Some movement on a massive project that’s been in some form of development for at least 4 years (I recall writing about it on the old S&A site, prior to 2011)… will this finally push it over the edge and into production, now that Sony Pictures has announced that it has teamed with MRC to co-finance the film adaptation of the first book in the series, with plans for more, which Sony will distribute, along with a TV series based on the novels in development?
A quick recap…
Universal Pictures initially planned to turn Stephen King’s mammoth novel series “The Dark Tower” into a feature film trilogy, as well as a network TV series, with Ron Howard, Brian Grazer and Akiva Goldsman, to direct (Howard), produce (Grazer) and write (Goldsman) respectively.
However, Universal later dropped the project over budget concerns, and word on the street was that Warner Bros picked up where Universal left off, with the 3-headed monster (Howard, Graze, Goldsman) still very much spearheading the thing.
Skip to 2012, when it was revealed that Goldsman would soon be delivering an amended draft of the script to Warners, which addressed the budget issues, and if the studio OK’d what he delivered, the project would be good to go.
And adding to excitement that the project seemed to be getting closer to becoming a reality was word that Russell Crowe would be replacing Javier Bardem, who had long been attached to play the lead role of gunslinger Roland Deschain – which wasn’t a big surprise, since Crowe, Howard and Grazer have worked together at least twice in the past.
But the one character we are most interested in, in all this, who also happens to be one of the key characters in the sprawling epic work, and who also happens to be black, is Susannah Dean, the paraplegic with multiple personalities.
The “Dark Tower” series, which King himself considers his magnum opus, is a cross-genre work, including elements of science fiction, fantasy, horror and western, with 8 novels in the series, published between 1982 and 2012.
Here’s a plot summary: In the story, Roland Deschain is the last living member of a knightly order known as gunslingers and the last of the line of “Arthur Eld”, his world’s analogue of King Arthur. Politically organized along the lines of a feudal society, it shares technological and social characteristics with the American Old West but is also magical. Many of the magical aspects have vanished from Mid-World, but traces remain as do relics from a technologically advanced society. Roland’s quest is to find the Dark Tower, a fabled building said to be the nexus of all universes. Roland’s world is said to have “moved on”, and it appears to be coming apart at the seams. Mighty nations have been torn apart by war, entire cities and regions vanish without a trace and time does not flow in an orderly fashion. Even the sun sometimes rises in the north and sets in the east. As the series opens, Roland’s motives, goals and age are unclear, though later installments shed light on these mysteries. Along his journey to the Dark Tower, Roland meets a great number of both friends and enemies. For most of the way he is accompanied by a group of people who together with him form the Ka-tet of the Nineteen and Ninety-nine, consisting of Jake Chambers, Eddie and Susannah Dean, and Oy.
And so the question is who should play Susannah Dean?
The character is described as an African American woman from the 1960s dealing with multiple personalities – a calm version of herself named “Odetta,” and a ferocious beast known as “Detta.” She’s also wheelchair-bound.
Wikipedia’s much more thorough description, starts like this: Odetta Holmes is the only child of Dan and Alice Holmes, a wealthy black couple, living in New York City. At the age of five, the serial killer Jack Mort dropped a brick from a high balcony on Odetta’s head, placing her in a coma. Out of this traumatizing incident, Odetta’s damaged mind created a completely separate, second personality named Detta Walker. The disparity between Odetta’s two personalities approaches the level of polar opposites. Odetta is a morally righteous intellectual with a significant level of education and class who participates in civil-rights protests. Detta is a violent, base individual ruled by sexual desire and fueled by hatred towards the white people Odetta passively resists. The two personalities are completely unaware of each other’s existence.
Sounds seriously intense based on that description alone!
Keep in mind that there will be multiple films, as well as at least 1 season of a TV series (HBO was previously said to be interested); so we could be talking about 2 different actresses here – one for the films (at least 3), and another for the TV series. Unless the plan is the use the same actors for both, which I wouldn’t expect.
Stephen King did confirm that he had Angela Bassett in mind as he was writing the character, in a 2010 interview with Entertainment Weekly, stating, when asked for his casting choices of the key roles: “I haven’t got as far as casting in my thoughts, but when I write about Susannah Dean, I always kind of see Angela Bassett in my mind’s eye. Mostly I just want good people in those parts.”
Angela is now probably not young enough to play the part (someone in the 25 to 35 year-old range is more suitable); But keep in mind a couple of things: the Susannah Dean character was introduced in the second novel of the 7-book series, which was published in 1987, when Angela would have been in her late 20s, which is when King had her in mind as he was writing the novel. However, Susannah Dean appears from the second novel until the 7th, which was published in 2004, some 17 years later. So, somewhere in there, Bassett started to influence the way he wrote the character, but starting with when she was in her late 20s.
Therefore, whomever is cast in the role will probably have to have Angela’s qualities – an obvious mental and physical toughness, smarts, with a complimentary sensuality – but about 20 years younger.
I should also note that, as recently as 2012, it was rumored that, in addition to Viggo Mortensen and Javier Bardem, whose names were being tossed around for the coveted lead Roland Deschain role, Naomie Harris was also said to be reportedly being considered for the female lead. She would still qualify, assuming she’s still being considered.
This could be a career-making/launching type of role for whomever is cast in either version (film or TV) – especially if they are relatively unknown actresses. The actress selected for the big screen version will be guaranteed probably at least 3 films (which could be a good or bad thing); and the actress chosen for the TV series will possibly have a long-term paid job, if the series is successful enough, and runs over several seasons.
Of course, I’m assuming that Sony Pictures, who’ve taken over the project, with MRC, won’t deviate too much from the original literary work, and, suddenly, the black female lead becomes something else, or the part is completely rethought or gutted.
You’ll find lots of fan renditions of Susannah Dean online, like the one above, which I liked most.
As of right now, a search for a director is underway, which will be followed by casting decisions, so this might take a little while; although, according to Deadline, Sony is fast-tracking the project, which means, they want to get it into production soon, instead of letting it sit for another 3 years. So this might all come together rather quickly, and within a few months, we’ll know a lot more.