Character Study: Big Shadow

The latest author to don our casting director’s cap is Marta Balcewicz, whose debut novel about art and power dynamics Big Shadow (Book*hug Press) gets the Hollywood treatment. See which actors Marta has chosen to play the naive-but-rapidly maturing Judy and has-been poetry scenester Maurice Blunt, among the other main characters in the novel.


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The Cast of Big Shadow, as picked by Marta Balcewicz

Margaret Qualley as JudyIn 2019, on her Instagram page, Miranda July posted a video of a FaceTime conversation between herself and Qualley. At first it seemed they were having a real and honest chat. After a minute or so, the level of drama strongly suggested this was a skit—some kind of Julyesque art project. I love Miranda July and her working with Qualley made me love Qualley, too. Though she’s older than Judy’s age in the novel, she has a girlish, bratty look, and Hollywood has no qualms about grossly mismatching actors and characters age-wise, so I think this would work.Liev Schreiber as Maurice BluntSchreiber has the perfect look for Maurice Blunt: he’s six-foot-four and wide-framed, perpetually unshaven, possessed with a gruffness and, I suspect, a somewhat “bad-boy” sense of himself. I have never seen him with anything but close-cropped hair, but he’d perfect the Maurice look with a dark, slicked back wig from the Hair and Make-up Department.Toni Collette as Judy’s motherThis is the easiest casting choice. Collette is in her own world when it comes to socially awkward characterization. She remains so loveable no matter her role. I think Muriel from Muriel’s Wedding could very well be Judy’s mom when she was younger and for some reason living in Australia—every weird thing Muriel does, Judy’s mom is liable to do.Finn Wolfhard as ChristopherMy knowledge of young male actors falters, as I’m way past teeny-bopper age. But Stranger Things provides a nice cast of young actors to pick from, and Wolfhard has a perfect vulnerability to his appearance, including a lanky frame that I think underscores Christopher’s weak resolve. His being Canadian is a nice bonus. He could also pass for Margaret Qualley’s relative, and of course Judy and Christopher are first cousins.Director: Carrie BrownsteinBrownstein has been directing episodes of TV series for some time, and she has her first feature film in the works. I think the story of Big Shadow would intrigue her. She comes off as a big art-nerd and is clearly obsessed with all things music and film and literature. She is of course also part of the music world, as a member of Sleater-Kinney, and would have an insider’s perspective on all its corners and crooks, in particular with regard to punk music. I think the feminist themes of the novel, and also its weird elements—clouds, cloud-shadows—would speak to her. A lot of people associate her primarily for her comedic role on Portlandia, and it’s true she’s great at humour. I think the fact that Big Shadow strongly relies on dark humour would be a further draw.

The Movie Poster

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Marta Balcewicz spent her early childhood in Pomerania and Madrid, and now lives in Toronto. Her work has appeared in Catapult, Tin House online, Vol. 1. Brooklyn, Washington Square Review, The Rumpus, and Passages North, amongst other publications. Her fiction was anthologized in Tiny Crimes (Catapult, 2018). She received a fellowship from Tin House Workshops in 2022. Big Shadow is her first novel.

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Many thanks to Marta Balcewicz for playing casting director of Big Shadow with us (and, as always, Hollywood – we hope you’re listening!). Big Shadow is available now, here or at your fave indie bookstore.For more Character Study, click here.