Books to Movies: Why We Always Hate the Casting

What with so many books being turned into movies these days, I figured now would be a good time to talk about this, since I don’t have NaNoWriMo or a book review to talk about for the first time in ages. Actually, I just finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett, too, and started foaming at the mouth to get ahold of that movie. I was watching the trailer–which I had done before reading the book, but this was my first time after–and I just thought…

Wow. This doesn’t look how I pictured it.

I was genuinely confused, too. I love the actors that The Help has in it (I love you, Emma Stone!), and upon first hearing about the movie and seeing the cast, I was pretty convinced that they had picked exactly the right people to play in the movie. So what had changed?

The problem is, we readers will NEVER be happy with who is cast to play in books-to-movies. There will always be something about the person that is just…off. We don’t know what would make the right person to play our favorite character, but we do know that whoever they’ve picked is just wrong. We can feel it the second we take a glance at them.

When we read, we make the characters into ideals. Whether we visualize the characters or not, we KNOW who these characters to the point that we don’t need to picture them. Characters are not pictures too us–there are no pictures in books besides what our minds create. They are emotions, they are ideals, they are symbols. Asking a mortal person to be all that is, when you think about it, really just too much.

When you think about it further, this extends to even physical qualities as well. I never really visualize the characters in books too deeply. I keep my imaginings of characters to the forms of the soul, if you will. But even I had an extremely negative reaction when I heard that Jamie Campbell Bower had been cast as Jace in the movie they’re making of City of Bones, the first book in Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series.

This, by the way, is a picture of him AS Jace. (Notice the gold eyes? Thank you!)

“You are not Jace,” I told his picture. At the time, I couldn’t tell you why, I just knew. JCB is not my Jace. Later I would say that it’s because he looks too young, the hair is all wrong and he’s just not freaking hot enough. But you know what the biggest problem was? The movie had put a face to a soul that I had made into an idealistic god in my imagination. (I mean, if you’ve read the books you’ve done this. It’s JACE.) I’m not sure I would have been happy with ANY actor they had picked, because I had such an image-that-is-not-an-image of my Jace. Who knows, maybe JCB is your Jace. That’s another problem with casting. Casting departments have the loathsome task of trying to match millions of images of different readers’ Jaces. Yikes.

That said, I am more than willing to give Jaime Campbell Bower the benefit of the doubt. I have to put my faith in the idea that the casting departments know the real secret. They know that they will never make everyone happy with the look of their casting choices, so look can only be half of the equation. They have to test the actors and find the person that FEELS most like Jace. Of course, this feel is different for everyone, which is why there are casting TEAMS. Hopefully they all have read the books or at least have an idea to know what they’re looking for. It’s a lot of faith to rest in a bunch of strangers, I know, but let’s face it. They know the wrath of unhappy throngs of fan girls and boys. They don’t want to be tarred and feathered. I will forgive JCB for his face if he manages a convincing Jace swagger and smile. I will probably melt and squeal.

Well, not probably. Definitely.