Fantasy Film Casting for 'Calliope of Atalan: The American Dream'
BY: P. CURRY
Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs as Pan
When I was conceiving the character of Pan, I thought back to every film I had ever seen with a character who was an abusive father and/or husband. I gravitated towards Jacobs’s portrayal of Joe Jackson in The Jacksons: An American Dream. In a lot of ways, their characters are very similar in the sense that they both are shady, sleazy businessmen who are loathed by their children. The biggest difference is that Pan is more neglectful than physically abusive, but both of them are monsters, no matter how it’s sliced or diced. If Calliope of Atalan had actually been released in the 90’s, Jacobs would have fit the role to a T.
Loretta Devine as Demeter
For Demeter’s character development, one of the tropes I delved into was that of a woman scorned. In regards to classic 90’s films, what better choice would there have been in that department than Waiting to Exhale? With Devine’s character, Gloria, being the most matronly of the bunch, I closed in on her in particular. After deciding to base Demeter off of Devine’s image in Waiting to Exhale, I looked at some of her other roles as well. Devine’s character in Dirty Laundry was very similar to Gloria aside from being much meaner, so that definitely gave Demeter a kick in the pants as I found my initial characterization of her to be “too nice.”
Marcello Thedford as Julius
In just about everything I’ve seen him in, Thedford’s always been the big guy in the back. His characters are usually gentle giants with a good sense of humor, an attribute that fits Julius’s character very well.
Brutus is such a unique character that I really couldn’t pick an actor to play him. Omar Gooding’s character from Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper shares a number of similarities with him personality-wise, but even then he’s far too nice. Dominic Santana (All Eyez On Me) is VERY close to what I would imagine Brutus looking like. And yet, his only notable role is as Suge Knight, but not even insufferable, hyper-masculine and oftentimes-bigoted Brutus is THAT much of an asshole. It’s honestly way too difficult for me to choose.
Keisha Knight-Pulliam as Isis
When thinking of Isis’s character description, Rudy Huxtable during the later seasons of The Cosby Show fits her to a T, even though Isis is much quieter, nicer and more even-tempered than Rudy ever was. But Pulliam has shown herself to be a versatile actress time and time again, so I’m sure it wouldn’t have been a problem had this been a movie or television series back in the 90’s.
Orlando Brown as Atum
Most people may know him as Eddie from That’s So Raven, but before that, he was 3J on Family Matters. 3J was always a little jokester, so Brown would have definitely been a good fit for Atum.
Tyrin Turner as Herc
Caine doesn’t have that much in common with Herc personality-wise, but Turner comes pretty close to my idea of Herc’s appearance.
Countess Vaughn as Bolina
Bolina is a very minor and inconsequential character in the grand scheme of things, but I do imagine her being short with loudly colored hair and a high-pitched, squeaky voice, so Kim Parker definitely fits the bill.
Big Boi as Perseus
Slurring, Southern-style drawl? Check. Floppy hair? Check. Pothead? Check. Basic sense of dress? Check. Laid-back demeanor? Check. Rapper? Check. Yeah, 1990’s-era Big Boi has Perseus written all over him.
Erika Alexander as Urania
Urania is another character on the minor side of things, but I do have big plans for her. Being a career-oriented woman, in a lot of ways, she’s based on the image of Maxine Shaw from Living Single. The biggest difference is that she’s much more pleasant to be around.
David Alan Grier as Leto
This may seem like a bizarre choice, but Grier is actually a very versatile actor. So no, Antoine Merriweather from “Men on Film” wasn’t what I had in mind. Joe from The Carmichael Show on the other hand is perfect. I think Grier could play a stern, ornery and old-fashioned paternal figure very well.
Harry Lennix as Zeu-se
Remember Mo’ Money? His character, Tom Dilton, is exactly the sort of pompous, snobby and condescending elite I have in mind for the character of Zeu-se, even if he’s the complete opposite of Zeu-se appearance-wise. Samuel L. Jackson was another actor I considered - not only is he closer to the appearance, but he’s played quite a few characters with ruthless motivations over the years.
Jill Marie Jones as Hera
Even though she hasn’t made an official appearance just yet, I already have a very thorough image in mind for Hera. As the wife of Zeu-se and matriarch of The House of Peloponnesian, I imagine a ridiculously self-absorbed and materialistic woman who has a taste for nothing but the finest things in life, dressed head to toe in a number of designer labels with a very aloof demeanor, bougie attitude and classist mindset to boot. For those who remember the series Girlfriends, each of those descriptors fit Toni Childs like a glove.
Joseph Gannascoli as Romulus
When I first started this thing, the image I had in mind for Romulus was a slightly more sinister Danny DeVito. Upon watching a random episode of The Sopranos, I closed in on Gannascoli’s character, Vito Spatafore, and he just fits. Not only is he close in appearance to Romulus, but he’s also close in personality with a proper balance between his comedic moments and his threatening ones.
Steve Schirripa as Cicero
I was never really into The Sopranos, so I’m not all that astute on the characters. However, Schirripa’s character, Bobby Baccalieri, was probably the nicest guy there. While Cicero is far from a nice guy, he’s shown to have a conscience and a soft side on a number of occasions, especially when it comes to his daughter. Baccalieri is also a big guy, refrains from getting his hands too dirty in Mafia business and isn’t taken seriously by the other Mafiosos, which are other attributes he shares with Cicero.
