Casting Musings as Warner Brothers options William Landay's 'Defending Jacob'

Photos: EdStock/iStockphoto (Michael Shannon) and Torbakhopper/via CC (Nicholas Hoult).
Photos: EdStock/iStockphoto (Michael Shannon) and Torbakhopper/via CC (Nicholas Hoult).

William Landay has a few things in common with John Grisham. Both suspense writers parlayed their law careers into written entertainment for the masses and, also, both men will have novels adapted into feature films during the first half of this decade. This past March, Warner Brothers purchased the rights to adapt Landay's latest novel, Defending Jacob, into a movie. (Here's hoping we find future cause for comparison between Grisham and Landay; a whopping eight of Grisham's novels have been adapted into movies thus far.)

Defending Jacob, Landay's third novel, put him on the radar of readers everywhere, which clearly helped catch the eye of Hollywood. The book tells the story of Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber's battle to clear his teenage son Jacob's name after he is accused of murdering his classmate. A few keen individuals have drawn similarities between Landay's Defending Jacob and Rosellen Brown's 1992 novel, Before and After. Brown's book focuses on a New Hampshire couple dealing with the aftermath of their teenage son (also named Jacob) being accused of murdering his girlfriend. Before and After was adapted into a 1996 film starring Liam Neeson, Meryl Streep, and Edward Furlong, and wasn't very well received, netting a disappointing score of thirty-two percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite the failure of Before and After, we have the highest hopes for Defending Jacob's development journey -- and have a few suggestions to help pave the course.

Andy Barber narrates the story, and though readers do not get a direct description of his physical appearance, they understand him better than any other character in Defending Jacob. When we close our eyes we see one -- and only one -- actor we want to play Andy: the extraordinary Michael Shannon. If any of his past roles ("Revolutionary Road" and "Take Shelter") have been any indication, Shannon is a seasoned actor who favors taking on challenging characters on the verge of snapping.

Jacob Barber is described as a teenager who already resembles a man ("a big handsome boy") so it won't be a stretch to cast a slightly older actor to fill his shoes. With a diverse resume that includes "Skins," "About a Boy," and "A Single Man," we would love to see Nicholas Hoult take on the the character of Jacob, a socially awkward outcast who prefers the company of video games and his computer to socializing with his classmates. We think Hoult would be able to bring that necessary mysterious complexity to the title character.

The two directors we have in mind are perfect for one reason: They know how to take the seemingly beautiful, innocuous suburbs and slowly unravel everything to reveal the ugly, hidden truths festering within. Our first dream director is Sam Mendes, nominated for his incredible work starting with directorial film debut  "American Beauty," and especially for his painstakingly detailed adaptation of Richard Yates' novel about a struggling couple in the 1950s, "Revolutionary Road." We would also choose Todd Field, responsible for two incredible book-to-film adaptations: "Little Children" (based on Tom Perotta's novel) and "In the Bedroom" (based on Andre Dubus' short story, Killings). Both directors truly excel at respecting the original source materials they adapt into watchable, well-acted feature films.

If you've read Defending Jacob, do you agree with our casting musings? If not, weigh in with who you would nominate to star and direct. 

  • Susan

    CHRIS COLFER as Jacob!!! Diane Lane as his mom!!!

  • Jean Eaton Schiebel

    I just read this book and could not lay it down...It will make an awesome movie..I'm sure who ever develops it will cast it appropriately.
    But I do admit when reading I kept picturing Robert Blake as Bloody Billy Barber..I think he would be awesome in that part accept maybe he wouldn't want tp play a muderer..

  • Scott

    I like the idea of Diane Lane as Laurie. I was thinking George Clooney as Andy, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Logiudice.

    • Helene Shaw

      I like this selection!

  • Ruthanne

    Michael Shannon, of course, as Andy. His superb acting restraint and his grim expression would suit the part perfectly. I just finished the audio version of the book and pictured Michael Shannon all the way through. Diane Lane would also be an excellent choice as the grief-stricken but savvy Mom.

