Discover more from Declan’s Newsletter
Casting Saint Tommy, NYPD
Starting with Hell Spawn.
It’s been a while since I’ve played one of my favorite family games growing up.
The game is "But who would you get for the movie?"
Yes, most readers have had that experience, haven't we? Wondering who of our favorite characters would be played by. Who would match them best. I've done this game with A Pius Man several times. For some reason, I never got around to doing it for Love at First Bite, though one of my acquaintances did. These tend to be photograph heavy.
Anyway, I've been playing that game since I was 10 years old and reading Jurassic Park... yes, I was ten and reading Jurassic Park. Trust me, I would not have gotten Jeff Goldblum for Ian Malcolm. Too many Ums. We won't go into how the head of InGen became Santa Claus in the films from an evil old bastard in the book....
The Big Three
One of the specs that Russell wanted when I originally pitched him was that he wanted fewer characters than my usual. Reading through my vampire series, you can see how fast things grow. I end up with a host of colorful characters, who are unique and... well, they stand out. Though some of them fell by the wayside more than I expected, even there.
I needed three, and some supporting characters. One I didn't even see coming.
Detective Tommy Nolan
This was, perhaps, the first person I cast. And strangely enough, his looks have morphed in my head over time, along with his rank. I had always pictured him as a bachelor patrolman played by, of all people, Dylan McDermott.
I had him clearly in my head: black hair, sky blue eyes, long and lanky in blues (ignore how short McDermott is next to Clint Eastwood in In the Line of Fire, he's actually 6'0").
Yes, I know he's too old at this point, I'm talking about ideal casting with a time machine.
And then, for no reason whatsoever, it changed after Russell got back to me with approval of the pitch for the series. Something Russell said made me think "Detective." From there, the character morphed. Obviously, his powers and abilities didn't shift all that much, but the person I saw in my head changed. Taking him out of a uniform and into a suit changed the character....
Don't even ask me why. I've only ever seen McDermott act in suits. You'd think putting the character into one would have made him fit better.
But no, Nolan became ... more virtuous, and less uptight. Don't even ask me why. He became calmer. I won't say mellow. Perhaps "zen." He spoke better. He was thoughtful. Considerate of his words. His elocution improved.
The short version .... he became Will Estes, best known for Jamie Reagan from Blue Bloods.
Yeah, don't ask me why putting him in a suit and tie made him change actors in my head ... especially when he's best known for wearing a uniform.
Don't ask, my brain is strange.
But you'd be surprised how much of a distinctive voice a character has when you run it through a specific voice filter. If it doesn't sound right, it'll stick out. Will Estes fits the role more for the way he talks than for anything else.
And trust me, this is as big a surprised to you as it is to me.
Thankfully, I don't actually have to describe him all that much in the books. After all, it's first person narration. Heh.
Unfortunately, the guy I have in my head has gotten taller and bigger.
So if we can find someone who can talk like a lawyer but looks like a 35-year-old Gerard Butler, we’ll be great.
Yeah, I know, that’s just out the window.
I would love to have a Jim Caviezel type, but even Caviezel is getting too old to play action hero. And 35 passed him by a while back.
Heck, I’d have considered Anson Mount — a good actor with a lousy agent … but he’s pushing 50. Yeesh.
This gets any worse, I’m going to have to consider looking at CW casting (shudder)… though I guess I could start looking at horror films, just to see who the up and comers are.
HOWEVER, I have been reliably informed by people who have seen him in less famous productions, that Zachary Levi is not out of the realm of possibility.
Yeah, but does he have enough muscle, I mean, his role in Shazam was obviously a body suit and…
Huh. Okay. He’s been working out a bit.
During my research, John Krasinski, who played in Jack Ryan and in A Quiet Place, could be Zach Levi’s stunt double. He’s also apparently been working out. And both actors are 6’3”.
I don’t think I’d have problems with either one of them playing Tommy Nolan. Especially since neither one of them come off as “Hollywood @$$hole.”
They’re bother about the same age. They’re close enough to mid-30s that they can get away with it.