Bianca Santos as Fortuna
While this deviates from the theme of actors from the 90’s, I really struggled to find any actresses from that time frame that fit into the image I had in mind for Fortuna.
Sharon Stone as Tyche
Going back to the mob movies, I remember Stone playing the character of Ginger in the film Casino. Like Tyche, she is an abrasive and nagging alpha bitch who was prone to manipulation and, likewise, made for a horrible mother.
Diahann Carroll as Syne
For some reason, Syne strikes me as an older version of Claudine - at least in a vastly different universe.
Kirstie Alley as Hestia
One defining attribute of Hestia’s character is her fashion sense. Back in the 90’s, Kirstie Alley was widely thought of as being one of the most fashionable women around.
Dianne Wiest as Themis
One of my all-time favorite movies is Edward Scissorhands, and Wiest’s character in the film, Peg Boggs, was an absolute hoot. She was stuck in the 50’s, and so naïve and oblivious just like Themis.
Kirsten Dunst as Eris
In her younger days, Kirsten Dunst looked very close to how I imagine Eris would look, even though I don’t recall Dunst ever playing a character with a similar personality.
Lauren Ambrose as Moirai
I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something about her just strikes me as the type of girl whose nice face belies a mean, catty and judgmental personality underneath.
Omar Epps as Thespis
Nia Long as Melpomene
When it came to films with predominantly African-American casts in the 1990’s, I feel that they all pulled from a relatively small pool of talent. There were a number of actors who seemed to be in just about EVERY movie, Omar Epps and Nia Long being two examples. The whole idea I had for Thespis and Melpomene is to create a sort of running gag about that. There’s a scene where Calliope’s watching a movie which they star in, but all the details about said movie are so vague and generic, it creates the whole “another one of those movies” effect. While minor and inconsequential, I think the whole plot line surrounding nameless and faceless Thespis and Melpomene movies will make for a fun little easter egg in the background for those who get it. Not to shade Epps or Long at all, as I think both of them are wonderful actors, but due to appearing in so many of those “nameless and faceless” movies back then, they are woefully underappreciated, as are a number of other African-American actors regarded as relics of the 90’s.
Bumper Robinson as Troy
Bumper Robinson is one of those actors who we’ve all seen in a number of films and shows, but we can never remember the guy’s name, if we ever even knew it in the first place (I had to do quite a bit of digging to find out what it was myself). Back in the 90’s, he was always that “dream guy” that girls took one look at and fell head over heels for. As Troy is a very suave young man who girls instantly feel smitten with, I think it’s a good fit.
Lester Speight as Pothos
I was VERY close to picking Terry Crews for this role, but found that choice to be a bit too basic. When thinking about other actors who are large in build with intimidating, angry faces but are total goofballs in most of their roles and/or in real life, I thought back to Calvin from My Wife and Kids. Looking through Speight’s other roles, he’s usually playing a humorous character like Calvin or Terry Tate or some sort of security figure. All of it works really well for my idea of Pothos.
Michael Douglas as Hadrian
He fits the physical profile of Hadrian very well. Of course, a large amount of his roles have been as shady businessmen or morally dubious political figures, so if he was Hadrian, I’d imagine he’d totally own the role.
Julia Roberts as Theia
Given her background as a mistress to wealthy businessmen, for research purposes, I looked to the classic 90’s rom-com, Pretty Woman. I’m aware it’s not exactly the same, seeing that Roberts’s character in the film, Vivian, is a sex worker who has a much kinder attitude and warmer demeanor then the cold and slightly rude mayor’s wife who sleeps with other men on the side that is Theia, but there are a number of parallels in their narratives, which is why it’s easy for me to see Roberts as Theia.
Like Brutus, the image and character of Narcissus is so strong, she’s taken a life of her own. In my mind, everything about her is so distinctive I struggle to imagine her as any actress I personally know of (although, I will admit that a few of Kathy Bates’ roles did serve as an influence, especially Annie Wilkes from Misery and her depiction of Delphine LaLaurie in American Horror Story: Coven).
Chazz Palminteri as Remus
As the other brother of Romulus and Cicero, Remus was the cold, humorless and most straightforward one of the three. Palminteri usually plays the “straight man” in mob movies, so he would do an exceptional job pulling off such a character.
Jada Pinkett-Smith as Pandora
Before marrying The Fresh Prince, Jada was one of Black Hollywood’s ‘it’ girls. She was sexy and alluring with an air of mystery surrounding her - qualities very much in line with Pandora.
Eartha Kitt as The Oracle
There’s a few characters whom I unintentionally dream-casted the moment I began to develop them - The Oracle is one of those characters. Although she doesn’t make an official appearance until the second book of this series, I already imagine her as a refined, sophisticated woman who holds strong political and feminist views that she isn’t afraid to share with the class, speaking with a cat-like purr all the while. She has Miss Eartha written all over her.
Suffice to say, with Calliope I suffered the same problem I did with Brutus and Narcissus. While I wouldn’t quite say she took a life of her own, the image I have in mind for her is very hard to pin down. I thought of Brandy, Aaliyah, Taral Hicks and even one of the Mowry twins, but alas, none of them really fit. In some ways, I guess that could be the beauty of it. The majority of the tale is told from a first-person perspective after all. When you think about it, that makes you, the reader, Calliope Thessaly. As you take the journey, you are tracing her footsteps. It is rare that you will ever know something she doesn’t know.
Calliope of Atalan: The American Dream will release on November 23.