Humans have been telling stories to one another since they first developed language, and no matter how a tale is told, the basic elements remain the same. Like paintings and plays, or movies and photographs, books of fiction come down to selected scenes, and within scenes, selected details. We can never tell the whole story, any more than a map can depict the location of every pebble or grain of sand at the beach in a seaside village.
So reimagining a novel as a movie is both an easy task and one that requires unique and special skills. Not all the scenes and details from a book carry over to the screen, and when they do the medium may change and shape the story. A visual image can replace paragraphs of descriptive text, but the kind of background explanation and inner dialogue so easy in the written form may require an entirely different presentation as cinema. Like the failed idea of the multi-sport stadium, a book written with the intent of turning it into a film will likely fall short as both a novel and a movie.
With those long-winded (and non-cinematic) musings in mind, let me turn to the question of how my own novel – Impeachment Day – might translate to the screen. I never had that in mind while writing the book, but now that I’m done it’s fun to fantasize about who would direct the screen version or star in it. Perhaps there’d be a role in the screenplay for the author/narrator – namely me. I’d pick George Clooney, of course. I’m almost 16 years older and don’t look a bit like him, but think how it would change my public image.
As for the actual main characters in the book – President Sally Macalester, Marine Corps Commandant Wallace Stromdahl, and Georgetown professor Samir Al Mahdi – my imagined actors reflect my age and perhaps more than a bit of a desire to turn back time. I’d love to see Meryl Streep as the President, and Brian Dennehy as the general. He actually did serve in the Marine Corps, and played college football at Columbia. He’d certainly be physically imposing in the role, but he’s even older than me, and his false public claims about serving in Vietnam are more than a little troubling. For the role of Al Mahdi I’d pick Omar Sharif, if only he were still alive.
And so I’m left to look for a more up-to-date strong, tall, and attractive female lead, a younger and less conflicted male lead, and a main supporting character who is still among us. I’ve come up with one fairly obvious and easy choice, one from the far outfield (I would say from far right field, but I don’t want even a hint that I’d consider a right wing political type), and one that will likely be a head scratcher. The easy choice would be Charlize Theron, who’s about the right age, has the right (i.e. left) politics, and has the looks and screen presence to take on the role of President Macalester.
For Walleye Stromdahl I’d go to the outfield (more accurately football field) and pick a one-time actor who’s reverted to his first profession – NFL football. Howie Long, the Hall of Fame defensive lineman, clearly has the looks and physical presence to play the Commandant, and if he’d put some effort into it, he could be a more than competent actor. He missed football and returned to broadcasting instead of acting, but since we’re just fantasizing here, let’s assume the Stromdahl role would lure him back to Hollywood.
That leaves Samy Al Mahdi and a director. There are few Arab-American actors, and I don’t think any of them would quite fit the bill as Samy. So, while he’d not be typecast as an Arab, how about someone like Ed Norton to play the role? He has both the smarts and acting skills, and the physical prowess it would require. Plus, like me, he grew up in Maryland and went to school at Yale. I now live in Minnesota, so naturally my initial first choice for director (or directors) would be the Coen brothers. Thing is, their movies tend to be smaller and more intimately personal, and I’m not sure they’d feel comfortable with big action scenes where all the explosives in the world seem to be going off at once. So who else? Maybe a choice between 2010 best picture director Kathryn Bigelow (for The Hurt Locker) and 2013 best picture director Ben Affleck (for Argo). Or maybe a joint effort? In the blogosphere, all things are possible.
Them’s my thoughts on Impeachment Day in Hollywood. I’d welcome your input and thoughts. Please read the book and tell me whom you’d pick for the starring roles.