually got past 20,000 words and am still not quite to the half-way point). Since I'm normally a short story writer, this is BIG!

    And what's my secret, you might ask? Well, the fact that my hero looks and sounds just like Scottish actor Kevin McKidd is going a long way in holding my attention! I have to keep watching interviews with the man in order to get the speech patterns just so, but oh well -- they say you have to suffer to write. (grin)

  7. Susanna - I really like the three actors you've chosen for those supporting roles, and I can completely understand the difficulty of casting your lead roles.

    Generally, when I've read the book, I have a much more difficult time accepting the actors chosen to portray the characters than if I've not read the book yet. Unlike Liz, I had a hard time accepting Colin Firth as Mr Darcy (I know most people will disagree with me) but I thought that Mr Bennet was perfectly cast. In North and South I had no complaints with Richard Armitage either. :)

  8. Susanna, so far the character has always come first. In some cases I've never found an actor who embodies them well (though I've created them at sites like Usually before I finish a first draft I'll have them cast. In my latest novel in progress, Zachary Levi (of NBC's CHUCK), won the leading role about halfway through the writing.