21 August 2018

Casting Call

When I write a story or novel, I picture it as a movie in my head, as I’m sure many of you do. In fact, I don’t outline per se but I often write the first draft as a screenplay—more on this in a future blog. But today I want to talk about casting my stories. And since Broken Windows, the sequel to my Shamus-winning White Heat is coming out on 9/10, I’ll start with that.

Jack Nicholson
I’m an “old movie” guy, so I often think of classic movie stars for parts. But since Humphrey Bogart is at that great café in the sky I don’t think he’s the ideal actor for the lead right now. But there was a time when I would often either picture Bogart or Jack Nicholson for many of my leading male characters. When I’d write the characters I’d hear their voices in my head. Once, while working on a script with a producer he suggested Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer for the leads and who was I to argue with that, especially since he’d worked with them and it was a real possibility. Ultimately, that didn’t get made. But it was nice while it lasted.

So in my mind I might visualize Jack Nicholson or Humphrey Bogart delivering a line of dialog but I can't write that in my novel. I have to convey that feeling, the essence of that character without writing "now imagine Jack Nicholson saying this line." But it does help to have that visual image in my mind as I write dialogue  and description and describe the actions.

Now to my perfect casting:

Broken Windows is set mostly in Los Angeles in 1994, during the fight over California’s notorious anti-illegal alien Proposition 187—a precursor to the immigration fights going on in the country today. While the storm rages over Prop 187, a young woman climbs to the top of the famous Hollywood sign—and jumps to her death. An undocumented day laborer is murdered. And a disbarred and desperate lawyer in Venice Beach places an ad in a local paper that says: “Will Do Anything For Money.”—Private Investigator Duke Rogers, and his very unPC partner, Jack, must figure out what ties together these seemingly unrelated incidents.

Ryan Gosling
So, who would I cast in the main parts? Of course this changes as time slips by. My ideal casting for Jack would have been Nick Nolte in his prime. But these days, I’m thinking John Cena or maybe Michael Fassbinder or Christian Bale. And for Duke, Mark Wahlberg or Ryan Gosling. Maybe Jeremy Renner, as Duke’s not a big dude. For Eric, the disbarred lawyer, Amy suggested Robert Downey, Jr., and he would be perfect. Maybe a little older than the character, but those things often change from book to movie. Eric’s girlfriend, Lindsay, AnnaSophia Robb.

AnnaSophia Robb
For the mysterious Miguel, who responds to the lawyer’s ad to do anything for money, maybe Antonio Banderas. Possibly Edward James Olmos or Andy Garcia. And for Marisol, who sets the plot in motion when she asks Duke to investigate the murder of her brother, Catalina Sandino Moreno. For Myra Chandler (guess who that’s an homage to), an LAPD detective that Duke and Jack run into in both Broken Windows and White Heat, and who’s a bit more sympathetic to them than her partner, Haskell, I’m thinking Jennifer Aniston. Why not? It’s my fantasy. And for Susan Karubian, the woman who jumps from the Hollywood sign, I picture Mila Kunis, although I would hate to kill her off so early in the film….

Catalina Sandino Moreno

Jennifer Aniston

Jesse L. Martin
Ghosts of Bunker Hill series: A series of short stories that have appeared in Ellery Queen. Howard Hamm is the lead detective in this series of stories that take place in the Bunker Hill and Angelino Heights areas (as well as other neighborhoods) of L.A. Howard “inherits” a lovingly restored Bunker Hill Victorian that’s been moved to Angelino Heights when its owner and his best friend is murdered. He’s a modern, high tech guy who, initially lives in a high rise condo on Bunker Hill. In fact, maybe where his current house formerly lived before being moved. There’s only one person I ever thought of when writing this part: Jesse L. Martin of Law & Order fame. When I’m writing Howard, I’m thinking Jesse. There’s a female cop that Howard comes across on cases—and off—Detective Erin Bowen. I think Natalie Portman, with darker hair, would be perfect for her.


Casting is a strange thing and truly an art. If you’ve ever seen different actors in the same part you know what I mean. One person brings something that the other doesn’t. Sometimes it’s better and sometimes not. And sometimes it’s just that we’re used to someone in a part, so if someone else takes it over it’s not that they’re better or worse, just different. At the same time, a good or bad—or just the right—actor in a part can make all the difference for a character.

Who would you cast for your tales, and why?


And now for the usual BSP:

Broken Windows releases on September 10th and is available for pre-order now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Down & Out Books.

Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website www.PaulDMarks.com


  1. Paul,

    I think your concept of visualizing writing as if it were a film is a great idea. It makes the writing itself much more real and vivid to readers.

  2. Thanks, Jacqueline. I guess we all have to just find what works best for us. Maybe this can work for you, too. :-)

  3. A really interesting approach. I must confess I never think about "the movie version" when I am writing.

  4. Paul,

    Fun post. I actually used a book on writing screenplays to help me structure some of my earlier works, and for years I thought John Cusack would be perfect as Woody Guthrie. I never quite figured out who should play Megan Traine, but Minnie Driver was in the running because I loved her and Cusack together in Grosse Pointe Blank.

