Anton Yelchin and Liam Hemsworth © Helga Esteb / Photo Works / Shutterstock
Welcome to Word & Fim’s Casting Call, where we exercise our creative muscles by focusing our attention on extraordinary characters from exceptional books – either fiction or nonfiction – and make the case for how we’d cast those roles if given the chance. Note that, here at Word & Film, we’re not casting directors, nor are we producers, agents, or anyone else who has any say in how a film will be cast; we’re simply ardent fans of books and movies who can’t help ourselves from such musings.
Chad Harbach’s debut, The Art of Fielding, is not just a baseball story, but rather a coming-of-age novel about the volatility of love and friendship. Harbach tackles these subjects without tired cliches, managing to breathe new life into familiar tropes. The story focuses on the lives of five characters: Henry Skrimshander, the unassuming, small-town kid from Lankton, South Dakota who quickly becomes the star player of his college team, the Westish Harpooners; Mike Schwartz, the physically massive, beating heart of Harbach’s work; Owen Dunne, Henry’s ethereal, erudite roommate; Pella Affenlight, a waif who comes to Westish to escape a failed marriage, only to find and fall for Schwartz; and Guert Affenlight, a Melville scholar, the school’s President, Pella’s largely absent father, and he’s a real looker.
When we first meet Henry, he is described as “the smallest player on the field, a scrawny novelty of a shortstop,” but Schwartz sees Henry’s potential and decides to take him under his oversized wing so that Henry might see it, too. Within no time, Henry is set to tie the N.C.A.A. record for consecutive errorless games by a shortstop (a record held by his childhood baseball hero Aparicio Rodriguez). With the major league scouts watching from the stands, time stands still for a moment as the fates of all five characters shift dramatically.
Harbach’s character portraits, throughout the novel, are so vivid, it’s hard not to imagine the book being adapted for the screen. Unsurprisingly, there have been talks of an HBO series, produced by Scott Rudin.
Anton Yelchin is a natural for the role of Henry Skrimshander. The actor, who starred in Drake Doremus’s 2011 film “Like Crazy” and will be playing Pavel Chekov in J. J. Abrams’s upcoming “Star Trek” sequel, has proven he’s a capable lead, immensely and innately likable, but reserved and inwardly complex. He’s somebody for whom we’d certainly root.
Though he does stand tall at 6’3″, Liam Hemsworth isn’t Mike Schwartz at first blush. Tack on a couple of pounds and some scruffier facial hair, and suddenly, he’s our guy. He has a tangible warmth about him.
There’s something literary about Mia Wasikowska, who has previously assumed the titular roles in “Jane Eyre” and “Alice in Wonderland.” The actress’s enduring subtlety compliments Pella Affenlight, just as Pella’s spontaneity might complement Wasikowska.
He may be one of Hollywood’s most selective actors, but Daniel Day-Lewis, time and time again, proves he can do just about anything. President Guert Affenlight is one of the most interesting characters in Harbach’s novel. He is a sophisticate and scholar, the college president and staple campus presence. Affenlight falls in love with Owen Dunne and engages in a secret romance with the student. It would take someone like Daniel Day-Lewis, an actor with not just the ability, but also the dedication, to adopt a character like Affenlight. And he’s a real looker.
Conspicuously absent is Henry’s roommate, the indelible Owen Dunne. He is the kind of character you only meet in books. Let us know who you think might play Owen in the comments section below.