Hell Spawn is more of a police procedural than anything else. There's less "who done it" than going through the motions from point A to B to C. There were some episodes of Castle a lot like this, where the entire episode went by, and you may have seen the killer for a minute or two in the opening scene. It was almost Scooby Doo in their execution, only the killer was even less vivid.
I'm not going to tell you an awful lot about the character, because, well, there needs to be some mystery.
The killer, however, is ... dark. Cold. Evil. I'd almost want to give him to Jim Caviezel. Given how Caviezel works, he'd probably take it. Given how Hollywood casting gave the 6'5" Jack Reacher to 5'5" Tom Cruise, they'd probably offer it to Cruise first.
But I also made this killer short. At least, shorter than average. Say he's around 5'6."
But I wouldn't say no to Jim Caviezel, because I can see him doing three of the characters on this list if you pushed it a little.
But going by the description in the novel, we need short. And short actors are easier to find than you might think.
Considering how creepy this sucker is, if I was using a time machine, I'd go back to 1996, and grab Brad Dourif, who has played every crazy person in Hollywood since Chucky.
Frankie Muniz is short enough .... and I liked him on that episode of Criminal Minds. (If you see one episode of Criminal Minds, see that one. If you see two, add the one with Alex O'Loughlin.)
Everyone knows Michael J. Fox... but Parkinsons is a deal breaker. Also, he’s a bit of a jerk.
Seth Green... I don't know if he can do Satanic evil.
.... Hmm, now here's three contenders I hadn’t thought of: Daniel Radcliffe, Elijah Wood, and Martin Freeman. And I'm good with any of the three of them.
Radcliffe playing against type would be entertaining.
I'm told that Elijah Wood stands out as a psycho in, I think, Sin City.
And Martin Freeman can do whatever he likes as far as I'm concerned. He’s getting a little up there, but this role doesn’t have to be particularly physical.
A fellow named Al Packard was a friend of the family when I was growing up.
To be honest, I never knew if Al was short for Alexander, Alphonse, Alfred, or Alfredo. He was smart. A fast talker in both word and thought. His conversations could come out in fast, clipped, machinegun fire storm of bullets. He was bald for as long as I could remember, and I distinctly remembered his mustache, though he shaved it off in later years.
When I was developing a partner, I wanted someone different from Nolan. Think Jerry Orbach from Law and Order. Cynical. World weary.
Along the way, Packard ended up going from a supporting character to one of the primaries.
So we need an older actor, bald, who can rock a mustache, and can give us a gamut of emotions from cynical to “Holy Crap, what was that?”
Hmm, a good actor, even a character actor .... bald, older, mustache.....
Yeah, I’m thinking JK Simmons. He’s 66 this year. Yeah, I guess I can see him.
Heck, at this rate of speed, I’d even take Nick Searcy. He’s southern, but I need someone cynical, world-wearing and sarcastic. Frankly? I’d take him. Heck, every time I see him, Searcy seems to be playing that guy. So why not?
A lot of the following people I have bouncing around the story. They are largely supporting cast, since I didn't want to get anyone too big a part unless they were our hero or our villain. Packard just wouldn't stay quiet, and he wouldn't go away. He wouldn't even shut up. And putting him in the hospital would be a little cliche. Don't believe me? Watch a Dirty Harry film sometime. Tommy Nolan isn't Clint Eastwood, much to the gratitude of his partner.
One of the other things that surprised me when Tommy became a detective was, suddenly, he had a wife and child.
No, seriously brain, where did they come from? I have no idea.
For some reason, she popped up, fully formed in my head. Also, she looked like a friend of mine. It was odd.
No, I won't post a picture. But I will say she's a brunette, brown eyes, round face, almost Italian looking. Her hair goes down to the top of her shoulder blades. Hmm.... Bridget Moynahan? Maybe. Her face isn't round enough. Though it's odd to realize that she goes back to Coyote Ugly and The Recruit.
