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The Rebel Nun, the Movie?

The Rebel Nun as a movie would offer everything I love in a great film: a smart, strong and complex heroine; detestable male and female antiheros; a posse of allies that would make Joseph Campbell proud; a captivating (but unobtrusive) setting; and a fast-paced climactic action scene, all befitting a terrific cast. My publisher has a film agent working to interest Hollywood in the idea, and my husband has introduced the book to a golfing friend who is married to a former major TV network executive.

My friend Peter Bart, who was the executive producer at Paramount Pictures some years ago, tells me only about 1% of books optioned for movies end up being purchased by studios or producers, and only about 10% of those purchased for production actually make it to the big—or little—screen. So, my expectations are well-calibrated. I’m not spending option money yet.

Still, we all know how a “coming major motion picture” sobriquet can boost sales of books—even books that have been off readers’ radars and off the best-seller lists for months and years. What a boost this would be for Clotild’s story! And nun stories and medieval settings are big themes in movies and TV series these days. So, who knows?

Some time ago, Marshall Zelingue, head of the Campaign for the American Reader, asked me to put together a list of actors I’d want to star in The Rebel Nun, the movie. This is what I shared with him:

Clotild is a complicated heroine—sometimes impetuous, sometimes cautious, always introspective and analytical. She is of northern Germanic descent—Frank and Thuringian, and perhaps more distantly, Scandinavian. Scarlett Johansson is a perfect fit, bringing her Avengers or Black Widow personality and moxie to the role. My husband, Ben, votes for Brie Larson (and he was a film major in college, so perhaps I should defer to him).

Stellan Skarsgård would be well suited to play Maroveus, the evil Bishop of Poitiers, with a bulbous nose and enervating presence. Skarsgård could reprise his puffed-out pose, ego, and lack of self-awareness of Good Will Hunting, and his smart but manipulatable Selvig of The Avengers. And Geoffrey Rush would play Maroveus’s aging colleague, the sometimes helpful, sometimes conniving, always misogynist, Bishop Gregory of Tours.

Lebover, the corrupt and licentious abbess who demeans the nuns, especially Clotild, is a tough role to fill because I can’t imagine anyone would want to be identified with her. I would like a Kathy Bates of twenty years ago, but I have no time machine. Perhaps this would give Melissa McCarthy a chance to show her chops playing a severe, unsympathetic character. Meanwhile Jennifer Lawrence would bring to Basina—Clotild’s weak, mercurial, and unreliable cousin—a flighty yet tragic nature. The two other major roles for nuns would be blessed by Gal Gadot and Eva Longoria.

I see Alboin, the only guy without major character flaws in the book, as charismatic, good looking and tall, if not also big. He must rock a serious beard and have Germanic blue eyes. Of course, Brad Pitt could do this, but he’s only 5’11”. If Bradley Cooper, at 6’1”, brings his most weighty gravitas to the role, he would be perfect. It’s a small role here but will be much larger in the sequel. But then, my husband wouldn't be a bad choice for Alboin, either (that's him below on the right.) He's tall and athletic, grows an amazing beard, and he's got a great speaking voice! Perhaps he's a bit too mature for the part, though, (he's not old!), and he has suggested he'd like the role of Clotild's uncle, the aging King Guntram.

With this cast, there’s no need to worry about a director. My husband prefers Martin Scorsese for his ability to create “buzz,” but I think it should be a woman. Niki Caro loves directing strong female characters, and she has done fabulous work on such films as Whale Rider and McFarland U.S.A. And I want Rachel Portman and Antonio Pinto to collaborate on the music and score.

As I reported earlier this month, the paperback edition is being readied for distribution in March. And just this week, BookBub promoted The Rebel Nun as one of 14 historical novels featuring real women. ( It’s fun to see there is still a lot of activity around the book, and, if I’m lucky, it might help me sell my next historical novel, The Candlemaker’s Woman, to my next publisher.

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