Culture

Coming to – and Casting – The Night Circus with Erin Morgenstern

Erin Morgenstern photo by Kelly Davidson Photography
Erin Morgenstern photo by Kelly Davidson Photography

Earlier this year, Erin Morgenstern experienced the thrill of what so many blossoming writers only dream of: After her debut novel, The Night Circus, was picked up by Doubleday in late 2010, Summit Entertainment took on the world film rights to adapt the novel to the big screen. Now, as the September release of Erin's novel nears, we caught up with her to talk about the wonders we see in life, Erin's own inspiration, and her thoughts on casting the movie.

Signature: The Night Circus is generating so much buzz - and it's well-deserved. Congratulations on a great showing at this year's Book Expo America. There are certainly some enchanting, stunning scenes painted in The Night Circus - from the Ice Garden to Celia's illusions and everything in between. What's the most mind-boggling thing you've seen in your life?

Erin Morgenstern: I've pondered this question and keep coming back to the same thing, and it is actually not something that's seen so much as experienced. There is a British theatre company called Punchdrunk that does amazing immersive theatrical productions and I was fortunate to catch their first U.S. production in Boston while I was writing The Night Circus. It's a Hitchcockian-flavored MacBeth called Sleep No More. The audience wanders self-directed through the space in masks, choosing where to go and what to watch.

It is the closest experience I have ever had to walking into a dream, exploring darkened hallways and forests and rooms full of sand. Encountering shadowy figures in tuxedos and giggling witches. It truly broke my mind wide open and I suppose that might be even better than boggling. While being a different sort of flavor it very much evokes the feeling of wonder and mystery that I wanted the circus to have and I was thrilled to discover it. (I actually went to experience it for the seventh time while I was in New York for BEA.)

SIG: Why did you decide to make a circus the focal point of your novel? Do you have a personal love for the big top? Or perhaps a particular memory from years past to which you return?

EM: The circus itself pre-dates this novel. It began as a tangent in a different, now-abandoned story. I was never much of a planner when writing so when I became bored with the plot I sent all my characters to the circus. The circus itself turned out to be much more interesting so I decided to write a new novel about its evolution.

I don't actually have much of an affinity for traditional circuses. I have a background in theatre and visual art and I've been to a great many carnivals and fairs, so this circus is more an amalgamation of entertainment and art wrapped up in striped tents. Truly, it's my ideal entertainment venue, full of curiosities and intrigue, elegant but accessible, something to be explored rather than passively watched. And no clowns.

SIG: While writing the novel, or preparing to write it, did you do any hands-on three-ring research?

EM: No hands-on research at all, and not a great deal of book research either. I wanted my circus to have its own distinct feel separate from a traditional circus so the closest I came to hands-on research was constructing paper models while I was trying to figure out the logistics of the Stargazer, which was inspired by wanting to have something that was a Ferris Wheel without being a Ferris Wheel.

SIG: If you were to run away with the circus, what role would you play there?

EM: I likely wouldn't run away with any circus but my own, though I'm not sure I have any circus-appropriate skills. If I practiced I could probably manage being a living statue, or perhaps I could persuade Widget to teach me how to trap stories in bottles. I'm a cat person, so I'd love to work with cats of either large or kitten sizes, as long as they were more well-behaved than my own crazy cats.

SIG: It looks as though The Night Circus will make it to the big screen. Congratulations! Assemble your dream cast for us: Celia, Marco, Prospero, Poppet, Widget and Bailey, the contortionist. Were there certain actors you pictured while writing the novel? Or certain actors you could picture now?

EM: Thank you, it's still hard to wrap my head around that a film version is even a possibility. I don't picture actors while I write. The only character I ever mentally associated with a particular actor was Prospero, who was always Geoffrey Rush-esque in my mind.

No one else ever aligned as well with any specific actor. I always thought Lee Pace would be a very good Marco but he's likely too old now. Though if it is a proper dream cast I suppose restraints of age and time should not matter, and Celia always had a bit of a Clara Bow vibe in my mind, which is partially how she got her name.

