Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Casting Henry Miller

When choosing an actor to portray Henry Miller in a movie, casting directors probably experience this dilemna: Do we pick the man who best embodies the gruff-yet-sensitive complexities and Brooklynite earthiness of the author, or do we just go with the bald guy who looks most like him? The best answer, to me, is to combine the two agendas; a solution that has, so far, been employed in the few films that include Henry as a character. Here's my hit-and-miss list of the best and worst Henry Millers on celluloid.

THE BEST: Fred Ward
I don't think Ward would be anyone's first choice to play Henry Miller, but the end result rings true on many levels in Henry & June (1990). Ward brings his masculinity to the role, but also manages to reveal a tender undercurrent which is charming to see on a boxer's mug like his. Even when he's decked out in a black beret and playing his best at being a Parisian artist, Ward's Miller seems genuine in his passion and his purpose, always grounded as he is by a sort of blue-collar integrity that Ward naturally inhibits. I'd let him do it again.

THE WORST: Andrew McCarthy
It makes perfect sense that the worst Miller appears in probably the worst Miller film: 1990's Quiet Days In Clichy. The former member of the 80's "Brat Pack" whose claim to fame for many is Weekend At Bernie's, has so little charisma, I wonder why he was ever in movies. McCarthy's far too boyish and meek to pull off Miller's passion and confidence. The unnerving feeling of McCarthy's wonky-eyed gaze is more psychopathic than warm and wise, as is the sense I get from looking at images of Miller. In the end, McCarthy is dorky and totally inappropriate. Just another clue that director Charbol understood nothing about his subject matter.

In 1970's Tropic Of Cancer, Rip Torn played a contemporary Miller, with some success. I'll be honest, I haven't seen this one in about ten years, so I just have enough memory of the role to give Torn kudos for capturing a certain Miller feel in the not-quite-good film adaptation. Physically, his face is just too evil-looking to be a successful embodiment of Miller's charms.

TOO WIMPY: Paul Valjean
The Danish version of Quiet Days in Clichy (1970) was pretty terrible, overall, but managed to capture the grittiness and wildness of the Clichy novel, but dropped the ball in casting an American choreographer as Miller. Paul Valjean looks a bit like Miller in some shots, especially when he's decked out in the classic Miller wardrobe of round black-rimmed specs and Stetson hat, but the director went for look over feel. Valjean is just such a feminine, wimpy Henry Miller; and a bad actor to boot.

JURY IS OUT: Scott Glenn
I base my opinion of Glenn purely on my knowledge of what he looks like. I have neer seen him play "Henry" in The Art Of Seduction a.k.a. Men & Women 2: In Love There Are No Rules (1991). This anthology film includes a story called Mara, which is apparently another take on the Henry and June love story. I haven't been able to find any stills on the net, but the one here I've taken from the video box. Looks contemporary, what with the long hair. The face and feel of Scott Glenn? Not bad for Miller, but I'd have to see him act the role. Anyone seen this?


Left to right: Bruce Willis, Corbin Bernsen, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer, Bruce Cockburn.

Here are a few suggestions for casting Miller in future projects: Bruce Willis - From the balding bean to the manliness and the charm, Willis could pull this off if he can hide Hollywood Willis behind his character; Corbin Bernsen - No longer the L.A. Law slickster he once was, Bernsen has aged more gruffly and I think could surprise everyone with a down-to-earth portrayal of Miller; Ed Harris - OK, I had Miller's bald head in mind when the idea of Harris seemed good, but he's a fine actor with the right look. He can be too intimidating, which is really the only set-back I see; Val Kilmer - Kilmer is my wildcard submission. Forget the cool prettyboy image. He's aging now and is taking on more "adult" roles. He can be surprisingly good and was able to lose himself in his portrayl of DeKooning in Pollock. And his name is Val (Millers middle name). I'm telling you, think about it; Bruce Cockburn - For photo shoots only!!! He could never act and doesn't seem a thing like Miller when he talks. But if anyone needs to take photographs of people looking like Miller, look no further than this Canadian folksinger.


Blogger RuKsaK said...

Thanks for these - I only knew of Henry and June's exitence and agree that Fred Ward did a good job. Just seeing McCarthy's face there made me wince though.

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