12-13-13 – WROTE THE BOOK, HATED THE MOVIE
“I cried when I saw it. I said, ‘Oh, God, what have they done?'”
“…I was deeply disappointed.”
It was “crummy.”
Ouch. This isn’t what movie directors want to hear after a screening. Worse, these comments came not from random viewers, but from the authors of the books on which each film was based. (Which author said which is noted at the end of this post.)
Although authors dream of seeing their stories come alive on the big screen, it’s also a scary proposition. Most authors retain very little control over the film versions of their work. This isn’t for lack of trying: E.L. James (Fifty Shades of Grey) demanded approval of actors, production staff, and production decisions but still walked away with only script approval and “very little” creative control; P.L. Travers (Mary Poppins) had script approval, but her edits were mostly ignored; Ayn Rand hated the final version of The Fountainhead even though she herself had written the screenplay. All the legal wrangling in the world can’t change the fact that for an author, giving up any amount of control over a book is more an emotional event than an intellectual one. It’s no wonder that so much can – and does – disappoint.
Disappointment often starts with the casting of characters who are almost like family to the authors who created them. Here are a few instances where authors longed to save their characters from Hollywood:
Despite their friendship, P.L. Travers felt that Julie Andrews’s Mary Poppins was a “betrayal” of the character. As written, “Poppins” is plain, odd, and a little frightening. At least Travers didn’t fault Andrews for the saccharine version that appeared onscreen: “[Andrews] was quite prepared to put on a black wig, with a knob of hair at the back, and a turned-up nose…but to her surprise, as well as mine, Disney turned [Poppins] into a very pretty girl, which really loses the point.”
Stephen King (The Shining) would have cast Jon Voight, Christopher Reeve, or Michael Moriarty in the lead role of Jack Torrance. He feared that casting Jack Nicholson made the character psychopathic from the start instead of allowing a victimized descent into madness. King also objected to Shelley Duvall as Wendy, feeling that she projected too much emotional vulnerability to play a character he’d always pictured as a blonde cheerleader.
Poor Jack Nicholson. Ken Kesey didn’t want him for One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, either: Gene Hackman better fit Kesey’s image of McMurphy.
Anne Rice (Interview with the Vampire) had plenty to say when Tom Cruise was cast in the role of Lestat. She thought the choice “bizarre”: “[He is]…no more my Vampire Lestat than Edward G. Robinson is Rhett Butler.” First choices for the role were Daniel Day Lewis (who didn’t want to play a vampire) and Jeremy Irons (who was deemed too old).
Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) lobbied hard for comedian/writer Spike Milligan to play Willy Wonka and found Gene Wilder’s interpretation “pretentious” and “bouncy.”
Ian Fleming was horrified when 31-year-old Scotsman Sean Connery was cast as James Bond, considering the rough-edged actor the antithesis of his smooth, refined protagonist. Fleming preferred either Cary Grant or David Niven in the role.
Truman Capote condemned Breakfast at Tiffany’s as “the most miscast” film he’d ever seen. The Holly Golightly of his book was a tough character, nowhere near an Audrey Hepburn type. He’d wanted the role to go to his friend, Marilyn Monroe. In later years, he said that Jodie Foster would have been perfect to play Holly as he’d written her.
So, how did all these contested casting choices work out?
Julie Andrews and Jack Nicholson (for One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest) won Academy Awards for best actress/actor. Audrey Hepburn was nominated for an Academy Award. Gene Wilder earned a Golden Globe nomination for best actor. In addition, some authors changed their minds. Anne Rice ultimately praised Tom Cruise’s performance as Lestat, and Sean Connery’s portrayal of James Bond became so iconic that Ian Fleming started incorporating aspects of the actor’s movie portrayal into his books.
Print and film are very different media. Should authors simply accept the fact that the world they create on paper may not translate smoothly to the screen? Should they trust the visions of those who may be more knowledgeable about what works in film?
On the other hand, casting is one thing…what happens when creative changes are made to the plot and tone of a book?
To be continued next month….
Quotes: 1. P.L. Travers (Mary Poppins); 2. Stephen King (The Shining); 3. Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)