I think Carey Mulligan might make a lovely Celia. Rinko Kikuchi could be a very interesting Tsukiko. For Bailey and the twins I'd prefer unknowns, really. And I don't have anyone in mind for Alexander but I would love for him to be played by an older actor also known from a younger age, to have that passage of time recognition.

SIG: What scene from The Night Circus are you most looking forward to seeing realized on film?

EM: There all sorts of elements that I'm curious about seeing realized on film, particularly Herr Thiessen's clocks and the bonfire, but scene-wise I'd have to say the anniversary party, for all the color and costumes, the broken stained glass and billowing curtains. That scene always felt particularly cinematic to me so it will be marvelous to see it captured in all its dramatic Technicolor glory.

SIG: The Night Circus is just so wildly imaginative and so exquisite in the details. One can't help but to wonder what story you'll turn your talents to next. Is there another novel in your future? Any thoughts yet on what it may be about?

EM: I am indeed writing another novel, though it is not novel-shaped yet. I tend to have entire fictional worlds show up in my head and it takes me quite a while to explore them properly and find the story and structure within them. At this point it might best be described as a film noir-flavored Alice in Wonderland. I've got the wild imagination parts down more than the exquisite details at this point, but I'm working on it.

ERIN MORGENSTERN is a writer and a multimedia artist, who describes all her work as "fairy tales in one way or another." She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two very fluffy cats. The Night Circus is her first novel. Visit Erin's website here.

  • Sara

    I would love to audition for poppet. I have red hair if it helps, and I've always wanted to be an actress. So If I could know when the auditions are I'd defiantly come to them.

  • Sara

    I'd LOVE to be Poppet. I have red hair, and though I'm not very flexible I can learn or become to be. I have never acted on the big screen But I have had leads in school plays ex, I was Mrs. Clause in firth grade. I really love to act and I'd love to show Erin or the director that I can really act and represent my acting well so, If you could consider please(:

  • http://www.youtube.com/Sara10303 Lucy “Sara”

    I Have Red Hair I'm New and I'd love to play Poppet(: I have a connection to night time/ and I love stars. I'd love to die my hair super red and I really love Acting so Erin, and the Directors I would really love to audition for Poppet. I have hazel eyes if it help. How can I know when auditions are? Thanks(:

  • http://www.youtube.com/Sara10303 Lucy “Sara”

    I Have Red Hair I'm New and I'd love to play Poppet(: I have a connection to night time/ and I love stars. I'd love to die my hair super red and I really love Acting so Erin, and the Directors I would really love to audition for Poppet. I have hazel eyes if it help. How can I know when auditions are? Thanks:)

  • Pingback: Largehearted Boy: Shorties (The Shins, Novels Written by Secretaries, and more)()

  • Amber

    I cant wait for this book to become a movie! I love The Night Circus very very much and it would just be awesome to see come to life!

  • Cecilia

    I would love to be involved in the movie adaptation of The Night Circus. I don't know if any casting calls have been organized yet, but I would love to audition for the role of Celia, or Isobel. I am 20 years old, soon to be 21, and I have dark brown hair. I am rather short, so stature wise, I might be more suited for the role of Poppet. Does anyone know if the producers have chosen a director and are planning to start casting auditions yet?

  • nuri

    hello, I am 14 years old and would really like to audition for poppet. I have had some acting experience and would really hope to earn her role.

  • Kate

    I would love to be Poppet. I have blonde hairr but I could always dye it red and I was in provincial gymnastics and I dance.

  • Kate

    I would love to be Poppet, I have blonde hair ( but I could always dye it) and I am 13 years old. I want to be part of this film because I want to bring this magical novel to life. I would make a pretty good circus performer because I have lots of experience in gymnastics and I dance. I want to peruse an acting career and this would be a great breakthrough role for me.