Frankly, I'm looking for someone like Maria Bello or Alyssa Milano. Only, you know, someone who could act or didn't age out of the part 20 years ago. (Okay, Bello can act, and she hasn't aged much since Mister and Mrs Smith nearly 30 years ago. But still, let's not push it if we can avoid it.) And Alyssa Milano went bat-guano insane decades ago.
Also, she wouldn’t touch this project, lest she burn her hand on the screenplay.
.... Huh. Wait, I know. Dark hair. Dark eyes. Can act.
I don’t know. I don't think Eliza Dusku is doing anything right now...
Yikes. And that’s literally. Her last credit on her IMDB page at the moment is an unreleased pilot for The Saint TV show from 2017. She produced something in 2018.
And she’s in the right age range for someone with a 10 year old kid. Yeah. She’ll do.
Daniel David DiLeo, "D"
Yes. I do like me my funny names.D was a character developed largely because I wanted two things. I wanted to show that Nolan was merciful, someone who could get along with anybody as long as they were willing to afford him the same respect. Also, Tommy needed someone with street contacts.
It was hard designing someone like that. Your average street criminal uses cops for initiation and target practice. Kill a cop, get your merit badge. So he needed to be a better class of criminal.
Do I use the mafia? It's tempting, but I've already used the mafia in Love at First Bite.
What I needed was someone who could be classified as organized crime, but enough street to fit into the precinct I'm looking for.
So, black fellow. White collar crime after graduating from street crime.
In my head, I wanted a young Yaphett Koto, circa Live and Let Die era. Big, but not fat. Businesslike, but not with a business cut. And while I mentioned I would be casting with a time machine, I'm not going to reach back that far into the past.
We need someone who can pass for a criminal, yet be dignified. A -- pardon the expression -- white collar criminal who will smack you for saying “gangsta” because “it's pronounced gangster, now pull up your damn pants.”
I don’t know if you know this, but I’m color blind… in the metaphorical sense. It once took me 15 minutes to realize I had gotten off at the wrong train stop in Harlem. It was 15 minutes of everyone on the street looking at me like I was from Mars. It wasn’t until I saw an Eastbound bus for “East Harlem” that I realized I had overshot Columbia university by a train stop.
Looking at the list of black actors on IMDB, there are so many people here I enjoy… but yikes. So many bad fits.
Denzel? Nah. He’s normally just … Denzel. I love the guy, but I don’t see him as D—not big enough, too old, and not “street” enough (Yes, he pulled it off, but Training Day was 20 years ago).
Dennis Haysbert? I don’t think I’ve ever seen him as “street.” He’d be a perfect fit in almost any other respect. You can easily see him with an MBA, or running a board room.
Forrest Whittaker? Too old, and it looks like he’s falling apart… more than usual.
Morgan Freeman. He passed “too old” last century.
Lawrence Fishburne? We’re getting closer. He has multiple voices, from Shakespeare and back. And he’s NOT small. But The Matrix was 20 years ago.
Too old… too old…Michael Clarke Duncan… too dead…
Terrence Howard? Maybe. But I wouldn’t want to work with him after throwing a hissy fit for Marvel.
Ving Rhames? Huh. Let’s put a pin in that until I find out how old he is… HE’S OVER SIXTY? Damn.
Huh… Idris Elba… Now that would be perfect. My wife tells me Stringer Bell would be a carbon copy of D. But he’s in his fifties. Looking good, but still too old…
I know everyone is getting older, but yikes. A lot of the actors I’d want, with the acting range, are too old. Or too short. Or too dead.
Wow, this list makes me feel old.
If only there was a younger clone of Lawrence Fishburne… oh wait.
Meet Lawrence Fishburne's son, Langston.
Or should I say his clone?
He played a younger version of his father for Ant-Man and the Wasp, and damn does he look like his father, especially in that film. it's only in this lighting that I can see it's not the same person. Did they CGI Langston to look like his dad? No idea.
But he'll do.
ADA William Carlton
I… did not see this character coming.
During the investigation, Detective Nolan will step on a few toes. Lawyers will be called in. Or in this case, the lawyers will summon Nolan and Packard to Manhattan. Yes, Queens has an ADA, but politics is a thing.
