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RANSOME’S HONOR: The Character Casting Process

Thursday, June 11, 2009

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.

Paul McGann as William Bush in the Hornblower films

Paul McGann as William Bush in the Hornblower films

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
Admiral Sir Edward WitheringtonTo 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.

Anna Friel as Flora in St. Ives (1998)

Anna Friel as Flora in St. Ives (1998)

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.

DrakeMaybe 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.

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?”

Charlotte-blue eyesAnyone 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:
Collin and SusanCaptain 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!

DawlingDawling, 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.

CreightonCreighton, 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.

EltonElton, 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 on my Ransome Trilogy board on Pinterest.

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  1. Thursday, June 11, 2009 8:02 am

    I luv me some Paul McGann! 😉 It’s really embarrassing for me to admit how many YEARS it’s been since I’ve watched the Hornblower films. Your post has reminded me that I need to make time for a HH marathon, at least of the eps featuring Paul McGann, before Ransome’s release!


    • Thursday, June 11, 2009 8:17 am

      I’m smelling a movie day . . .


    • Thursday, June 11, 2009 1:16 pm

      Hey—do you remember . . . the whole reason we’re friends now is because you had Paul McGann’s name listed on your My Space page. And I took a chance on contacting you—because if you knew who Paul McGann was (and loved him) and liked Frank Sinatra’s music, you couldn’t be that bad. 😀


      • Thursday, June 11, 2009 2:57 pm

        HA!! That’s right, I’d forgotten that!! Proof the Lord works in VERY mysterious ways…through very unusual channels…LOL!!! 🙂


        • Thursday, June 11, 2009 2:58 pm

          As I’ve already said here once today, it’s all Paul’s fault! 🙂


  2. Thursday, June 11, 2009 9:29 am

    I was taken with Anna Friel in Timeline too. I am definitely going to look for St. Ives.

    Love your choices from the Hornblower films and from P&P. I thought the actor playing Wickham in the new P&P lacked the hint of danger or unpredictability that Wickham ought to have. He makes a better straight-laced character, methinks. I’ve seen him in a nice, quiet contemporary, Mrs. Palfrey at the Clairmont. He plays a young writer. A role more suited to him, I think.

    We have similar tastes in casting. Perhaps we should become book casting directors? 🙂


    • Thursday, June 11, 2009 10:32 am

      Speaking of Rupert Friend and his ability to play straight-laced characters, I’m REALLY looking forward to his turn as Prince Albert in the film THE YOUNG VICTORIA (if that EVER opens in the States! *sigh*).


    • Thursday, June 11, 2009 12:13 pm

      I knew from your post with your templates that our tastes for casting ran very similar, Lori!


    • Thursday, June 11, 2009 12:29 pm

      Lori–there are a couple of movies that have been made of the St. Ives story. Here’s the one with Anna Friel:


      • Thursday, June 11, 2009 4:52 pm

        LOL. I skipped renting and bought a copy for less than $5 this morning. I made sure it was the Anna Friel one. I did notice an older version. I can’t figure out why it was rated R, and neither could any of the reviewers I took the time to read once I realized its rating.

        We both like Hornblower films, Austen, British dramas… we’re bound to have some overlaps eventually in our characters. In fact… Anna F, in her younger roles like St. Ives, would make a good little sister for Ian, if her hair were reddish brown. She won’t appear until Book 2, if I get that far.


        • Thursday, June 11, 2009 5:02 pm

          I took the liberty to look it up

          Title: St. Ives (2001)
          Rating: R
          Rating Reason: Rated R for some sexuality/nudity and violence.
          Distributor: Buena Vista Home Entertainment
          Alternate Titles: All For Love

          I remember feeling that way about some movies in the past – why were they rated R, etc… or being similarly shocked when I rented a PG-13 movie from the 70’s and couldn’t understand why it wasn’t R rated (in that instance its because there wasn’t an R rating in existence and apparently the MPAA doesn’t go back and re-rate movies.).

          I’ve figured out that there are certain automatics. Mansfield Park (with Johnny Lee Smith) is rated R. Why? because there is a quick flash of nudity and persistent drug use. Drugs? Where? The rich old lady is drinking opium, not alcohol. I’m not sure about this, but it seems that if there is drug use in a movie, it makes it automatically R rated.

          Used to be that if the F word was in a movie, it automatically made it R rated. Now they can get away with it once in PG-13 films.

          I haven’t seen this movie, so I don’t know how bad the nudity is, but I think there are standards there too. Certain things automatically make it R rated. To this day, why Titanic wasn’t R, I still don’t understand.


        • Thursday, June 11, 2009 5:04 pm

          And to continue:

          You should read

          It’ll clear up why its rated R… or at least it should.


        • Thursday, June 11, 2009 8:42 pm

          I pulled my copy of Mansfield Park w/ Jonny Lee Miller off my DVD shelf and it’s rated PG-13 actually. The ratings system is so messed up sometimes! No rhyme or reason that I can see half the time…can be very inconsistent IMO.


