Ave Historia: An irreverent look at historical fiction today: books trends, historical tidbits, and random tangents
February 26, 2014
I always have fun with my yearly “Let's cast my latest book as a movie!” blog post. But with my Borgia duology “The Serpent and the Pearl” and “The Lion and the Rose,” I have a particular dilemma not faced before with any of my other books: there have been a LOT of movies already about the Borgias. Who to cast when so many have been cast already? Here's my version, a mixture of old faces and new:
IL PAPA BORGIA
His Holiness the Borgia Pope has been played, among others, by John Doman and Jeremy Irons. Jeremy Irons was excellent as always, but a bit too languid and refined for the explosive Rodrigo Borgia (in my opinion). John Doman was better, but that flat L.A. accent . . . I think I'll go with Sergi Lopez, who not only can play both sensual and scary (“Him and Her,” “Labyrinth of Pan”) but is a Catalan Spaniard just like the Borgia Pope. Rodrigo's Spanish pride, Spanish temper, and Spanish enjoyment in life's sensual pleasures were defining traits.
Giulia La Bella was sweet, bubbly, petite, voluptuous, and extravagantly blond, so in the Showtime series she was portrayed as a moody redhead (Lotte Verbeek), and on the European series as a bitchy brunette (Marta Gastini). I'm going with Holliday Grainger, who played Lucrezia in the Showtime series. But doesn't she look quite a lot more like the alleged Raphael portrait of Giulia Farnese? And after three seasons of watching her on The Borgias, we know she can show both sweetness and steel.
Giulia's bodyguard is a dwarf, which does limit the question of who can play him. I wouldn't want to shrink an actor down with CGI; dwarfism poses limits on the body—and on Leonello's character—which are critical to his particular brand of cynicism, idealism, and courage. Peter Dinklage is the too-obvious choice, but he's busy playing Tyrion Lannister on “Game of Thrones.” Let's find another fabulous actor with dwarfism and give him a great role as my knife-throwing butt-kicking dwarf with the love of books and the biting tongue.
My secondary heroine is a tall skinny Sicilian girl; a professional chef with a knife up her sleeve, a pocket full of secrets, and a biting tongue. How about Coral Amiga, who not only has the perfect sharp-edged face, frizzy curls, and lanky frame, but showed serious chops on “Rome” as Kevin McKidd's embittered eldest daughter.
There's nobody to play Cesare Borgia but Francois Arnaud. His sexy, sinister Showtime stint as history's ultimate bad boy puts all others in the shade.
Lucrezia goes from twelve to seventeen, so we need an actress who can play both innocent child and sophisticated young wife. Kaitlyn Dever fills the bill—on “Justified” she plays a pretty but cynical fourteen-year-old, and nearly steals the show from Timothy Olyphant. Blond her up a bit and she'll be a great Lucrezia.
David Oakes was Juan Borgia in the Showtime series, and he was fantastic: vicious, handsome, ultimately pathetic. No need to mess with a good thing here.
Jonathan Jackson would work as Giulia's pretty but weak-willed husband. Orsino Orsini is just the type who would have a soul patch and no spine.
Not only is Eddie Redmayne a true ginger with plenty of freckles, just like Carmelina's chef protege Bartolomeo—but he can play younger than his years. Good for a teenage apprentice who bides his time on his crush until he's eighteen, then mounts a campaign to sweep his 7-year-older lady off her feet.
So, that's my fantasy cast for my mythical movie. If you've read my Borgia duology and have your own casting ideas, I'm all ears!
August 24, 2011
Here's a question I get quite a lot from readers: will your books ever be made into movies?
The answer, I'm sorry to say, is no. So far, at least, and probably for the forseeable future. Historical movies or TV shows cost an arm and a leg to make: the costumes, the sets, the CGI, the on-site locations. My latest book “Daughters of Rome” has several chariot racing scenes a la Ben Hur; I shudder to think what the bill would be for all those chariots, horses, and thousands of screaming costumed extras. Unless I turn into George R.R. Martin, I don't imagine HBO will be burning up my phone line anytime soon with offers to turn “Daughters of Rome” into a multi-season star-studded no-expenses-spared miniseries.
But a girl can dream. I had a lot of fun last year casting “Mistress of Rome” as an imaginary movie with the cast of actors I'd have picked if I'd had unlimited control and budget (which no author ever gets). Now that I'm between deadlines, I think I'll indulge myself and do the same for my second book. Coming soon to a theatre near you: “Daughters of Rome,” the Oscar-winning blockbuster directed by Ridley Scott!
Marcella: The trickiest part to cast, and also the meatiest. My heroine is a voluptuous frustrated schemer who writes histories, and eventually discovers that making history is even more fun than writing about it. For an actress who can play both charming and amoral, I'll go with Hayley Atwell. She did a lovely job in “Pillars of the Earth,” a pretty brunette with an unexpectedly flinty side.
Cornelia: Marcella's gentle older sister who goes from ambitious snob to grieving widow to passionate woman. There's no shortage of actresses who could play her. Natalie Portman? Rose Byrne? Shannyn Sossamon? I settled on Sophia Myles, a gentler sort of beauty with an unexpected quirk of humor.