Don't ask me how, he's been a recurring character in all three novels so far.
For some reason, and I don't know why, but he also came out like someone I knew. Someone with legal training, well spoken, big, with a bushy beard....
Okay, in my head, he came out as John C Wright.
I actually asked people who knew him. We ended up with two actors.
Brian Blessed, or John Rhys-Davies.
Except that Brian Blessed was born in the 1930s. Specifically, he’ll be 85 in October. While the Manhattan DA traditionally lives forever, and never retires, and is almost never voted out, that’s a little much.
John Rhys-Davies is … 77. Damn it. Is everyone becoming old?
Someone who can be loud. Big without being really fat. Someone who can talk quickly, and speak in paragraphs… What’s John Goodman doing lately?
Okay, he’s is a little closer. He’s 68. All right. Maybe him.
Yeah, I know, cut me some slack. It’s difficult trying to find a stunt double for GK Chesterton.
When I wrote up the outline on Hell Spawn, I knew I needed a medical examiner. There were creepy and unnerving details that were only available during an autopsy.
It's strange when I teach my editor (who's probably better educated than I am) a new word.
The word is “disarticulation.”
At the time, I was listening to a lot of the group Within Temptation.
Their lead singer is Sharon den Adel.
One of their hit songs is called Sinead.
The next part of the YouTube playlist was the acapella singer Peter Holland.
That's pretty much all you need to know of that character design.
As for actress .... no idea. Den Adel is from Europe, so she has an accent. And in her videos, she handles English well, but I have no idea how much of that is practice. She's not an actress. And I don't think an ESL star, no matter how much practice she has, wants to handle technical medical vocabulary.
I mentioned Maria Bello earlier. She’s in the right age for that, and there are some similarities to den Adel.
When I was talking with my family about this plot, I believe it was my father who created a random encounter: an attack on a police station. The 105th, to be precise. Tommy’s station.
As I was writing an easlier scene, I needed… well… another random encounter.
And this throw away random character not only justified the encounter suggested to me, but also ended up with a character who lasted all three books.
Enter Rene Ormeno: MS-13 gang banger and shot caller.
Let's just say that he leaves a mark.
With a 2x4.
Description: Latino male, well built, early 30s.
I originally wanted Bruce Ramsay for Ormeno. Fans of Babylon 5 might know him better as the possessed in Babylon 5: The Lost Tales film. I would have had him for the killer, but there's a scene in Death Cult he would be perfect for. I like his voice modulation.
…But he's a little too white to play an MS-13 shot caller.
Tradition calls for Danny Trejo, who’s been playing this role nearly longer than I’ve been alive.
As much of a badass as Danny Trejo is, according to IMDB, he's 77 years old.... Yikes. (He's got 20 projects coming out in the next few years, but he's older than my father. Oy!)
I'd say Robert LaSardo, but he's been been "MS-13 knockoff #5" since he guest starred on CSI: Miami.
Sadly, most of the actors I can think of for this role are either too old (Trejo, Banderas, Bardem, Leguizamo) comedy relief (Michael Pena) too short (Moises Arias, Ender’s Game, who's 4'11") or Jay Hernandez... that guy on the Magnum knockoff.
Then again, as Ormeno is a member of MS-13, with a face full of tattoos… Hernandez just played a guy with a face full of tattoos in Suicide Squad. I guess he could pull it off, if he didn't mind playing the bad guy.
Father Richard Freeman
I knew I would need a priest in this story, if only because, well, saints and demons and whatnot.
More importantly, I needed someone who either knew supernatural crap or could readily lay his hands on information about it.
At the time, my friends AM Freeman and Richard Paolinelli were on Facebook.
Now you know the secret to my naming convention system. I smash together whoever is lying around.
Father Freeman is slender and graying and ...
Screw it, I want to put Jim Caviezel in here somewhere. Here will do.
And some how, Caviezel as a priest just sort of works, doesn’t it?
Whew that was a lot of stuff.
Anyway, that's pretty much it. There's one character left, but we'll talk that over when I do this for Death Cult, if I get that far.