Keanu Reeves John Rain Television Series
Okay, a little off the beaten track from my usual focus on politics and publishing, but I’m pretty excited about Keanu Reeves being attached to play John Rain, so I wanted to mention it here. Plus I’ve been getting a lot of questions and feedback via Facebook and Twitter, and it seemed like a good idea to respond in one place. So…
There’s a ton no one yet knows because the project is still in the relatively early stages of development. I don’t know what network would/will buy the series; I don’t know anything about casting (so I can’t help yet with all those Dox and Delilah questions! ;) ); I don’t know what countries it would show in. All I really know at this point is that Keanu is attached, which is obviously huge in general and thrilling for me personally, and that good people are behind the project and are trying to move it forward. As far as I know, pretty much everything else is still up in the air.
Also, I don’t know whether or how I’ll be involved. I’ve met and had a few discussions with Keanu and the business people (Jaysus, I almost said business “folks,” but Obama has ruined that word as effectively as Hannibal Lecter killed “fava beans”), and I’ve made clear that I’m prepared to help with the project anyway I reasonably can. If they think my involvement will be useful, I’m sure I’ll be involved. Otherwise, I’m looking forward to making popcorn and enjoying the show like everyone else. Either way, I’ll be happy.
Okay, one thing I’m pretty sure of: with 87Eleven involved, the action should be awesome. What these guys do on-screen is just insane.
Most of the feedback I’ve received so far has been of the, “Holy shit, Keanu as Rain… awesome!” variety, but there’s been some hesitation, too, mostly along the lines of, “But Keanu isn’t half Japanese,” or “But Keanu is younger than Rain.” So a few thoughts on adapting a novel for the television or film:
In general, it’s important to remember that not only can you make certain changes when adapting a novel for the screen, but you should. The novel isn’t a story any more than TV is a story. Rather, each is a vehicle for telling a story, and the trick when you’re adapting is to distill out the essence of the story as configured for the novel and reconfigure it so retains its emotional and dramatic impact in the new vehicle. If you’re interested, here are a few more thoughts on this topic I wrote in an essay a few years back.
More specifically, in the books, Rain was born in 1952, making him about twelve years older than Keanu. But the first book came out in 2002, when Rain was fifty—roughly the same age Keanu is today (coincidence? I think not!). So change the Vietnam backstory (a history of violence is essential to the character, but a particular conflict is not), and, presto, we have Rain at the right age.
In the books, Rain is half Japanese, half Caucasian-American, but looks mostly Japanese (in part because of a little long-ago plastic surgery around the eyes, intended to help him blend in Tokyo). Certainly there’s some Asian heritage in Keanu’s features, but he’s not going to pass for Japanese the way the Rain of the novels does. But that’s okay: what’s vital to the character, IMO, is his sense of dislocation, his alienation, his longing to belong coupled with his inability to do so. In the books, I can convey this through (among other things) Rain’s thoughts. For the screen, I think it’s actually an advantage to be able to convey it in part through Rain’s appearance.
I guess the overall question is, what is essential to the character, and what is a variable? With regard to any specific character, reasonable people will probably differ. I remember some people freaking out online when Daniel Craig was cast as James Bond because “Bond is not blond!” Whereas personally, I can’t think of something less essential to Bond than the color of his hair. And there was a lot of spirited debate over whether Tom Cruise could play a character as physically massive as Jack Reacher. Reacher’s creator, Lee Child, thought yes (“Reacher’s size in the books is a metaphor for an unstoppable force, which Cruise portrays in his own way”); not everyone agreed. Personally, I think Reacher’s size, though certainly central to the character in the books, is more of a variable than an essential quality (imagine by comparison trying to remove Reacher’s adeptness with violence or investigative excellence—if you did, you would destroy the character). Overall, I think the question to ask is, “If we change this quality, do we still have the character?” If the answer is yes, the quality isn’t, by definition, essential. If the answer is no, it is.
Anyway, with regard to Rain, I don’t think the character’s age, face, or specific military background is at all essential, but that’s just my opinion and isn’t really something that’s susceptible to proof. I guess we should just let Keanu settle the argument by being an awesome John Rain… :)
Last thought: I’ve seen some tweets that say something along the lines of, “Keanu Reeves… could there be better validation for indie publishing?”
Maybe that question is meant rhetorically, but I think the answer is… Yes, there could be, and there is. Here’s why.
First, I’m not an ideal example of indie success. I started off in the legacy world, and now do a mix of Amazon- and self-publishing. In fact, the first six books that will form the basis for the series were all published initially by Penguin Putnam before I got my rights back and self-published them; and the seventh and eighth books that will form the basis for the series are published by Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer. So probably a better example of indie books getting a big-time film/TV option would be Hugh Howey’s Wool, optioned by Ridley and Tony Scott.
More importantly, for anyone who’s wondering whether indie is a viable means of publishing, I think a better metric than “Is Hollywood interested?” is “How many authors are making how much money and achieving how much happiness through indie publishing?” After all, a movie or TV show is about the rarest and luckiest thing that can happen to an author. Making a living doing what you love is a much more manageable and achievable goal. For more, I recommend the series of posts on “Indie Authors Quitting Their Day Jobs” at The Passive Voice, along with the groundbreaking analysis of how much money is being made through indie publishing over at AuthorEarnings.
Hmm, I guess I couldn’t do this post without at least a couple political or publishing asides… :)
So that’s the latest. I’ll have updates as I learn more. In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed… this should be a lot of fun and so far I think we have all the elements of a great television series!