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.