RANSOME’S HONOR: The Character Casting Process
As I detailed in Tuesday’s blog post, the idea for the Ransome Trilogy came from my enthrallment with the character of William Bush in the Horatio Hornblower movies (and the novel Lieutenant Hornblower). However, I don’t think he would have caught my eye quite so much if the role hadn’t been played by the actor Paul McGann. While he’s hardly known at all on this side of the pond, he’s got a pretty good following in England, given the number of fansites and forums there are dedicated to him. (And if you want to see the scene that got me started on this story, click here and scroll up to 1:45 to see Paul deliver the line that sent me on this journey.)
Captain William Ransome 1802~~Tall and slender, his brown hair falling onto his forehead in loose curls, Lieutenant William Ransome straightened from bowing in greeting to her mother. His vivid blue eyes, pale yet impossibly fathomless, met Julia’s.
1814~~The intensity in William’s blue eyes pierced her, even from across the large room. Though more weather-worn, the years had been kind to him. He moved with the confidence of an experienced captain instead of the more submissive scurry of a lieutenant.
1802~~Tall and slender, his brown hair falling onto his forehead in loose curls, Lieutenant William Ransome straightened from bowing in greeting to her mother. His vivid blue eyes, pale yet impossibly fathomless, met Julia’s.
It’s Paul McGann’s fault. While he’s striking looking and attractive enough to want to “spend time with,” what really drew me to him—and thus to the character he was portraying—was his voice and his accent. As someone who watches more British TV and film than the average American, as well as someone who has an ear for voices (thanks to years of singing and voice lessons) and accents (I may have mentioned a time or two on the blog my annoyance with Americans being cast in British roles, because they never get the accent right), I have a tendency to key in on voices and accents I really like. And Paul McGann has one of the best voices as an actor I’ve heard in a very long time. And then there’s that little clip of the final syllables and consonants of his words that’s slightly different from the standard, received British accent, which comes from his Liverpudlian roots. In fact, I purchased an audio version of one of the Sharpe’s novels to listen to simply because Paul McGann narrated it. I have no idea what the story’s about because I’ve never listened to it all the way through, but will put the tape in and listen to a few minutes of it whenever I need a “William fix.” (Here’s his introductory scene in Mutiny where you can get a good sense of what he sounds like.) In contrast to the Lieutenant Bush of the movies/books, I wanted William Ransome to, obviously, be of higher rank, but also to be someone who knows his own mind and is confident in himself and his position. He has an extremely high sense of honor (thus the title!) and expects the same from everyone around him. And, of course, he finds it hard to fathom that there would ever be a good time for an officer in His Majesty’s Royal Navy to marry.
Admiral Sir Edward Witherington
To get to the woman who would eventually win Captain William Ransome’s heart, I had to start with her father, William’s flag admiral. Who better to be the gruff commander with a twinkle in his green eyes than the actor who’d played Hornblower’s commanding officer throughout the films: Robert Lindsay? (And if you watch from 8:40 to 9:28 in this clip, you’ll see the only scene Robert Lindsay and Paul McGann played opposite each other in the entire Hornblower series.)
Julia Witherington Julia Witherington was the very image of an Athenian statue—but not of cold white stone. Her gown looked as if it had been made of liquid bronze, hair done up with gold ribbon woven throughout the mass, while several mahogany curls bounced around her shoulders. . . . Her green eyes seemed depthless in the glow of dozens of candles. . . . A hint of dimple appeared in her left cheek. . . . William’s focus strayed beyond the two couples ahead of him to the reddish-brown curls that skimmed Julia’s skin as she took the stairs on Admiral Glover’s arm. The curve of her shoulder up to the column of her neck reminded him of the refined lines of the bow of a Man-o’-War.
Julia Witherington was the very image of an Athenian statue—but not of cold white stone. Her gown looked as if it had been made of liquid bronze, hair done up with gold ribbon woven throughout the mass, while several mahogany curls bounced around her shoulders. . . . Her green eyes seemed depthless in the glow of dozens of candles. . . . A hint of dimple appeared in her left cheek. . . . William’s focus strayed beyond the two couples ahead of him to the reddish-brown curls that skimmed Julia’s skin as she took the stairs on Admiral Glover’s arm. The curve of her shoulder up to the column of her neck reminded him of the refined lines of the bow of a Man-o’-War.
Once I came up with the character of Admiral Witherington, I started working on the woman who would win William’s heart. She had to be strong, intelligent, attractive (but not necessarily beautiful), and someone who was of her era—not a modern-day woman dressed up in a costume. And then I watched the movie Timeline. While on the first viewing, my attention was completely focused on Gerard Butler as Andre Marek, on a second viewing, I noticed the actress playing the young French noblewoman Marek rescues. She might be perfect for Julia. However, I needed to see her in something else to be sure. So I rented the movie St. Ives—which just happens to be set during the Georgian period. So not only did I get to see her acting with her normal British accent in a less action-oriented role, I also got to see her in costumes that were close to the period my story would be set in. And she was perfect. Since completing Ransome’s Honor, Anna Friel has become much better known as Charlotte “Chuck” Charles on Pushing Daisies—and is one of the main reasons why I couldn’t get into that show, as I was concerned that by watching her in a contemporary-set show (bizarre though that setting was), it would change my image of who Julia is, which can definitely be a problem with this process. And I think the design company Harvest House uses did a very good job of finding a model that looks like her for the front cover of the book!
