Monday, September 01, 2008

Cast This! Then We Came to the End

August's Cast This! book club selection, for our imaginary movie-making pleasure, was the comedic (tragicomic?) office culture novel Then We Came to the End. The acclaimed best seller tells the crowded collective story of a group of managers and creatives at a fictional ad agency in Chicago. The agency is failing and one by one they're dropping like flies vanishing as they "walk Spanish" down the halls with pink slips in hand. The book sharply divided my friends, or rather, it sharply divided their opinions from mine -- I loved it, they did not. Hopefully, your feelings for it are closer to mine. But even if you didn't enjoy ... I hope you had fun trying to cast it as you read along.

The Boss
Lynn Mason described as a "cool detached beauty" would be the most important role to cast. She's the closest thing the book has to a lead though she doesn't take center stage till late in the narrative once her employees start gossiping about whether or not she has breast cancer. Described thusly
Lynn Mason was intimidating, mercurial, unapproachable, fashionable and consummately professional. She was not a big woman --in fact, she was rather petite -- but when we thought of her from home at night, she loomed large.
The workaholic partner of the firm keeps her personal life to herself. She doesn't have much of one. She commands respect from her presence alone but the actress essaying her will have to have a certain fragility about her. She makes her employees nervous but at the same time they actually do like and respect her so the actress needs to be formidable but warm ... the "unapproachable" description is from your unreliable narrator. I thought of Joan Allen for Lynn's steel spine. But Joan at 52 is a decade too old for the role. You need an actress with presence at 40 who can handle the steel with the vulnerability. Why not hand the plum role to someone who never gets center stage. Can Carrie Ann-Moss bring the warmth? But in truth, though I hate how unimaginatively over-cast she is, Cate Blanchett might well be perfect in both spirit, age and surface look.

In the Offices
Joe Pope, Lynn's right hand man, is probably gay... but he also believes in the separation of work and personal life so there's no telling. He bikes to the office, works hard and wins promotions. He won't play the office reindeer games and is a regular verbal target for the disgruntled set. Attractive but too short. Jamie Bamber? Not that he's short but he can do competent and a little uptight. Maybe I just want to see more of him.
Marcia Dwyer, pretty dark haired "born again". Perpetually is stuck in the 80s --loves hair metal bands. Though regularly unkind she's always apologizing for her mean-spirited remarks. (I pictured Joan Cusack in Working Girl for the overstated fashions... but that characterization is all wrong for this otherwise)
Karen Woo, the fast-talking office gossip... "her voice was a force of nature". She's also a hipster and prides herself on being ahead of the curve. They'd probably cast Lucy Liu on account of it's a Hollywood regulation that she gets bitchy parts. But who else?
Genevieve Latko-Devine -'the kindest and sweetest among us' is blond and regularly teased for her beauty. She is married and lives in the suburbs, stays above the fray.
Benny Shassburger, a "dough faced Jewish guy with corkscrew curls and a quick laugh" -the's the the office raconteur. His office is a favored meeting place.
Hank Neary, a black man who fancies himself an aspiring novelist. He's always ready with a quote, famous or otherwise. Tim Meadows? We need some funny actors in the movie.

Cubicle Dwellers
Chris Yop -graying longish but thinning hair. Late 40s? He's a nervous man "his animating hands shook a little as if battling a caffeine drip"
Carl Garbedian -is frustrated that he's not the central focus of his doctor wife's life. He's let himself go developing a substantial gut in his mid 30s. He suffers from manic depression and starts experimenting with prescription drugs he steels from desk drawers. It's a showy part and you know Hollywood would want Philip Seymour Hoffman in it even if his innate actorly cockiness would be all wrong for the role.
Larry Navotny got Amber Ludwig , a "compact" athletic dark-eyed woman, pregnant. Larry is married. Amber can't decided what to do about this growing thing in her body. You could cast any actors you'd love to see uncomfortably coupled here.
Jim Jackers an eager redhead, always seeking approval. William Lee Scott... remember him? Simon Woods?

