In college, I read Don DeLillo’s accessible postmodern satire White Noise twice for classes. Now I’ve taught the novel for 12 years in my AP Literature class. Suffice it to say I rather like it, and perennially I do a fantasy casting of the major characters. Just the other night, I was up too late discussing this topic with Michael. Here’s what we came up with.
JACK GLADNEY, age 51, over 6 ft with a bit of bulk, must look intimidating but also appear very average, even weak or vulnerable. Professor of Hitler Studies at College-on-the-Hill, middle class, white, father of many, husband of Babette, ex-husband of three others.
Fantasy casting choice #1: Liam Neeson. Correct height and build. Certainly appears in his 50’s, though he’s actually in his 60’s. Movies like Taken have established his persona as a total bad ass, but other roles, like in Love Actually have shown his average, vulnerable side. He has both comedic and dramatic chops.
Fantasy casting choice #2: Sean Bean. Again, the right body for it. Slightly over 51. Like Neeson, Bean is mostly known for being a warrior in Game of Thrones and Fellowship of the Rings, but he’s also played more average, geeky fellows. But the true genius of his persona in the role of Jack is that his characters always die. He is known for this. It would add the perfect level of irony to Jack’s question of “Who will die first?”
Fantasy casting choice #3: Oliver Platt. Platt has the height and extra weight that Jack puts on to appear more intimidating. He looks great in glasses and has Jack’s biting sarcasm. He can do verbally intimidating but also vulnerable. He’s the right age and is perfectly at home with dead pan comedy like DeLillo’s. If a “bigger name” is desired, put him in the role of Alfonse Stompanto or Dimitri Cotsakis–two of the American Environments professors at College-on-the-Hill.
Fantasy casting choice #4: Brad Pitt. Can you believe that Brad Pitt is turning 51 this December? Brad Pitt is no stranger to literary dark humor (Fight Club), Nazis (Inglourius Basterds), playing a father (The Tree of Life), or apocalyptic survival (World War Z). He would certainly introduce a new audience to DeLillo. If we cast him, I want Fincher directing.
BABETTE GLADNEY, 40’s, above average height, “ample” in size, dirty blonde, white. Wife to Jack, multiple children, has multiple ex-husbands. Volunteers as a reader for the blind. Teaches community classes on standing and sitting posture, eating and drinking.
Fantasy casting choice #1: Busy Philipps. Philipps is a little too young at 35, but she makes up for that by being the right hair color, having the height, being slightly big-boned, and having fantastic comedy chops. She could put on a little weight for the role and be simply ideal. Here we see her in mommy mode with the non-glamorous look I envision for Babette.
Fantasy casting choice #2: Kate Winslet. Just under 40, Winslet is another perfectly sized actress. The right hair. The round face. She has a soft, harmless look about her that would reflect Jack’s view of her (with surprises to follow). Winslet isn’t known for her comedic roles, but her turn in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (another po-mo dark comedy) is enough to convince me of her aptitude.
MURRAY JAY SISKIND, 30’s or 40’s, shortish, wears corduroy, should look ethnically Jewish, intellectual. Visiting professor in American Environments to College-on-the-Hill with aspirations of becoming the pre-eminent Elvis scholar. Must be able to look both vulnerable and sneaky, harmless as well as manipulative.
Fantasy casting choice #1: Zach Galifianakis. Galifianakis would make a fantastic Murray, though he’s not necessarily known for his intellectualism, he can definitely pull off the corduroy. I also think he can manage the strange space between seeming harmless and being manipulative. Oh yeah, and he’s quite funny. I could absolutely see him paying a prostitute to let him perform the Heimlich maneuver on her.
Fantasy casting choice #2: David Krumholtz. Krumholtz has a bit of experience playing the intellectual, Jewish, college professor (6 seasons of Numb3rs). Again, he makes the corduroy look great, and he’s adept at both comedy and drama.
DMITRI COTSAKIS, 40’s, very large man, above 300 lbs, former roadie, American Environments professor and currently the main competition for Murray’s bid to be the Elvis scholar.
Fantasy casting choice: John Goodman. Sure, Goodman is getting up there in years, but he can still appear much younger. He’s had plenty of experience with social satire and dark humor through his collaborations with the Coen brothers. By the way, the Coen’s could totally direct this–Blacksmith is described as a Midwestern town, and I see no reason why it couldn’t be in their beloved Minnesota.
ALFONSE STOMPANATO, 50’s, New Yorker, intimidating, department head of American Environments.
Fantasy casting choice: John Turturro. A true New Yorker, can pull off intimidating easily, and like Goodman, has excellent experience with the dark satires of the Coens.
VERNON DICKEY, 70’s, “string beany,” a man who wears denim and has lived a working class life, father of Babette.
Fantasy casting choice: Kris Kristofferson. In my head, I was thinking John Hawkes, but he’s about two decades too young. But Kristofferson will do nicely. He’s got that working class, denim-wearing, wizened soul thing down.
WILLIE MINK, aka Mr. Gray, 30’s, burnt out, half crazed, but was previously a biochemist of incredible promise.
Fantasy casting choice: Robert Pattinson. Based on his performance in Cosmopolis, a film based on a different DeLillo novel, Pattinson gets my support. Plus, it would give him yet another chance to play against type and show his comedic and dramatic range. Twilight’s pretty hard to overcome.
WINNIE RICHARDS, 30’s or 40’s, brilliant biologist, tall, gawky, paranoid.
Fantasy casting choice #1: Anne Hathaway. Although she’s got glamorous down, I bet she’d be game for gawk-ing up her image. Kind-of a reversal of The Princess Diaries.
Fantasy casting choice #2: Judy Greer. Her work on Arrested Development, Archer, and others prove her worth as a comedic character actor. She certainly has the gawk, and I think paranoia is well within her wheelhouse.
So, hey, if anyone wants to develop this novel into film, I’ve available to consult. I’ve even thought about how the book could be adapted to screenplay. Contact my people.