Seeking a female action hero? A new one may come from an unlikely source: memoirist and ex-spy Valerie Plame Wilson, whose CIA debacle was brought to the screen by Doug Liman in last year’s Fair Game, which starred Naomi Watts as the glamorous, fierce yet tender operative (opposite Sean Penn as husband Joe Wilson).
Now that she’s out of the spy game, Plame is expanding her literary power. She will parlay her experience and fame into a series of suspense novels centered on a fictional intelligence operative named Vanessa Pearson. She will co-write the novels with Sarah Lovett for Penguin Group USA (with the publisher of Fair Game, David Rosenthal, who left Simon & Schuster for a new imprint at Penguin).
But it’s not just Plame’s fame and tall blonde allure that has landed her the book deal (and potential film franchise). She tells the NYT that spies:
“always tend to be cardboard characters, with a heavy reliance on physicality. Of course the job has a lot of glamour. But it really is about being smarter than your average bear. Your mind is your best weapon. It’s great when you’re a good shot with an AK-47, but it’s about being clever.”
Of course Plame is beautiful, but her success both within the CIA and fighting back at the controversy that outed her, and that ignited the film Fair Game, is based on an adept mind and strong force of will. Her experience as a woman in a male-dominated government world combined with the fact she is a woman, wife and mother could result in a multi-dimensional and powerful character that could fill the void, in both literary and cinematic domains. Plame’s motivation came “out of my frustration and continuing disappointment in how female C.I.A. officers are portrayed in popular culture.”
Consider the female action stars we have: Angelina Jolie kicked-ass and got her ass kicked in Salt, and while she did get back up again, she still looked too good to be real and failed to resonate on multiple human levels. In The Tourist, Jolie again held her own, but made it look like Barbie Plays with Bad Guys instead of infusing the character with relatable human strength and weakness. Mr. & Mrs. Smith‘s action was just foreplay, and Tomb Raider met the same road blocks, failing to elevate female power and ability to use weapons above the sensationalized for-male-pleasure purpose. Sure, Sigourney Weaver made strides in the Alien series, but it’s 2011 – we have iPhone 4.0 yet Ripley is still our best example of a female action star. Alien: Resurrection came out in 1997: try to remember what cell phones looked like then.
Charlize Theron joins Jolie in raising the bar, but Æon Flux and Hancock were disappointments. Let’s check out what she does in Prometheus. We want to see if Olivia Wilde does more for Cowboys & Aliens than go topless, if Natalie Portman’s bow, arrow and thong in Your Highness inspire women to go on the ballet-for-an-Oscar diet, if Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth Salander is allowed any femininity at all, and how Jennifer Lawrence tackles bad-ass Katniss Everdeen for The Hunger Games franchise. All these women are capable of being sexy and tough, but are dependent on the depth of the roles written for them.
Sure, there are others who kick ass, but as long as it’s side-kick roles written by men for men, the potential power of the female action star — not the action star played by a woman — will not be realized. Plame has a point-of-view based on actual lived experience, which is a rare commodity in writing female leads in Hollywood.