This month, I’ve been taking an online course called EditPalooza, which uses the methods of James Scott Bell for self-editing and revising a manuscript – in this case the very rough draft I wrote during November for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).
The second lesson was on characterization. As I worked through the exercises for the characters in my manuscript, I started thinking about the times when I’d been struck by a perfect piece of casting – when an actor fit a part so perfectly that I couldn’t imagine anyone else doing it justice; when the actor and character merged into a single entity in my mind.
Always at the very top of the list is Tedde Moore. Who the heck is Tedde Moore, you might ask. Not exactly a household name.
Ms. Moore played Miss Shields, Ralphie’s teacher in A Christmas Story. She had the perfect period look for the film. Every one of her scenes was spot on, whether she was telling the class with awful portent that she wanted them “to write….a theme” or embodying Ralphie’s fantasy of her ecstatic reaction to his resulting theme (and then morphing into a witch to give him a C+) or just looking out the window to see Flick stuck to the flagpole. I was blown away by her when I first saw the film in a theater in New Haven in 1983. Every time I see the movie, I’m still awestruck. She was perfect for the part.
When it comes to the perfect match of actor, part and performance, it’s hard to top that one. I have three others on my short list.
You may recognize her as the actress who played Aunt Marge in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, inflated and floating away over Little Whinging after she ill-advisedly insults Harry’s parents. For me, though, Pam Ferris will always and forever be Miss Trunchbull, the headmistress in Matilda. One of my favorite movie quotations remains her line as she breezed into the classroom ready to take down her enemies: “Water! Hold the newt!” Loved her.
Mr. Petherbridge is an enormously accomplished actor with a long career that includes a stint at the Royal Shakespeare Company. He may not be quite as familiar to American audiences. In 1987, he played Lord Peter Wimsey opposite Harriet Walter’s Harriet Vane in the BBC’s productions of three of the Wimsey/Vane novels of Dorothy L. Sayers. Whenever I’m extremely fond of a book, I get annoyed if the film adaptation does not include actors that fit my image of the characters in the book. Edward Petherbridge was Lord Peter. End of story.
Okay, I admit that I think Alan Rickman is perfect as just about anybody. I’m a serious fan. However, I don’t think there could possibly be a more perfect Professor Snape. Ever. He speaks his lines as if the words are both poisonous and precious. He forces them out at the same time that he’s trying to hold them back. I can’t wait for the last installment of the Harry Potter films just so I can see what he does with Severus Snape’s ultimate redemption.