        • Thursday, June 11, 2009 9:14 pm


          I *know* when I worked at Blockbuster I rented it and was shocked that it was rated R… I wonder if we had it mislabeled and I was looking at the Blockbuster cover…. or maybe there are two different versions out there (like with Much Ado About Nothing)? Weird. Even with the *incredibly* breif nudity I always thought it made more sense to be PG-13.


        • Friday, June 12, 2009 1:33 am

          Just for the record, PG-13 movies didn’t exist in the 70s. 1984’s Red Dawn was the first movie to ever be rated PG-13 shortly following a lot of controversy over Temple of Doom and Gremlins’ PG ratings.


        • Friday, June 12, 2009 7:13 am

          Ah. The movie I was specifically thinking of was The Omega Man – which was complete with full frontal female nudity and extreme violence – and you are right – it was rated only PG – I had assumed PG-13. Still a major shock to the system when one is expecting a movie to be a certain way and it wasn’t.


  3. Carman Boley permalink
    Thursday, June 11, 2009 11:27 am

    I am looking forward to this book too. SIG is now in Dallas, Texas.
    Almost done with school! Yay!


    • Thursday, June 11, 2009 12:28 pm

      Yay that school’s almost out. And double-yay that SIG is almost in your hands!


  4. Thursday, June 11, 2009 11:56 am

    This is fascinating to see. You capture your characters in pictures the way I capture them in music– thinking of them so much that you find them in what you’re experiencing.

    Of course, some of that may have to do with my consuming more music than movies (or being more auditory than visual). But I was glad to have hard of your method a few months back when I discovered one of my characters.

    It blew me away to see a man singing– on YouTube– and *know* this was my hero character. Only time it’s ever happened that way (Anything else has been just a general similarity of type, not individual).


    • Thursday, June 11, 2009 12:17 pm

      I think it’s so important as writers to know which sense is our primary information gathering sense (what type of “learners” we are, in other words). I’m so drawn to voices that for a while I thought I might be an audio-oriented learner. But then I realized I was just listening to the voice, not necessarily what he or she was saying (teachers, especially) when I focused on a voice that was of interest to me, and that I do better speaking to someone face to face, especially in a tense, emotional, or confrontational situation, so that I can see the other person’s facial expressions, eyes, and body language. So it took me many years to discover I’m visually oriented—but once I did, I embraced it whole-heartedly.


      • Thursday, June 11, 2009 4:55 pm

        I’ve been drawn to voices too. My voice template for my MC, Ian, is Heath Ledger. Loved his baritone.


  5. Thursday, June 11, 2009 12:08 pm

    Kaye – Adrian Paul just played in a movie called The Immortal Voyage of Captain Drake…. LOL

    I know that you’ve been working on this longer than that movie’s been out… which cracks me up! Apparently Adrian Paul looks like a Drake…..


    • Thursday, June 11, 2009 12:19 pm

      LOL—that’s almost verbatim what I said when I saw the first previews for that movie on the SciFi channel. I recorded it on my DVR, but then never got around to watching it, so I deleted it, in favor of room for all of this season’s episodes of LOST, Dollhouse, and now Primeval. I figure I can always get it from Netflix, sans commercials, if I do decide I want to watch it.


      • Thursday, June 11, 2009 12:53 pm

        Primeval….How caught up are you? I’m thinking of week before last’s episode. Still haven’t gotten around to this last week’s episode because of it. *Not* a happy camper 😦 😦 😦 😦


    • Thursday, June 11, 2009 12:55 pm

      Oh, I’m up-to-date on Primeval. You should go ahead and watch last week’s episode. While it wasn’t nearly as good with a certain, um, piece missing, it was still a really good episode.


      • Thursday, June 11, 2009 1:06 pm

        Yes, but that was an important piece. *sigh*

        I guess since the event came out of nowhere (wasn’t expecting it) – that’s why I’m having a hard time with it.


      • Thursday, June 11, 2009 1:11 pm

        I was surprised by how much I enjoyed last week’s Primeval ep, even with the certain missing piece. I thought it was overall very solid – definitely gave me hope for the show’s future.


      • Thursday, June 11, 2009 1:13 pm

        I didn’t want to believe it either—at the end of the first viewing, I was certain that it wasn’t really the original piece that was lost, but the copy, so I didn’t even have much of a reaction to it. But then I was informed that the original piece definitely isn’t coming back this season. And when I watched it the second time (re-aired before the new episode Saturday), I allowed myself to get into the moment. And then I was ready to move on to the new episode.


    • Thursday, June 11, 2009 4:56 pm

      Oh, I hadn’t heard of that. Or maybe I did and it slipped my mind. Wouldnt’ be the first time! Thanks, Leslie.

      This new commenting format with threads is sweet, btw.


  6. Thursday, June 11, 2009 12:55 pm

    I do wish you could publish a book with all your pictures in it! Would make my life so much easier when I need a brunette, blue-eyed heroine… 😉

    Again, I loved seeing all the pitures! Thanks!


