Writing Against Casting?Complications Ensue
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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

We watched MUSIC AND LYRICS last night. It's an amusing bit of fluff with no plot and very witty dialog. (The plot has the problems you often get with a writer / director -- no one with the power to say, "Oh, come on! Come up with something more convincing. The high quality of the dialog makes me think they had a real writer in to punch up the dialog. Whoever he is, he's good.)

What I find interesting is how adorable Drew Barrymore's character is. When you think about it, her character is really an annoying person: demanding, high-strung, pretentious. But Drew is utterly charming.

If you think about it, Sally in WHEN HARRY MET SALLY is no prize, either. But because she's Meg Ryan, you see what Harry sees in her.

Is the lesson here that you can write a main character to be irritating, and then cast a professionally adorable actress (Rachel McAdams!), and she'll bring it off? Is there a useful tension between the character as written and as played?

If you write your main character adorable, and then cast someone adorable, do you get such a helping of adorableness that the audience's head explodes?

Certainly it's safer to write your main character the way you want her to be perceived. You can have a real problem if you write her annoying and the actress plays her the way she's written -- cf. THE SURE THING.

I'd still be inclined to write my main character adorable (if that's what she's supposed to be). That's what I've done with my character Kiki Wilder in my feature spec THE ALTERNATIVE. And if I get to direct it, I'll cast an adorable actress -- and tell her to relax.

But it makes me wonder: is it better to write her edgy and then cast her soft?

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I have to take issue with the assumption that a "real writer" was used to punch up the dialogue. What makes you think the dialogue cannot have been written by the credited writer? Isn't it possible that he's much better at dialogue than anything else and that's why the dialogue feels superior to the other elements of the script?

Throwing around this kind of casual remark without knowing the facts is very unfair. What's a "real writer"? One who is not also a director?

By Blogger Unknown, at 5:26 AM  

There's a fine line between adorably neurotic and irritatingly neurotic. (See Kate Beckinsale in Serendipity. Adorable girl, irritating neurosis.) It seems to me that the reasons we fall in love have as much to do with the endearing shortcomings as with the attraction and the admirable qualities. But the shortcomings one person finds endearing will be like nails on a chalkboard to someone else.

I think there is also a real danger of cutesyness (if that's a word) if everything is just too adorable.

By Blogger angela, at 10:16 AM  

I think the most important thing is to make the character believable. What's true is what's relatable for audiences.

And what's true is that women (and men) have flaws and strengths. Play up both to get the sympathy (or better yet empathy) from your audience.

The more believable a character is, the better off your actress will be. Good acting has a foundation in good writing.

By Blogger Nathania Johnson, at 1:50 PM  

This is an interesting concept--write the character as edgy, but then cast a cute, adorable actress. I think that when a screenwriter or director is going with that route, whether intentionally or not, it is not the main cause for how the audience will view the character.

Alex, your post made me think about the same concept for lets say a drama/horror genre--writing a character to be solemn and reserved, and casting an actor that is known more for his comic skills rather than his dramatic abilities. A couple of examples that come to my mind are Jim Carrey in "The Number 23," and Ashton Kutcher in "The Butterfly Effect." I never saw the Jim Carrey film, but I did see "The Butterfly Effect."

I have to admit, for the first 20 or so minutes of that movie, I was half expecting to see Kelso from the "70's Show" to appear on screen, which did distract me from actually following the storyline, but after that initial reaction passed I was able to look past the actor's characteristics, and instead view the character as he is portrayed in the movie.

Back to the OP, I don't think casting an actor that fits the role, such as cute character=cute actor, would make the character's qualities over-the-top or "make the audience's head explode." I think how the audience will actually perceive the character on screen, will depend on how the writer or director ultimately uses the actor in the role. There may be a bit of expectation of the character's qualities, because of the actor, but it won't be the main influence on how the character is viewed.

By Blogger Chris Chun, at 3:33 AM  

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