Lollia: Cousin Lollia is the richest heiress in Rome, a red-haired party girl with a penchant for good gossip and good sex. After seeing “Easy A,” Emma Stone was a no-brainer. She has Lollia's husky voice and adorable giggle, and an underlying sweetness to give Lollia dignity as she matures into something more than just a party girl.
Diana: strangely, the only actress I can think of to play a seventeen-year-old blond beauty mad for horses and chariot racing is Summer Glau. The former Terminator from "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" is definitely neither seventeen or blond, but she has the beauty – and even more important, she has the quirky absent-minded charm necessary to make Diana's one-track obsessiveness and utter lack of tact charming instead of irritating.
Piso: Cornelia's husband is Imperial heir for just five days before a mob hacks him to pieces. Sean Maher would make the most out of this brief part; as Simon in “Firefly” he had the same straitlaced-but-sweet charm.
Drusus: the stalwart bodyguard who saves Cornelia's life was cast the moment I saw Rome Season 2, and laid eyes on Allen Leech. His Agrippa could be a clone of Drusus – stocky, brave, loyal, and passionate.
Domitian: Marcella's nineteen-year-old suitor gets another actor from HBO's Rome – Max Pirkis, whose hair-raising depiction of the young Augustus makes him a natural choice for the eerie intelligence and nascent creepiness of this young emperor-to-be.
Fabius: Lollia gets married three times in the course of the book (her husbands keep dying on her in political shuffles) but her third husband is the most important – an abusive kingmaking creep with a vicious streak. Let's go with Rufus Sewell, who (as we know from "A Knight's Tale") looks good in a breastplate and doesn't have to scream to scare the crap out of anybody.
Thrax: the handsome golden body slave who consoles Lollia between bad marriages. We need at least one tribute to “Spartacus: Blood and Sand,” so let's go with handsome golden gladiator Jai Courtney.
Llyn: the attractive and taciturn ex-rebel from Britain who scorns Romans and teaches Diana how to drive a chariot. This one was a no-brainer: David Wenham with the same haircut he had in “Lord of the Rings.”
Galba: in a book about the Year of Four Emperors, you can bet Emperor #1 won't last too long. Michael Hogan will chew the scenery for his fifteen minutes of screen time before the mob gets him, playing grumpy old cheapskate Emperor Galba.
Otho: Galba's successor couldn't have been more different; a metrosexual playboy with a witty tongue. Who better than Rupert Everett, the guy who stars in pretty much every Oscar Wilde movie ever made?
Vitellius: Another polar opposite for Emperor #3 – a fat sports fan who lived for chariot racing and obscenely huge banquets. Brad Leland played a loudmouth football fanatic in “Friday Night Lights,” and could do it perfectly here. And he's got the chops to bring out Vitellius's pathos and dignity as well as the bombast.
No need to cast the fourth emperor in the series, since he doesn't make a cameo in the book. But previous ruler Nero does in a creepy flashback, and in my mind he's Philip Seymour Hoffman. He'll nail Nero's fussy artistic pretensions and innate craziness in just five minutes of screentime.
Irritating Jessalyn Gilsig from “Glee” for the irritating sister-in-law who gets on everybody's nerves . . . wrinkled John Noble to play one of Lollia's more crochety and elderly husbands . . . and one final cameo, the star charioteer who drives for Diana's arch-rival racing team. Since I'm a Yankee-hating Red Sox fan, and Diana adores the Reds team and hates the Blues team, let's have the obnoxious-but-talented Blues charioteer be played by the obnoxious-but-talented Derek Jeter.
So, that's my fantasy cast for my mythical movie of “Daughters of Rome.” Of course, even if it did end up being made into a movie, I would not have any say in the casting or even the script. J.K. Rowling was able to put her foot down when some producer wanted to re-set Harry Potter in the United States, and George R.R. Martin was invited to help write the screenplay for HBO's “Game of Thrones” – but most of us writers have no power over what happens to our novels once they're sold for film. So if “Daughters of Rome” gets made into a soft-core porn direct-to-video flick about four sisters in nipple caps who practice incest, bondage, and threesomes, don't blame me.
In the meantime, if you've read “Daughters of Rome” and have your own casting ideas, I'm all ears.
July 10, 2010
Several readers have written to ask me the following question: Will my historical fiction novel “Mistress of Rome” ever be made into a movie?
I have to say, probably not. Historical movies are invariably big budget: it costs a lot of money to fund the necessary CGI, the on-location shooting, the sumptuous palaces. I shudder to think what the bill would be for all my Colosseum scenes – lions and tigers and costumed extras, oh my. HBO's superb TV show “Rome” was canceled despite rave reviews and a big following, simply because it cost too much. And it doesn't help that Rome is one of the most expensive places on earth to shoot film in. So I don't imagine my little historical fiction novel will make it to the big screen, not unless I somehow turn into the next J.K. Rowling or unless Ridley Scott becomes my number 1 fan. Neither of which is too bloody likely.
But that doesn't mean I can't fantasize, of course. I always mentally cast my books as movies – it's a useful exercise, trying to envision your characters in terms of real people. And useful exercises aside, I can always fantasize about getting to meet Clive Owen when he plays a hero from my book. So without further ado, here’s how I would cast “Mistress of Rome” – given, of course, unlimited control and budget. (more…)