It’s been reported this evening by Deadline that the Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts are in talks for the film version of August: Osage County. I’ve heard rumors about this casting for months now, but this is the first time I’ve seen anything in print. The other rumor I heard was that Mike Nichols would direct, instead TV show runner and writer John Wells will helm the film, his second feature. (His first, The Company Men, hits the big screen on October 22).
Playwright Tracy Letts has adapted his own play for the screen and truthfully I’m quite curious to see how he has adapted the work. The play was first produced at Steppenwolf during the summer of 2007, starting something of a sensation in Chicago. It came to Broadway’s Imperial Theatre for a limited engagement that fall, quickly extending its engagement and transferring next door to the Music Box for an open-ended run. Most members of the original cast gathered for London and Australian engagements which quickly became must-see events.
It’s no secret that I’m not the biggest Streep fan – not that I don’t think she’s a good actress, I just don’t think she’s the greatest. However, as much as I was hoping for someone more interesting (or perhaps even Southern) in this part, I’m certain she will deliver a professional performance that is sure to add another Oscar nomination to her belt. While Barbara Fordham is the lead in the sense of the story’s arc and character development (it is ultimately her story), Violet gets all the memorable one-liners and is ultimately a terrifying and antagonizing presence. The role’s originator Deanna Dunagan swept the NY theatre awards while starring in the Broadway run and her replacements Estelle Parsons and Phylicia Rashad received rave reviews.
However, it’s the casting of Barbara Fordham that has me scratching my head. Roberts is an established movie star with the requisite charm, but I’ve always found her range to be limited. I could be wrong and she might work in the part, but I have serious doubts. I was admittedly blown away by the powerhouse performance Amy Morton gave in the original stage production and would have, in an ideal world, liked seeing her take on the role for the screen adaptation. But in lieu of Morton, I can’t help think that Laura Linney would ultimately be the best choice. Julia seems more ideal for Karen or Ivy. However, for the sheer resemblance factor I’d put Jennifer Ehle and Natasha McElhone opposite Streep. No word on any other casting.
I am, and have been, curious as to how this play would open up on the big screen. The play runs three and a half hours, with a large cast of characters (and some emotional pyrotechnics) but the action is limite to the Weston house, which is itself a character. Many of the family skeletons come dancing out of the shadowed cobwebs in a situation that is even explicitly described as “fraught” by the character Mattie Fae. It will be interesting to see whether or not the film will successfully open up on film.
Perhaps I’ve been spoiled: I was there on Broadway for the show’s opening night. I can’t imagine a better experience for this work than live onstage, fueling the audience with the hilarious and heartbreaking antics of the extended Weston clan. Seeing the show seven times in NY, I heard reactions to scenes that I haven’t heard at other musicals, let alone plays. Morton herself likened the experience to being at a hockey game. Then again, the perfect solution would have been taping that original cast (especially the definitive Dennis Letts as Beverly) for airing on PBS or Showtime.
Again, this is only word that they are in negotiations. It doesn’t necessarily mean either one is definitely taking on the project (though they’d be fools to pass up on these great roles). Personally, I would just prefer a more interesting lineup.