Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Re-casting characters

I was thinking about last Monday's post that featured the Beyonce song and dance, "Put a Ring on it" and how instead of Beyonce or a similar representation, we had a young, gay boy (ie. a remake of sorts from Glee).

This got me thinking about casting characters and how even if the storyline remains the same, the "who" is equally as important in how we interpret what's happening. In fact, I was editing a scene this weekend and I kept playing around with the idea of a character walking like she's on a catwalk. If the character that initially came to mind did this then it seems snooty but I re-cast it and suddenly it seemed playful and fun. One character could pull something off where another couldn't.

The best example I've heard of this was a staging of Othello in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately I didn't live here back then but my friend Jonathan was able to catch it. The director had taken liberties in casting but kept the narrative completely in tact. The result was a White Othello and a Black Desdemona. In fact, everyone's race from the book was flipped on it's head. The play sought to ask whether viewers made any different assumptions on the characters. Perhaps to a lesser extent you could compare the 1967 "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" movie with the re-make "Guess Who."

I think this stresses the fact that any information a writer provides about a character is filtered through the eyes of the reader and yet there can be so many different readers from so many different walks of life. It's not like you're giving a rally speech to a bunch of people who already support you. As a writer we may know our characters infinitely, in fact we should. We should know who their favorite band is and what kind of ice cream they like and everything else but we should also remember that the reader doesn't know this, doesn't know anything about these people as of page 1.

So how do we ensure that characters are interpreted as we intend them to be? I think the best advice on this is for the writer to have not only a thorough and complete understanding of all characters, even secondary ones, but to really carve out an identity for that person early on and, most importantly, remain true to that identity.

This later fact is where I've already had some disappointment in some recent fall premieres on television. In a couple season openers I've taken a step back from the juicy drama and thought, "I don't buy it. That person would never to that!" Am I the only person that's felt this way? Have you questioned a character's motivation, felt their actions weren't authentic or read a book where your interpretation was not in the least parallel to other's?

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