  • Kate

    I would love to be Poppet, I have blonde hair ( but I could always dye it) and I am 13 years old. I want to be part of this film because I want to bring this magical novel to life. I would make a pretty good circus performer because I have lots of experience in gymnastics and I dance. I want to persn acting career and this would be a great breakthrough role for me.

  • Jane

    Jesse Williams would be the perfect Marco! He has the right attitude the figure requires. And his glance is hypnotizing.

  • Lydia

    The Night Circus is my favourite book! I get so caught up in the beautiful descriptions of the amazing tents and acts! I absolutely LOVED the description of Widge's bottles!
    To be honest to be a background actor would be amazing, feeling the amazing atmosphere of Le Cirque de Reves!! I can't wait for it to come out in the cinema!!! 😀

  • Erica N

    I would love to audition to have any part in this production! Even being an extra would be an amazing experience. :)

  • Suzz

    Interesting book. It almost seemed written more for film than word with the detailed descriptions that brought the experience to life. Loved the characters. I was half expecting this to go to video game first to allow for more discovery, or better yet, an actual theme park. A film will only touch the surface on Le Cirque de Reves since much of the book is experiential (including smell and touch).....

  • sabrina

    The bookcatched me from the first page and I´ve read in just 3 days or something.
    I always wanted to become an actress so if anyone could tell me where the auditions are I would be definitly there.....

  • Sher Riley

    Been turning the idea of Tom Hanks in the role of Alexander. With the right makeup, he would be fantastic.

  • Ruth

    i think that celia and marco would look a bit like this...marco with longish hair
    http://zephyrhant.deviantart.com/art/Lost-Souls-263902557
    maybe less of the vampire look though...
    unfortunately, no one comes to mind.

  • http://sarawho@live.com Sara

    Hello, I am 18 with dark brown hair and greenish eyes. Ever since I read "The Night Circus" almost two years ago I have dreamed about being in the movie. I do not care who I play even being an extra would be awesome. I just want to know how I can go about auditioning.

  • Beth

    So cool! Night circus movie! I can't wait. I would like to see Lily Collins as Celia. And Marco maybe Nich Hoult. And yes just being an extra would be so amazing experience!

  • Miss Dunlop

    I thoroughly enjoyed the novel. I recommended the book to my friends at every given opportunity. I can not stop raving about it. Miss Erin confidently guides the reader through a magical world of scents, sights and sounds even a taste or two. Extremly elaborate vocabular of descriptive words. All the while envisioning a few of my favorite actors in hollywood as some of the roles. The little girl in me desires to be Celia of course! I use some if my friends and college professors as the older cast. ( I enjoy doing that, though I never tell them)
    I am a big fan of comic actors transitioning to a more serious role as they age like fine wine of Hollywood.

    I did some research on whom to be the director and producer of the prospective film. I have no doubt the actors they choose will be marvolous. Thank you for this extraordinary novel, it was a sincere deligt! Thank you.

  • Mannu

    Words cannot explain how much i enjoyed reading this book. I finished this book in three days and this time I actually read it from word to word which is rather rare. If it is possible, i would like to be part of the Circus. Plus if it isn't too late already.

  • Ingrid

    I see Ben Barnes as Marco and either Emilia Clarke or Emily Browning as Celia. Definitely a bit sick of Carey Mulligan popping up everywhere, no offense to her, she's a lovely actress but...

  • Elizabeth

    I would love to be Tsukiko!

  • RK

    Naveen Andrews = Chandresh LeFevre
    (you're welcome)

  • jasmin

    aaron taylor perfect actor

  • Yossi

    Oh my god. I figured it out. While there may be very little talk of development in the movie adaptation they have had us fooled. Ladies and gentlemen, I know why no development was announced...

    The circus arrives without warning.

  • Sarah small

    I'm an aerial dancer and love this book. I would love to even have a small cameo as one of the entertainers in the circus. I have some movie extra experience as well!

Like What You're Reading? Get the best of Signature, delivered to your inbox every week. Join the Signature newsletter