Who would you want to play the lead role in your book?

Paramount’s planned film release of ‘One Shot’ this coming December has raised a few eyebrows over the choice of Tom Cruise to play the part of Jack Reacher – the enigmatic creation of Lee Child in a hit series that now spans 17 novels.

Standing at five-seven it’s not hard to see why the choice of Cruise has puzzled many people, particularly when you consider the larger-than-life ex-MP he’s bringing to the screen is a six-five monolith of raw muscle. It could be the kind of miscasting on a scale of handing Australian actor George Lazenby a kilt and asking him to play James Bond in the 1969 version of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service!

The author himself is diplomatic on the subject. Here’s what Child had to say about it: “Obviously, Tom Cruise doesn’t match the physical description of Reacher in the books… but the movie is not going to match the book anyway. More than that though, which actor does match Reacher physically? What people forget is that Tom Cruise is quite possibly the best actor of his generation.”

No argument there. I for one can’t wait to see Cruise in action, if only because the Reacher franchise has been overlooked for too long by Holywood (followers of my blog will know I’ve harped on about his before).

The debate, however, serves a wider purpose. It got me thinking who we, as authors, would wish to see cast in the role of bringing our hero/heroine to the big screen.

Yeah, I know chance would be a fine thing – but bear with me! There’s a serious side to thinking about your characters. Who do they resemble? What traits from well-known people have we used to conjure up an image for our readers? Have we thought about famous actors or actresses at any stage during the construction of our stories?

Whether we admit to it or not, portrayals on the big screen shape forever the way we think of and remember stories. An interesting example of this is Rod Steiger who turned down the title role in the 1970 film Patton. As a result whenever we think of Patton, there’s only one image that springs to mind – that of George C. Scott, whose performance is still ranked as one of Holywood’s finest. An interesting aside to this is that two years after Patton was released, Steiger was in pole position for the lead in The Godfather, but spoiled his chances by refusing the part of Don Corleone (taken by Marlon Brando, his co-star in On the Waterfront 18 years earlier) and insisting that he play the part of the younger son Michael (taken by Al Pacino, who later turned down Star Wars!).

While we’re on the subject, here’s a few more what-could-have-beens:

Will Smith turned down The Matrix (Keanu Reeve)
Alec Baldwin turned down The Fugitive (Harrison Ford)
Melanie Griffith turned down Thelma and Louise (Susan Sarandon)
Michael Madson turned down Pulp Fiction (John Travolta)
Robert Redford turned down The Graduate (Dustin Hoffman)
Mel Gibson turned down Gladiator (Russell Crowe)
John Travolta turned down Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks)
Hugh Jackman turned down Casino Royale (Daniel Craig)
Clare Danes turned down Titanic (Kate Winslett)
Susan Dey turned down Grease (Olivia Newton-John)
Tom Selleck & Nick Nolte turned down Raiders of the Lost Ark (Harrison Ford).

Believe me the list is pretty endless. I like the multiple rejections list which includes Richard Gere, Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds and Arnold Schwarzenegger all turning down the Die Hard role made famous by Bruce Willis.

Or what about Daryl Hanna, Michelle Pfeiffer, Meg Ryan and Molly Ringwald leaving a clear field for Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman?

Okay, I’m starting to show off a bit, but let me finish this section with my favourite story. Apparently Tom Cruise was lined up to take the lead in the 2010 CIA action film Salt but when Angeline Jolie got wind of the story she muscled in. The script was rewritten to change the gender of the lead character from Edwin Salt to Evelyn Salt! Imagine that happening to one of your novels?

Let’s go back full circle. Who would you want to play your lead character in a film or television adaptation?

I’ve had a bit of fun trying to dream up actors and actresses for roles in recent books I’ve read. See what you think.

The Mel Comley books about policewoman Lorne Simpkins would make a great television series featuring British actress Suranne Jones.

Matt Hilton’s hero, Joe Hunter, deserves someone of the stature of Jason Statham or Hugh Jackman.

What about Gerard Butler for Stephen Leather’s Spider Shepherd?

I need help here. Give it a go – match an actor or actress with a character from your book or from a recent book you’ve read. I’d love to hear your thoughts – post them please in a comment below.

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14 Responses to Who would you want to play the lead role in your book?

  1. Tamy Burns says:

    I’ve had the honor of doing just this for my book What She Knew. Kim (my co-author) and I have brainstormed who we think should play each of our characters. We have Cameron Diaz, Drew Marrymore or Scarlett Johansson for Marilyn Monroe. For John F Kennedy, we have Greg Kinnear, Matt Damon or Matthew Perry. It is so fun to think of who might bring our characters to life.

    Great blog! Really enjoyed learning who passed up a roll that turned out to be iconic.

  2. Susan Condon says:

    Interesting post Joe – as always. I was amazed when I heard that Tom Cruise was to be cast as Anne Rice’s, Lestat, in Interview with the Vampire and I remember reading that Anne Rice herself was not happy with the choice – but, I have to admit, he was absolutely perfect in the role. Never what I would have imagined when reading the books, but he definitely seems to be able to bring whatever is needed to the role – so, I’m not as surprised to hear he’s playing Jack Reacher. I suggested, a few years ago, when at a talk with John Connolly and Jo Nesbo, that Daniel Craig would be perfect for the role of Harry Hole (Jo Nesbo’s character). But everyone laughed! Then he ended up playing Mikael Blomkvist (Stieg Larsson’s character in The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo) – I was vindicated! And if I had a choice for my main character, with no age/time restraints, I’d choose Gregory Peck . . .

    • joemccoubrey1 says:

      Susan – Gregory Peck has to be a favourite. To Kill A Mockingbird, Guns of Navarone and Boys from Brazil just some of my favourites. Great choice!

  3. Nick says:

    I’ve been asked the ‘who would play’ question at readings/signings. Frank in ‘Frank’s Wild Years’ is (in my dreams) GaryOldman. He’d be on the money plus he’s from that part of the London where the book is set. With the book/film character trade-off in mind, the one that always struck me is Ken Kesey’s Randle McMurphy in the novel, ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ – Kesey writes him as a wild red-haired Irish-American. In other words, the anti-Jack Nicholson. I guess if it works, it works.

  4. kevintaggart says:

    Jack Nicholson and Dustin Hoffman turned down the role of Michael Corleone in the Godfather.
    How about James McAvoy or Charlie Hunnam for the part of Mike Devon in Someone Has To Pay?

  5. Brad Fleming says:

    They say Ian Fleming hated the idea of Sean Connery playing James Bond. What do writers know anyway? 🙂

  6. Mel Comley (@Melcom1) says:

    Thanks Joe, I was thinking along the same lines for Lorne. The last book in the series is due for release next month! 😉

    • joemccoubrey1 says:

      Mel, you can’t be serious! Did you really think of Suranne Jones? BTW can’t wait for your next instalment.

  7. Thomas Pluck says:

    I see a young Fred Ward when I envision Jay Corso. There aren’t many young actors who impress me enough. I liked Ryan Gosling in “Drive,” but he’s not a proper fit. Maybe Jared Leto, if it toughened up.

  8. pauldbrazill says:

    I’ve always thought of Sean Bean as Joe Hunter, Or is that the other way round? Great post!

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