Early Exits
Frank Brizzorella -the "old man" of the office. Chain smoker, eats the exact same lunch every day. Fond of sweater vests.
Janine Gorjanc
-her young daughter was murdered before the story begins. This brunette remains a part of the office conversation and is fleetingly seen, always full of grief. "Unpretty but not ugly. Hippy but not fat. Puffy about the face but with a youthful cuteness buried somewhere in there that might have have caused someone to be crazy about taking her to the high school prom."
Tom Mota -"built like a bulldog", goateed, unhinged... wears the same polo day after day and is the office practical joker. Sends bizarre e-mails, acts spontaneously and emotionally. Amber thinks he's a security threat.

Who would you cast in the roles?

Like any true ensemble cast it's impossible to divide the characters into "leads" or "supporting". If a movie were ever to be made of Then We..., it would need a master of the intertwining narrative behind the camera. But the film I made from it in my own head was an arthouse mess and missed the comedy too much.

Picturing it cinematically, it ended up feeling like an unholy cross between Mad Men (the TV series) for its attention to detail and the ad agency conversations, Office Space for cubicle comedy, Executive Suite (Robert Wise's underseen 1954 gem) for the office politics and the whiffs of desperation and Nashville from the late great Robert Altman for the seamless blending of a huge disparate cast into one collective story that's greater than the sum of any of its parts. I imagined Denis Lenoir behind the camera because I loved all the vaguely threatening office shots in Demonlover. I left in the non-omniscient narration (and I often hate voice over) which made the book as a movie in my head feel like it was directed with cool HAL-9000 detachment by Stanley Kubrick. Eight people would see this, my imagined movie, and probably not one of them would like it.

Perhaps you'll come up with something better in the comments?!


suburbanidealist said...

Marcia Dwyer - Debi Mazar?

Benny Shassburger - the only person I could think of when reading this book was Seth Rogen - am I alone?


seth is a good choice for the character's persona but he is a little young. I always forget how young he is.

Debi Mazar is a really fun pick for Marcia. Love it.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I know it's too cliche, but I also think Cate Blanchett could have the lead role. I believe for the role of Joe Pope I want Michael C. Hall. I imagine Hall like Pope. And I love the choice of Seth


Oooh Michael C Hall is a great choice for that part. Good thinking there anon. I was kinda stumped.

suburbanidealist said...

How do we feel about Amy Madigan as Janine?

adam k. said...

I think Nat just wanted Jamie Bamber to be "probably gay" in something ; )

Brooke Cloudbuster said...

Lauren Tom as Karen Woo. Hands down.

KEVIN M. said...

When reading Lynn Mason, I couldn't get Felicity Huffman out of my head. Just an idea...

Cass said...

I wasn't able to get my hands on a permanent copy of this, but I read the first 30 pages or so in the shop. So, I could be totally off in my reading of the character, but I have Eric Bana for Tom Mota. Although, if he's an 'Earl Exit' I suppose Bana is too big of a star


Cass --early exit isn't always anathema to stars and Tom Mota has a really crucial showy role so if they ever make a movie... I bet they go with a name for that role. I like imagining Eric Bana in anything.

Kevin M --as much as I don't cotton to Huffman as most people do, that's actually a smart choice given the descriptions of the character... but could she get away with two bouts of cancer onscreen ;)

jason said...

When I read the book, I had the mental image of John Scurti (Rescue Me) as Tom Mota.


i don't know who that is... perhaps I should watch Rescue Me

Amy said...

Great post! I'm reading this book now and imagine that Anna Faris would be a good Genevieve Latko-Devine.

La chica automática said...

Wow! This comes 2 years late, but it was my 2008 favorite book! Since then I have been recomending it to everyone, but I don't think anyone has even finished it! Tom Mota's chair incident... so many things! Brilliant. Someone told me today there was a film based on the book, but I could't find it. And that's how I ended up in your blog. Greatings from London. Lu.