  • Susan

    I agree -- Diane Lane would make a great Laurie, so would Sandra Bullock. Philip Seymour Hoffman is perfect for Logiudice. How about Jeff Daniels for Paul Duffy? And Jeff Bridges for Bloody Billy Barber?

  • Dana

    I just started reading it but as far as the Logiudice the first person I pictured was Sam Rockwell.

  • M Elliott

    I think Diane Lane, who I like, is too old to play Laurie. Further, I think George Clooney as Andy is ridiculous, as is Philip Seymour Hoffman as Loguidice. This book does not need these superstars; in fact, casting such actors would overwhelm the story. Also, both are far too old. Michael Shannon is a great suggestion for Andy, and I especially love the idea of Robert Blake as Billy Barber! The casting of Jacob has to be just right, as does Laurie, but no immediate suggestions come to mind. Anybody but Justin Bieber, though; please, somebody make it against the law to send him the script!

  • Mona07452

    Wow am I late to this party! Nevertheless...

    Andy: Richard Jenkins or Bryan Cranston (but Michael Shannon is an inspired choice...he is truly excellent)

    Laurie: Elizabeth Perkins (with darker, shorter curly hair)

    "Father" O'Leary: Mickey Rourke

    Neal Loguidice: Ryan Gosling (with a dyed dark, unflattering receding hairline)

    Bloody Billy: Robert Blake (another inspired choice) or Ed O'Neill

    Jacob: Zachary Gordon (Wimpy...I know) or Matthew Glen Johnson (who looks a bit like Michael Shannon)

    Paul Duffy: Ken Howard (I know...a bit older than the character) or Jeremy Renner or Daniel Craig

    • Mona07452

      PS - Secretly, I think Patton Oswalt would kill it as Neal Loguidice...although I know he's a bit older than this character. 🙂

  • Kathy Frink

    Please consider Tye Sheridan who played Ellis in Mud for the role of Jacob. I know he isn't "tall" but his range is amazing. Also, casting an older actor is going to cut into the horror of this murder being committed by a fourteen year old with the emotional maturity of a 7 year old. Will just seem like an older kid no matter how many times we are told he is 14.

  • drsg

    Jacob: An Unknown!
    Andy: Affleck (Ben)
    Laurie: Amanda Peet
    Neal Loguidice: Patton Oswald is a brilliant thought. Peter Sarsgaard
    Father” O’Leary: Ed Harris
    Bloody Billy: Charles Dance
    Paul Duffy: Mark Wahlberg

  • Helene

    How about Steve Buscemi as Logiudice?

  • Helene

    Would love to see somebody like Dustin Hoffman as Jonathan, Jacob's lawyer...

  • Jacko

    Clooney would be fantastic choice. He was just incredible in Michael Clayton.

  • Ms Mayhem

    Tim Robbins and Annette Bening as Andy and Laurie. Age appropriate. the son should be an unknown. Disney preciousness please.

  • Claudia

    Why isn't anybody talking about the character of Jonathan, a far bigger role than Duffey, I think. I like Michael Shannon for Andy, perfect look and can pull off the biggest character flaw Andy has - being in denial about Jacob, , whether he was guilty or not. For Laurie, I also like Elizabeth Perkins; she can pull off the caring Jewish Mom who also has anger, anguish, confusion. Back to my opening comment. Jonathan needs to be middle-aged, geeky, but very likable, and earnest. I like Mark Ruffalo for that part. Somebody suggested Dustin Hoffman, but he's too old and too famous. For Jacob, I think the part calls for an unknown. The suggested actors are too old to play a 14 year old. Loved the book so much, except the ending was too fast and furious. Could have the same ending written a bit more nuanced and stretched out; readers didn't want to let go of these characters. No matter what, can't wait to see this movie........

  • Sam

    Personally I think nicholas hoult is too old to play Jacob, who is only 14. I think Devon Bostick would make a great jacob because devon can access that creepy Jacob way he has about him. For Laurie i would picture sarah wayne callies & for andy i think michael shannon would actually look good