I was chatting over the weekend with a writer friend who was having difficulty creating one of the characters in the book she was working on.
He was a real person from several centuries ago: an estate manager who fell in love with and married the boss’ daughter, resulting in her disinheritance from the family fortune. She couldn’t figure out what he looked like, how he spoke, walked, and so on. So I asked her when she sells the film rights to this as-yet-unwritten masterpiece, who she would cast in the role, which set us off into a flurry of googling thirty-/forty-something actors who could play both tough and tender, with a bit of the Four Musketeers thrown in.
My first suggestion, Tom Hiddleston, was rejected because he looked too ‘nice’, though I tried in vain to explain to my friend that his Coriolanus was far from ‘nice’. (That was just as well as I rather fancied him to play George Matcham, the tall, rich and elegant gentleman who appeared in my book.)
That got me thinking about who might play Claudia in my as-yet-to-be-published novel The Unlikely Adventures of … People from Glenda Jackson on complain still about the lack of parts for mature actresses, but I struggled to think of a suitable one. Vanessa Redgrave (a tad too old), Maggie Smith (too mannered), Judi Dench (perfect, if she was younger), Charlotte Rampling (at a pinch). I ended up eventually with Penelope Wilton.
This is not just a fun game, it’s a useful exercise for writers. If you can see your character, hear what she/he sounds like, it might just help to create him or her in the first place.