Thursday, March 20, 2008
Greetings everyone and thanks to Nathaniel for inviting me to pitch in while he’s away. For those of you who don’t know, I’m a regular contributor at Awards Daily.
I’d like to use this opportunity to reflect on several upcoming adaptations, starting with a campy television classic.
The Film: Dark Shadows, currently slated for 2010 and listed as “In Development” over at IMDB.
The Source: The popular supernatural soap that ran from 1966 to 1971, and inspired devoted fandom (from pop songs to conventions), two earlier films, a short-lived television resurrection in the early 1990s, and a 2004 WB pilot that failed to take off. The plot featured vampires, witches, zombies, werewolves, beatniks, drunks, and clueless virgins mixed up in a sudsy and melodramatic cocktail. Audiences sat enthralled each weekday afternoon to the highs, lows and accidental live burials of the aristocratic Collins family, owners of the Collinwood mansion in Collinsport, Maine.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the show, here's a DVD teaser featuring grave robber Willie Loomis, who's in for a nasty surprise:
The Skinny: Last summer Variety reported that Warner Bros. was teaming with Johnny Depp’s Infinitum-Nihil and Graham King’s GK Films to develop a feature. The rights deal was made with the estate of Dan Curtis, who created the series and served as its director/producer. Depp and King are listed as producers along with David Kennedy, who ran Dan Curtis Productions until Curtis died in 2006.
Depp, who has expressed his childhood love for the series in interviews, is expected (rumored) to take on the iconic role of Barnabas Collins, the centuries old vampire known for his fashion sense (dapper Ohrbach’s suits, flowing Inverness cape and wolf cane) and knack for overreacting. If I had a dollar for every time he uttered the line “[Insert character name here] must DIE!” (dum dum dummm) I’d be very wealthy.
I’m excited, but…: Last year at Awards Daily I shared my initial thoughts about the possibility of Depp playing this role, noting that the Oscar nominee is the perfect actor to help Barnabas rise from the Collins family crypt. Post-Sweeney Todd, I still think he can do it, but I worry that his actorly tics (especially if they are directed by Tim Burton) could push Dark Shadows too far across the stylistic camp line. That said, one reason Sweeney Todd worked for me, despite the un-Broadway-like voices, is because Burton and Depp managed to get the tone right. I can’t imagine them sinking their creative teeth into Dark Shadows without scaling gothic heights, but my hope is they keep the pathos and find the right balance. Jonathan Frid, who played Barnabas in the soap, injected the character with humanity, even when the script called on him to deliver seriously clunky dialogue.
In the Director’s Chair: In addition to the gothic aspects of this story, Dark Shadows lends itself well to a Burton/Depp collaboration due to the original series’ tendency to flirt with Ed Wood-like badness. Bad acting, line flubs, wobbly sets and visible boom mics were part of the Collinsport lore. To be fair, the series was shot at a break-neck pace, with nearly every scene done in one take. If an actor messed up, they would correct themselves right in front of the camera. Another possibility for director is Quentin Tarantino, who is also a fan of the original series and even sports his own Barnabas Wolf Cane.
Cast Contemplation: Besides Depp as Barnabas, other key roles include Victoria Winters, the hopelessly naïve ingénue; Maggie Evans, the slightly less naïve ingénue, the aforementioned pathetic man-servant Willie Loomis, tough doc Julia Hoffman, Collins family matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, and bitchy witch Angelique Bouchard.
The 1991 revival diminished the role of Maggie and put more emphasis on Vicki, though I think Maggie is more interesting (despite Vicki’s “my name is Victoria Winters” opening monologue). So my hope is that Maggie is restored to her full Josette-reborn, 18th Century doll clutching, “count the bricks” glory.
The actress chosen to take on this character should be more Kathryn Leigh Scott (the original Maggie, pictured left, from Collinwood.net) than Alexandra Moltke Isles (the original Vicki). As the object of Barnabas’s confused lust, she needs to project innocence but intelligence. Actresses I could see in the part include Natalie Portman, Rachel McAdams or Anne Hathaway. McAdams would probably be my first choice.
Actor John Karlen (who would go on to later television fame on Cagney & Lacey) originated the role of Willie and gave his characterization perfect shades of “pathetic underling.” While an obvious choice would be Steve Buscemi, I’d like to see the filmmakers go against type, but with actors who can pull off creepy. I’m thinking Jude Law or Matt Damon. The question is this: Who would you rather see Johnny Depp beat with a wolf cane?
Grayson Hall (an Oscar nominee for Night of the Iguana), originated the role of controlling shrink Dr. Julia Hoffman, whose questionable methods and attitude make her my favorite character (so far) from the original series. The epitome of Barnabas’s foolishness is that he can’t see how fabulous the not-so-good doctor is since he’s blinded by the boring (but youthful) babes. If Burton ends up directing this, I’ll expect Helena Bonham Carter to take on this role, and since she doesn’t have to sing, I think she’d be a pretty good choice. Other actresses I see filling Dr. Hoffman’s bouffant-do include Nicole Kidman, Diane Lane or, in a brilliant retro-casting choice, Winona Ryder.
Fans of the show have posited that Leigh Scott should return to the series to take on the role of Elizabeth, created by actress Joan Bennett. She does seem like the one original player who could best fit into a new screen version. Other actresses I could see in this regal role include Susan Sarandon or Glenn Close.
I’m least familiar with the character of Angelique, originated by Lara Parker (shown in the image at the top of this post, from her web site), since I'm still making my way through the series DVDs and haven’t actually gotten to her debut. But based on what my boyfriend (my Dark Shadows “enabler”) has told me, the actress in this role would have to be good at going over-the-top. Two actresses come to mind in terms of delivering that kind of diva-like performance without edging too far into cartoon-y: Michelle Pfeiffer and Angelina Jolie. Madonna, a fan of the original series, would also be an intriguing choice. If Tarantino takes the directing reigns, his blonde goddess Uma Thurman would probably be considered. I'm not sure if either has the dramatic grit to temper the camp.
Bonus Casting Tip: Lindsay Lohan as Carolyn Stoddard (originally played by Nancy Barrett), the rebellious daughter of Elizabeth, who briefly dates a beatnik named Buzz (Ben Foster?) just to get back at mom for agreeing to a blackmail-induced marriage to sleazy Jason McGuire (a brilliant cameo by Bruce Willis).
Deliberation: This project, if it ever moves beyond the development stage, is ripe with cinematic possibilities. But given the overabundance of movie vampires, can it really stand out or will it be weighed down by its cult and campy status? Whether you attend the Dark Shadows Festival annually or not, I welcome your input in the comments.
To help inspire you, I end with another video, this one from 1970's House of Dark Shadows: