How Fancasting Can Help Flesh Out A Character - or, How Rufus Sewell Became My King Arthur
Recently when writing stories, I’ve got very into fancasting. This is where you select models or actors to play the characters in your head and it’s super-helpful for describing appearance or expressions and keeping them consistent.
One of my latest projects is a childrens’ story called The Wingless Dragon & the Crystal Cage. A great deal of the plot revolves around the king, queen and their seven daughters. The story is based on some dolls I owned as a little girl, and the games I used to play with them. Naturally my first course of action was to fancast actors and models that looked like the dolls. I then allowed a bit of flexibility because that helped the characters separate themselves from the dolls and become their own entities. Hence the character of Prince William started out with blond hair and blue eyes like his doll, but rapidly changed to having brown hair and green eyes because I fancast Jeremy Sumpter.
(I know hair-dye is a thing that exists, but honestly I had too many blond people in this story. It wasn’t my fault: that’s just the way the dolls came.)
This also allowed me to have some fun with the fancasting. I mentioned I cast Jeremy Sumpter as the prince, but that was partly to do with the fact that I cast Rachel Hurd-Wood (who co-starred with him in Peter Pan when they were children) as his partner, Princess Flo - because she looks exactly like my doll.
Another gag I played was fancasting Robin Wright as the Queen, Morrigan. Her breakout role was playing a fairytale princess, so I had a giggle over casting her as a literal fairy queen.
For her husband, King Arthur (because 9-year-old me had no sense of originality), I initially fancast Kenneth Branagh.
Not only did he bear a passing resemblance to the doll, but he’s played a few kings in his time, and he’s good at being a snob - which at that point was all the character traits I had for Arthur in my head. He’s not a pivotal character so I hadn’t developed him much.
There was one problem: I’d cast this gorgeous girl as one of their daughters, Rosalind. She doesn’t look remotely like either of them, but her ethereal looks were so perfect for the kind of character Rosalind is. I mean seriously, this young lady is a fairy princess, is she not?
(This girl is a child model called Riley Brown, and she models alongside her non-identical twin sister Misty. Go and check out their work. They’re lovely girls.)
Well, I thought, fairy genetics don’t have to make sense. Maybe Rosalind inherited all the recessive genes. But something still seemed off about the family tree. And of course if you know me, you’ll know that I’m very interested in family resemblances. And it was in doing that post that I suddenly realised.
Big green eyes.
So off I went to Tumblr’s “Rufus Sewell” tag… and suddenly Arthur came alive for me as he never had before. This generic king character, who was really only in the background, suddenly had a history with his queen, and an entirely new personality, simply based on the gifs I was looking at of Lord Melbourne. I’ve barely seen an episode of Victoria. Also Count Adhemar was giving me ideas for a young Arthur too, alongside gifs of young Robin Wright as Buttercup. I could picture Arthur as a brash young prince and Morrigan as the overly-serious princess, and how they both had to grow into their roles.
Everything just fell into place for these two.
It’s helped hugely with my writing, in establishing Arthur as more than just a king; in exploring the relationship between him and Morrigan and how it’s changed; how they deal with conflicting opinions when their decisions affect a kingdom; even how they deal with their daughter and heir, Flo, and her partner William. And yeah, none of their backstory has any effect on the plot, but it does affect how they act around each other. It makes them feel more real and rounded, more alive. It’s been great.
Thanks, Rufus. :)