Pop Culture

'Bone Season' author describes dream film version of her novel


Samantha Shannon’s “The Bone Season” is the first pick for the new TODAY Book Club. Read an exclusive excerpt and RSVP to join a Google Hangout with Shannon and Natalie Morales on September 16. Keep up with the TODAY Book Club by subscribing to our newsletter and follow @TODAYsBooks for book club conversation starters and special free giveaways. Tweet your insights and favorite quotes using the hashtag #TODAYBookClub.

If Samantha Shannon got her way, Benedict Cumberbatch and Alexander Skarsgård would be two of the stars of the film version of her debut novel, "The Bone Season."

Cumberbatch would play a clairvoyant crime-lord (or "mime-lord," in the parlance of the book), and Skarsgard would be the Swedish doctor with a secret who becomes a love interest for our heroine. (And who wouldn't want to see the sweeter side of Skarsgård?)

"I do have a dream cast," Samantha Shannon told TODAY.com. And a dream director, the man behind such films as "Pan's Labyrinth" and "Pacific Rim": "Guillermo del Toro would be my first choice."

Also on the dream cast list for smaller but key parts: Game of Thrones actress Michelle Fairley as a voyant fugitive named Antoinette Carter, and British actor Michael Obiora as Julian, a voyant captured along with our heroine Paige, who fast becomes her close friend.

But Shannon finds it difficult to imagine who would play the leads, Paige and her love interest Warden, in part because Warden and the rest of his species, the Rephaim, are not of this world. Luckily, if it takes movie magic such as performance capture (where an actor's movements are recorded to make fantastic characters look realistic) to render the Rephaim, a giant race whose eyes burn different colors, Shannon's signed up with the right production company: Andy Serkis' Imaginarium Studios.

"I'm confident the book is in safe hands," she told TODAY.com. "They specialize in creating things that aren't there, and making them look fantastic."

Serkis helped pioneer performance capture as Gollum in the "Lord of the Rings" movie trilogy and the "Hobbit" films, and did double duty as second unit director on "The Hobbit." That experience will come in handy for The Bone Season, which will need a lot of visual effects when it comes to depicting auras and psychic assaults, especially since they wouldn't always be from the point of view of the protagonist.

"Paige can sense both the physical and spiritual planes, but she can't actually see spirits herself," Shannon explained. So a "daunting prospect" of bringing the book to life would be "How do you convey the experience of clairvoyance to a viewer? How do you show Paige's spirit jumping from one dreamscape to another, or clairvoyants attacking each other with spools of ghosts and poltergeists?"

Serkis might do well to look to one of mentor Peter Jackson's other films, "The Lovely Bones," for inspiration on "The Bone Season" — particularly regarding how the spiritual world impacts the physical one. Shannon is a fan of the Harry Potter series, which she thinks "translated very well" from books to films.

"I loved how the tone visibly darkened as the series progressed," Shannon said. And while "The Hunger Games" may not have the supernatural element of "The Bone Season," its visual spectacle in terms of costume could also be a guide.

"You almost don't realize how grotesque the Capitol citizens are when you read about them on the page, even though they're described in detail" in the "The Hunger Games," Shannon said. "When you actually see them on the screen, with their crazy hair and outfits, it's such a shock it almost makes you want to laugh, but I think that's the point. It heightens your awareness of Suzanne Collins' social satire."

Shannon's work, of course, has a different "visual sensibility," a sort of neo-Victorian style, but that too might pop on the screen more than it can on the page. As would the "optical milieu" of her character's auras, which would be ever-present — and we have Shannon's headaches to thank for that.

"I got the idea for auras and perceptible spirits from the 'aura' I see when I experience a migraine," she revealed. "So I suppose, to some extent, I was seeing it as a film as I wrote!"