    I seldom watch films now and know few current actors (my wife tries to keep me up to speed), so I never figured out how to cast the Zach Barnes series...although I had a couple of ideas for Hartford cop Trash Hendrix.

    More and more, I found that thinking of place settings as a tracking shot and moving in close helped me focus on the mood in the location, which was a good thing. Mood works better for me that visuals alone.

  5. Hi, Paul and everyone.

    I don't have any specific actors in mind as I write. I like to leave characters just open enough to be played by several different actors depending which personality aspects a director wants to emphasize. This also gives the sense that the characters are fresh, that they don't resemble any celebrities.

    I'm with you, though, that the better I can visualize characters and what they do, the easier a story is to write.

  6. Nice. Wish you the best with it.

  7. Fun post, Paul! I'm never good when this question comes my way about my own work, but with your background in and immersion in film and the filmmaking world, you're a pro at this!

  8. Paul, I've never really thought about casting. While I do have voices for all my characters, they're usually people I know or have overheard in restaurants, airports, etc. (I'm currently working on a piece where the main suspect is based on a wonderful big bawdy blonde Australian I met on a cruise.)
    But a nice concept. If anyone ever wanted to make a Laskin series (any offer taken) with Sergeant Grant Tripp, I'd like Jake Gyllenhaal or Peter Sarsgaard, and Janeane Garofalo for Linda Thompson.

  9. I've always imaged Peter Boyle (as he was in The Friends of Eddie Coyle, not as he was in Everybody Loves Raymond) as Big Dick Rickenbacher, the private eye protagonist of my novel All White Girls. He's the only actor I've ever imagined in the role of any of my characters, and he would have been so perfect.

  10. I've never been able to imagine who would play my characters? I'm going to have to think about "why not" a little...hmmm. Interesting and thought provoking post, Paul.

  11. Ha ... I was writing a drabble called "Broken Windows" partially inspired by the fact that some kid threw a rock at the picture window in my living room & it cost $200 to replace. Unfortunately I didn't finish in time to submit to the anthology I was aiming for.

    It can be fun to imagine who would play you, or your friends & family, in the movie about "your" life.

    Mr. Elizabeth considers Basil Rathbone to be the one true Sherlock.

  12. Paul, I also write the sort of books that could easily be adapted to screen (low on internal monologue - big on dialogue/action.) And in my head, I do see real actors. Thing is, most are too old now to play the parts!

  13. Thank you, everyone, for your comments. And I'm responding to them all, but here in this long response.

    Thanks, Janice. I guess it’s my background coming to the fore.

    Thanks, Steve. And I can see Cusack as Woody. I also loved Grosse Point Blank. And I generally like him, even when I don’t like the movie. – I’m also not as up on current actors as I used to be, for a variety of reasons.

    Gerald, I think it’s good to leave it open and, of course, you want to have a choice as to who plays the part. I just sort of think of those people I mentioned when I’m writing. I don’t know why…

    Thanks, O’Neil.

    Thanks, Art. Well, I can understand what you’re saying. And if someone put me on the spot, like at a panel or something, my mind would probably go blank. Of course, these days it’s blank a lot……

    Eve, it’s interesting. Most of the comments here say what you said, that they don’t think of casting. I guess it’s just my background that I think like that. Kind of like a Pavlov dog. But I also do what you do, vis a vis the big bawdy blonde Australian – I’ll see people in real life that I have in mind when I’m writing. And I certainly take incidents from real life.

    Michael, In his earlier days, Boye was a very different type for the most part than later. I don’t know remember if it was his first movie, but it was very early on, and I remember him “Joe.” And I know what you mean about getting a set idea in your mind about who to play a part. And sometimes it might even happen :-) .

    Thanks, Madeline. Yeah, it’s kind of fun trying to figure who would play a part. When I was doing that for a living “they”’d always ask who you thought would be good and soemtimes they’d even take your advice. Sometimes…

    Elizabeth, what a bummer. I hope they caught that kid. And, while I think about who might play my characters I never really think about who might play me or my friends. That would be fun to consider. And I agree with Mr. Elizabeth, B. Rathbone is the only Sherlock.

    I have the same problem, Melodie. Thinking of actors either too old – or too dead – to play the parts. But it’s still fun to think about.

  14. I Ilike Nic nolte for Jack.
    And what about Saul for Eric (from Beaking Bad) and maybe Jesse for Miguel.
    In the middle of NW now. It's sooo good! 😎

  15. All good choices, Lisa. And you had me freaked out when you said NW. But I get it now :-) .

  16. I don't think of an actor, old or new, as the physical embodiment of my characters. I reference actors, the older ones, throughout my work and the old movies, too, as do you, but when it comes to modern-day actors, in truth, I don't know the names of any of them. I live in a time capsule and don't want to leave. Maybe someday I'll catch a more current movie and be pleasantly surprised, but not today.


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