I love the way films and live theatre give us as an audience the opportunity to immerse ourselves in a story through the eyes of the characters we meet. It’s fascinating how a few lines on a page, a book or a script, can be turned into something visual and vibrant in front of our eyes. Several years ago, I was part of a cast performing Steel Magnolias on stage and I had a great time working on a lively script with strong, talented actors. I watched the film of the play out of interest, and it was great to see older female actors playing feisty roles, investigating the themes of family and friendship. I thought about how few films there are out there that cater for older actors as protagonists, especially women. Some of the most popular ones include Calendar Girls, The First Wives’ Club and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. There were a few more films with one or two older females in the cast, Philomena, On Golden Pond, but there aren’t many that show groups of women in their older years having fun and living life.
I often consider how my own novels would be cast as movies as the stories are often quite visual, they have colourful locations, and the characters are older women and men who enjoy life and have fun. Having seen Steel Magnolias on screen, I imagined that the eponymous characters of my novel Five French Hens came from an American city, not a small town in the UK, and that the five fun American women who visit Paris were played by Hollywood actors.
Imagine all those incredible older Hollywood superstars we could choose from. I’m thinking big here with my casting, and I mean really big. I haven’t held back on glamour, fame or talent. Nor have I held back on the characters’ energy, sass and big personalities. Imagine the frocks in the casino scene…. (Imagine them all together on set before filming starts!)
So, this is my imaginary, dream cast list:
Jen: Jen would be played by Sally Field, who was Forest Gump’s mum and the ex-wife in Mrs. Doubtfire as well as M’Lynn in Steel Magnolias. She’s a great choice as she has the ability to be both calm, strong and thoughtful, but also there is a sense of vulnerability and sensitivity. She would be enthusiastic and excited about her marriage to Eddie, but she would convey Jen’s doubts and the desperation not to be alone. Moreover, Jen is lively, popular but with the capacity to be quite secretive; Sally Field has the warmth and depth to make this character take the story forward.
Della: I’ve chosen Queen Latifah as Della. She would bring an energy and strength to the character: she would be playful and feisty in her marriage but caring and full of loyalty for her husband. Queen Latifah would steal a few scenes in Paris. I can imagine her in the final scenes too, when she comes home to her beloved Sylvester and everything isn’t as she expected.
Tess: I’d select Goldie Hawn to play Tess. She’s really good at comedy roles and I can imagine her in an awful marriage with Alan at the beginning of the film, and yet, once in Paris, she flourishes and becomes a party animal. Goldie Hawn would bring initial vulnerability to the role, later showing her strength and compassion.
Rose: I’d choose Brenda Fricker to play Rose. Initially hesitant and quite solitary, Rose is transformed into a leader and a trouper. She is talented, but her skills are wasted at home; Paris brings out the flamboyant best of Rose and I’d love to see Brenda play the final role on stage as Rose becomes Rose-On-Wye, accompanying Greta Manchester on the piano!
Pam: I’d choose Cher as Pam. She is strong, independent, feisty and nobody’s fool. Athletic and a leader, Pam is the one who knows her way around Paris well and supports the other four hens when they need it most, but she has her own secrets. Her external toughness hides her vulnerability and her shadowy past. After her great performance in Moonstruck, I can imagine Cher embodying this role so well.
Eddie: I’d select Robert Redford. He is dashing and dapper, so we can understand why Jen is so attracted to him. He is personable and persuasive too: Robert Redford has that sense of clean-cut honesty which might draw Jen in and impress her with his potential to be the perfect husband.
Vladimir: Robert De Niro. Enough said. Great actor. Full of the promise of a better match for Tess. Big hearted, generous, expansive. Nothing else to say except that he’d be perfect as Vladimir.
Alan: I’d cast Richard Dreyfus as Alan, Tess’s husband who’d rather play golf than spend time with her. Richard Dreyfus is talented and would have the ability to hint at Alan’s duality and untrustworthiness, cranking up his unpleasantness as the role progresses.
Daz: I was surprised how few really young Hollywood actors I knew: in the end, I chose Taron Egerton who is a versatile performer. He has a warm personality, is outgoing and has a sense of fun. He’s a strong character actor and he can sing too. Perfect.
There are lots of other roles that need consideration, from Elodie, the woman who fortells the Hens their futures, to the unfortunate Celia and the lovely Sylvester. I can’t think who’d be most ideal.
I’m sure there are lots more talented actors in their older years who’d be absolutely perfect to play The Hens. It’s great fun casting hypothetically and there are some wonderful names to be considered. Why not imagine yourself as director and, if you come up with a perfect cast, do let me know.