Sir Drake Pembroke, Baronet Halfway down the stairs, Drake glanced over his shoulder and gave Julia a smile that sent a cold chill down her spine. Though handsome, his slightly hooked nose and thick, dark brows that hooded his eyes gave him an air of menace.
Maybe it’s cliché to have the antagonist have black hair and dark, hooded eyes, but I knew I wanted Adrian Paul to be the unscrupulous cousin Julia’s trying to avoid marrying. Now, if you’re keeping score, those of you who’re familiar with Adrian Paul’s best-known role, as Duncan McLeod on Highlander will notice that I cast the sidekick, Methos (Peter Wingfield), as the hero in Stand-In Groom and the “hero” of the TV show as the bad guy in Ransome’s Honor. That’s how far my secondary-character mania goes, I guess. And when I was writing, I could visualize Adrian Paul as Sir Drake more clearly than I could visualize the templates for any of the other characters. Of course, Sir Drake is one of my favorite characters I’ve ever written, not only due to the fact that as the bad guy, he could pretty much do or say anything no-holds-barred, but also because he was so clear to me when I was writing his viewpoint scenes.
Halfway down the stairs, Drake glanced over his shoulder and gave Julia a smile that sent a cold chill down her spine. Though handsome, his slightly hooked nose and thick, dark brows that hooded his eyes gave him an air of menace.
Miss Charlotte Ransome Beside her sat Charlotte, no longer the young girl he’d last seen but a stunning woman of seventeen. . . . “Charlotte.” He kissed her forehead after he helped her down. “I hardly recognized you.” Mrs. Ransome laughed. “Hardly recognized? With her dark hair and blue eyes just like yours?”
Beside her sat Charlotte, no longer the young girl he’d last seen but a stunning woman of seventeen. . . . “Charlotte.” He kissed her forehead after he helped her down. “I hardly recognized you.”
Mrs. Ransome laughed. “Hardly recognized? With her dark hair and blue eyes just like yours?”
Anyone who knows me will be gobsmacked by this casting choice. And if you aren’t already in the know, let me explain: I think Natalie Portman is one of the worst actresses I’ve ever seen—and her fake British accent is even worse than her acting. However, give her blue eyes (like I did in this picture), and she has the right look for William’s little sister—the one who, when I was in the middle of the first draft, burst onto the scene and demanded a viewpoint and a main role in the second and third books. This is one of the rare cases in my vast experience with using the technique of casting that I don’t want to to see (or hear) the template in action—because if I did that, I’d end up hating this character. And there’s another reason why I chose Natalie Portman as the template for Charlotte . . . but that’ll have to wait until Book 2 comes out for me to explain why!
A few secondary characters of note:
Captain Collin and Susan Yates—Yes, that’s right, William’s best friend, Collin Yates, and Julia’s best friend, Susan Barstow Yates, are none other than Faramir and Eowyn from the LOTR movies, David Wenham and Miranda Otto! I’ve made Collin much stockier than David Wenham, but after falling in love with Faramir and Eowyn’s romance in Return of the King (mostly from the book), I knew I had to use them as an already-existing couple somewhere, so it was a perfect fit.
Lady Augusta Pembroke—Sir Drake’s mother, Julia’s scheming aunt, Cherie Lunghi is another one who was cast because of her role in one of the Hornblower films (The Duchess and the Devil). Though most of the roles I’ve seen her in, I’ve really liked her, she just seemed perfect for this role—even when she was Julia’s mother/Sir Edward’s wife instead of her aunt/his sister-in-law. Interesting tidbit of trivia: in addition to playing scenes with each other in Duchess/Devil, Robert Lindsay and Cherie Lunghi played opposite each other as Benedick and Beatrice in a 1984 BBC staged-for-film production of Much Ado about Nothing, my favorite romantic couple from all of Shakespeare’s works!
Dawling, William’s Steward—For those who are very familiar with the Hornblower movies, the choice of Sean Gilder for William’s steward aboard Alexandra (like a combination butler/valet) is a bit ironic, as Bush and Stiles most definitely didn’t work well together in the films. I’ve made Dawling younger than Gilder, but I enjoyed the character of Stiles so much—as well as the interplay between Bush and Stiles in the films—that I had to use him, just to have someone who’s always inadvertently putting William’s world slightly off-kilter.
Creighton, the Witheringtons’ Butler—Yes, I cast Mr. Darcy 2005 (Matthew Macfadyen) as the butler. I loved his stiffness in the movie, which immediately translated to butler in my mind. Creighton (CRAYT-un—at least, that’s how I pronounce it, not sure how anyone else does) was Sir Edward’s steward aboard his flagship before Sir Edward struck his colors and took his position on land at the port admiralty in Portsmouth, which is how he came to be Sir Edward’s butler.
Elton, the Witheringtons’ Driver—Yes, this is Rupert Friend, who played Wickham to Macfadyen’s Darcy in P&P 2005. I guess it says something about my feelings for the way these two characters were portrayed in that film that I immediately saw them as characters who would be dressed in “uniforms” (for Creighton, it would be a somewhat formal black suit; for Elton, his driver’s livery) and staying pretty much in the background.
There are so many other characters that this post could go on and on and on—but I believe I can leave some of that for next year when Book 2, Ransome’s Crossing releases. In the meantime, you can check out more images in my Ransome set on Flickr.