    • Thursday, June 11, 2009 1:10 pm

      While I haven’t published a book with all my images in it, I do have a link to my complete (and just updated today) Casting Book spreadsheet. By using the filters at the top (the arrows beside the column headers), you can sort by age, eye color, hair color, ethnicity, etc.

      You can look most of them up using the Images search feature in Google:

      Oh, and when I was copying files from my old desktop computer to my laptop in preparation for getting a new computer, I had to split up my Graphics folder (which contains all of my “books” of images for the casting process) into two separate moves on my 16 GB flash drive, because there wasn’t enough room on it. But I have been collecting these images for a very, very long time.


  7. Thursday, June 11, 2009 1:17 pm

    I have to say, I’m really digging this new “Reply” comment feature!


  8. Sylvia permalink
    Thursday, June 11, 2009 2:12 pm

    If you want to see a great film with Anna Friel in it watch Our Mutual Friend (1997) based on Charles Dickens’ book. She plays opposite Stephen Macintosh. Another storyline running alongside theirs in this film is featuring Paul McGann and Keely Hawes. The screen writer for that film is Sandy Welch who did the screenplay for North and South, Jane Eyre, and the upcoming Emma.


    • Thursday, June 11, 2009 2:18 pm

      Hi, Sylvia. Welcome!

      I’ve tried watching Our Mutual Friend before—because it does have both Anna Friel and Paul McGann in it—but aside from being bored out of my mind the first half hour or so, I just couldn’t get past the mustache on Paul! 😮


  9. Sylvia permalink
    Thursday, June 11, 2009 2:22 pm

    By the way, Our Mutual Friend is six hours long, so be prepared to be in for the long haul.

    Here’s a link to the IMDB page for this film.

    <a href=


  10. Sylvia permalink
    Thursday, June 11, 2009 2:24 pm

    Really? I enjoyed it. It is rather slow going like most of Charles Dickens’ plots. I think it’s neat, though, how there are several story lines that don’t seem to connect, but they all do in the end.


    • Sunday, June 14, 2009 8:42 pm

      I started watching OMF on Netflix Instant this weekend—but only after I went over to Wikipedia and looked it up and read some background information on the story/the characters. I had to do this before I could really enjoy Bleak House or Little Dorrit—mostly because with all Dickens’ film adaptations, there are SO many characters introduced in just the first few minutes, as well as such intricate (and seemingly random and not connected) plots introduced that they’re hard to follow unless one has at least a basic understanding of what the story is about.

      Now that I’ve started watching it with that basic knowledge, I’m enjoying it this go-round.


  11. Sylvia permalink
    Thursday, June 11, 2009 2:45 pm

    It’s me again! I just read the excerpt from Ransome’s Honor on the Harvest House website. I have two questions from the prologue and Chapter One. How old is William Ransome? Also, did William and Julia actully court in Jamaica or did Julia just have a crush on William and thinks they would get engaged? This may be something that’s addressed later, but if it’s not, then I would like to know.


    • Thursday, June 11, 2009 2:54 pm

      It may not be clear from the excerpt (I believe the prologue and first chapter is what’s there) but here’s the general timeline:

      In 1794, when Julia was almost ten years old and William was about fifteen years old, they met when her father took her, her twin brother, and their mother to Jamaica to live on their sugar plantation.

      Julia did not see William again until 1802, when she and her mother returned to England during the Peace of Amiens and she was once again reacquainted with him (though had been hearing of his exploits through her father’s letters during the intervening seven years). This is the part that’s in the prologue, when Julia is seventeen and William is twenty-two. They have been in England several months and it’s during that time when William courted her. After the end of the prologue, she does not see him again for twelve more years.

      When Chapter One opens in 1814, Julia is now twenty-nine, about to turn thirty, and William is thirty-five.


  12. Thursday, June 11, 2009 3:46 pm

    I don’t hate Natalie Portman’s acting as much as Keira Knightley’s. : )


    • Thursday, June 11, 2009 5:15 pm

      Ditto! Natalie isn’t near as bad as Keira. I thought she made a pretty good Padme though. There have to be more than a few bad actors/actresses in Star Wars movies.


      • Sunday, June 14, 2009 8:40 pm

        I only said that Natalie was ONE of the worst actresses I’ve ever seen. Keira is one of the others.


  13. The Damsels permalink
    Thursday, June 11, 2009 4:30 pm

    I love how you “cast” characters. It’s been something I’ve been tempted to try since I heard what your teaching presentation was going to be at Seton Hill.


  14. Renee permalink
    Friday, June 12, 2009 8:55 pm

    Sylvia, I loved Our Mutual Friend too!!! I have to agree that Paul McGann is an incredible actor! I love his voice too Kaye!

    I know that whenever I read a book I always imagine what famous person that character might resemble. I think it’s cool that authors do it too!


  15. Sunday, June 14, 2009 8:29 pm

    I cannot wait to read Ransome’s Honor. Reading more about how you picked the characters is making me very anxious to get the book in my hands! 🙂


    • Sunday, June 14, 2009 8:43 pm

      You’re not the only one who’s anxious to get the book in her hands!


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